Ofsted visit or not – what do we need to be asking ourselves about the return to school?

Colin Logan, Senior Education Lead at SSAT, considers aspects of our school narratives we can all reflect on as we start the autumn term.

Reaction to Ofsted’s announcement that its “interim visits” to schools would start on 28th September has been unsurprising: schools have enough on their plates already; “inspection by another name”; the publishing of a follow-up letter is unhelpful; the small number of visits undertaken won’t provide enough parents with reassurance to justify their taking place. It’s easy to sympathise with all these responses but, unless there’s another last-minute U-turn, the visits are going to happen. So what do school leaders need to know about them and what preparation for them do they need to make?

The answer to the second question, officially, is “none”. However, just as with the pre-inspection phone call, headteachers will want to ensure that they have a clear narrative in answer to inspectors’ main line of enquiry: How is this school welcoming all pupils back full-time?

Full information about the nature of the Ofsted visits has been widely published in the TES, Schools Week and elsewhere. The official version is here.

The following questions come from our upcoming set of webinars on “Ofsted, the curriculum and SSAT’s Four Pillars of Principled Curriculum Design and post-Covid curriculum issues”. We’re sharing them with you here in the hope that headteachers and senior leaders will find them useful in helping them to reflect during a time of such frenetic activity, not just in anticipation of a possible visit from Ofsted.

1. To what extent has your school curriculum been delivered since lockdown?

Do you have a clear idea of what has been delivered to which students? Do you know what the uptake has been? Do you have a curriculum map that indicates potential gaps that need to be filled?

2. Since re-opening, how have you used existing and/or new assessment strategies to find out what students know and what they don’t?

Effective formative assessment has never been so important. Do you have an agreed approach on both formative and summative assessment techniques and strategies that are shared by all staff? What have these approaches told you? What are staff doing about it as a result?

3. What about a ‘recovery curriculum’?

Have you read Professor Barry Carpenter’s blog and watched the follow-up interview? He explains what this might look like for different groups of students, key issues around transition from primary to secondary, how to balance a recovery curriculum with the need to catch up on academic learning and how the same principles can be applied to staff training and welfare. Students need to catch up with more than the curriculum – they also need to find their way again with their attitudes to learning and their relationships with staff and their peers.

4. How to close the disadvantaged gap? Has your disadvantaged profile changed in the light of the economic downturn?

This goes further than focusing on trying to make sure that your disadvantaged students from last March don’t fall any further behind. Do you now have a very different profile of disadvantaged students in your school as a result of job losses, redundancies and reduced working hours in your area? How are you planning to address this?

5. Blended learning?

What plans do you have for a possible future full or partial lockdown? What if individual or groups of students have to self-isolate? How will you try to make sure that they continue to have access to the full curriculum?

6. Cultural capital?

Some students might have continued to access cultural and other experiences during lockdown but many – if not most – won’t have done so. What can your school do to make up that deficit to try to give all students the same opportunities?

Of course schools can’t do everything to make up for what was lost during closure and there are huge implications for managing the workload of all staff during the return to full-time education. These questions aren’t intended to alarm school leaders, just to help prompt the discussions and planning that are going on in schools across the country.

Curriculum: Impact, QA and principles in post-COVID 2020

This updated online course is designed to support senior and middle leaders with responsibility for curriculum or quality assurance. It explores the new framework, supports you in reviewing your current curriculum provision and examines the impact of curriculum on other areas of practice.

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