Navigating a remote inspection: our experience

Mark Phillips, headteacher at Deptford Green School in Lewisham, had a monitoring inspection from Ofsted just before February half-term. SSAT Senior Education Lead, Colin Logan, speaks to him about the experience.

Mark, tell me about the pre-inspection phone call.

To be honest, at first, I was pretty angry about it. It seems to me that now is probably the most inappropriate time for inspections to be happening. And to make matters worse, the phone call came through to me directly while I was on gate duty in the playground in a temperature of -2 degrees. And I was surprised that it wasn’t an administrator making the first call. As it was, I’m afraid I gave the HMI very short shrift, I told him I was busy and asked him to call back later. Having said that, our two HMI turned out to be exceptionally courteous, mindful of our situation and showed huge respect and understanding of how we were working, so I have absolutely no criticism of how they conducted the whole process.

School improvement consultancy – Designed for flexible delivery

How long did the call last?

It was relatively short, not like for a section 5 inspection. It was more of a discussion about practicalities like which online platform we were using rather than an initial dive into the work of the school. And of course, they had no data to discuss.

Did they ask you for a SEF or any other documentation?

No, they didn’t ask, and I didn’t offer anything. Most of what they were interested in such as policies was already on our website anyway.

Did they use the normal staff, student and parents’ questionnaires?

They used the normal parents’ questionnaire, but they’d adapted the staff questionnaire to take account of staff wellbeing and how the school had taken account of that. There was no student questionnaire, though.

What then happened on the first day of the inspection itself?

To be honest, it felt just like an ordinary Ofsted inspection but done remotely. They started with a two-hour meeting with me and my SLT to discuss the context of the school and how we were operating during lockdown, but it went way beyond looking at remote learning – they were interested in our curriculum, our behaviour for learning, safeguarding, just about every aspect of the school’s work. And it was no different to meeting face-to-face in school. Obviously they couldn’t make a judgement on safeguarding without actually being in school.

Is that when you agreed the programme for the first day?

Yes, we arranged meetings with curriculum leaders, students, NQTs, a group of more experienced main scale teachers and a dive into lessons.

Did they drop into live online lessons?

No, we agreed that, instead of dropping in and out of live lessons, they would watch a sample of the recorded online sessions that we have for students to access if they were unable to watch them live. They viewed 12 or 13 lessons in all. They reviewed the lessons themselves with a member of the SLT, they looked at the chat that goes with the lessons to see how students were engaging with the teacher, what sorts of questions they were asking and how teachers and students were interacting with each other. We also showed them some of our assemblies and PSHE activities that have gone on. Then they discussed their findings with the senior leader who oversees remote learning. We use TEEP [SSAT’s Teacher Effectiveness Enhancement Programme proven to improve teaching and school outcomes], so were able to illustrate to them how the TEEP model is very clear in the delivery of remote learning with a big focus on cold calling, checking understanding and using class notebooks to assess work completed in lessons. So, they had a very detailed look at learning and then triangulated that in discussions with students and teachers. And one thing they really did home in on was reading and they spent a lot of time looking at and questioning how we address that in our school.

Which students did they interview – were they at home?

No, they only spoke to our key workers’ children who were in school.

What kind of things did they ask during the meetings?

They were very interested in the gap analysis we did in the autumn term and how we’d adapted the curriculum as a result. They asked how we evaluate progress but again they had no data to work from. With the students they focused very much on how remote learning was working for them.

What feedback did you get from staff after their meetings with HMI?

They felt very confident. At the end of it they weren’t stressed, they just felt they’d been talking about what they’re doing and they know that what they’re doing is good.

And what about the inspectors feeding back their findings to you?

It was just like a normal inspection really. We had keep-in-touch meetings during the day and then a team meeting at the end of day 1 when they agreed the programme for day 2 which went on until midday. After that, again, it was just like a normal inspection. They fed back to me and my director of studies and then met online with the SLT, governors and the LA.

With hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently?

Nothing at all, I think it’s all about being confident in your own work. We do what we do because we think it’s the best we can do for the children in our school so we wouldn’t do anything specially for an inspection. The only disappointment I have is that, if this had been a normal section 8 inspection, it would have converted into a full section 5 and we would have got the judgement we think we deserve at the end of it. As it is, there’s a report but no judgement.

One thing I would say is that I have an exceptionally good head of admin and I was very reliant on her to make sure that everything worked like clockwork in terms of invites to meetings and setting up the calendar. We did that -– if we’d left it to the inspectors I suspect it would have been clunkier. She took care of all the logistics, such as giving them access to the lessons and the students’ notebooks.

Just like with any inspection, it’s vital that you take control. By the end of the first meeting, the leadership team was so co-ordinated, they made it clear how safeguarding links with online learning, how that links with staff development and wellbeing and so on.

Note: Until the end of the spring term, Ofsted monitoring inspections will only last for one day with two HMI rather than two days as was the case before half-term.

School improvement consultancy – Designed for flexible delivery

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