• The evidence base used by school leaders to identify priorities will place them in a strong position to demonstrate their effectiveness to an inspector or to a team.
• Schools need to demonstrate that their knowledge and understanding is founded on valid and reliable systems leading to the right priorities, and that based on its track record, the school has the capacity to achieve these.
• The restrictions placed upon school leaders by Covid-19 arrangements have meant that many of our normal strategies, lesson observations and discussions with pupils or members of staff have been made more difficult.
As we anticipate the return of graded inspections, there are likely to be a range of questions in the minds of school leaders. Most will principally be concerned with any differences which they need to prepare for and, overall, how best to prepare in order to demonstrate high levels of effectiveness. This article seeks to allay some of these fears, which are fully understandable in light of the challenging and strange times we have been living through, and to provide some strategies to ensure that our own judgements and priorities are securely based in valid and reliable evidence.
In most aspects of inspection, it is fair to say that the same judgements will be made against a very similar evidence base and using strategies with which we are all familiar. It is also important to say at the outset that nothing suggested in this article is simply for the purposes of preparing for inspection. Good and effective leadership across any school, and at all levels, should make best use of effective strategies for self-evaluation in order to determine the school’s priorities for improvement. The evidence base used by school leaders to identify priorities will place them in a strong position to demonstrate their effectiveness to an inspector or to a team. It is perhaps worth saying at this point that a school’s evidence base and the specific analysis of this should provide the ‘script’ for leaders at all levels, in their areas of responsibility. It should enable us to take the initiative in inspection and to demonstrate that we know and understand the questions inspectors are likely to ask because we have already asked them ourselves as part of school self-evaluation.
Current inspection activity
Latest rolling guidance at the time of writing shows that on-site inspection activity was planned to restart on 4 May 2021 and will use the current Education Inspection Framework (EIF) to come to the same five judgements. As well as the ‘Overall effectiveness’ judgement, there will be judgements on the ‘Quality of education’, ‘Behaviour and attitudes’, ‘Personal development’ and ‘Leadership and management’. Inspection teams will also operate with additional flexibility to take account of the range of current contexts. Revisions to the EIF are promised for early in the summer term, so it will be worth watching out for these.
Preparing at all levels
The key to effective preparation for inspection is what it has always been, secure strategies for self-evaluation by leaders at all levels. It is, however, the analysis of the evidence that arises from these strategies which enables leaders to demonstrate to inspectors that they really do know their school, that this knowledge and understanding is founded on valid and reliable systems leading to the right priorities and that, based on its track record, the school has the capacity to achieve these. The restrictions placed upon school leaders by Covid-19 arrangements, however, have meant that many of our normal strategies, lesson observations and discussions with pupils or members of staff have been made more difficult. It is, therefore, worth noting that inspectors will take note of progress made against priorities for improvement prior to the start of the pandemic, as well as strategies undertaken to get these priorities back on track.
It is likely to be beneficial, though you may already be in this position, to adopt a common format for the analysis of self-evaluation across the school. When working with schools, I am always impressed when leaders at all levels are able to present a convincing analysis of their evidence. The analysis sheets in this issue’s Toolkit provide examples to assist in your thinking. The simplicity of the format enables leaders to link to particular parts of their evidence base while avoiding complications. This is of great benefit in the pressured situation of a discussion with an inspector when all of our carefully prepared mental script disappears!
Evidence files, whether physical or electronic, are the source of these analyses which are primarily designed to bring the evaluations of leaders together so that senior leaders can use these to identify or sharpen current and future priorities for improvement. These analyses are sufficiently flexible to enable their use across any area of leadership, whether this be curriculum subjects or aspects of functions of the school such as pastoral care, safeguarding or SEND. The use of these sheets, together with their supporting evidence files, has also proved very supportive to governors.
At this point it is worth noting that the Covid-19 restrictions under which we have been operating have been challenging to governors in securing their role as critical friends. The role of link governors continues to be of great importance in discharging the duties of the governing board in cases where it would be inefficient for the whole board to take this on. If link governors are to carry out this role effectively, it may be worth considering a joint ownership of analysis sheets by the link governor and the responsible leader.
Watching out for additions
It is also worthwhile bearing in mind evaluations or reviews which leaders have undertaken into remote learning. A variety of approaches have been set out, often reflecting the point in time at which they were written. It will continue to be important to have analysed evidence around remote attendance, engagement and response, pupil and parental satisfaction and comments, and the extent to which pupils have made a smooth reintroduction to classroom learning. If there are any external reviews of this aspect of the school’s work, it is worth including them.
Finally, check your website. As the saying goes, you get one chance to make a first impression, so do make sure that:
• it is compliant (School Information Regulations)
• it is easy to navigate
• policies or guidance documents are not past their review date
• it is welcoming and looks like the sort of school you know that you are.
Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:
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