What’s the first thing you need to do when you get ‘the call’? Probably around midday. Most likely saying the Inspectors will be arriving shortly before 8.00 am tomorrow. For Dionne Warwick it was to ‘..say a little prayer…’ Ah – but which one, when there are so many from which to choose? In all honesty, I’d go with the Serenity Prayer. Not because of its apparent surrendering fatalism but because of its call to action – astute action. Not panic. You have a few hours to make some decisions that may help secure the outcome you are hoping for.
“Grant us the serenity to accept that which we cannot change; the courage to change the things that we can; and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.”
You cannot change : …the rising sense of apprehension, anxiety and numerous questions that staff will have initially as the notification comes out to them. The fact that the inspectors will be here tomorrow. The number of hours between this point and then.
You can change the following :
- The mood, the tone and the sense of control. Arrange to meet with as many staff (teaching and non-teaching) at the end of the day in a suitable venue. Share as many facts as you can of what you know about the team; how the inspection will be organised; answer as many questions that arise that you can and share a ‘hot-line’ for advice and help should it be needed over the next two days.
- Remind staff of the outcomes from the previous inspection report, the headlines in the current school improvement plan, the strategies by which you are engaging with those ambitions and the successes you have had with them so far.
- Share the key focus of lesson observations in the current framework : all students engaged, sound learning demonstrating good progress during the course of the observation, teachers knowing their students’ individual needs and abilities and targetting their learning path through the lesson based on good knowledge of where each students is at and should be. (Seating plans that include each student’s level and specific information such as SEN ‘school action’ were appreciated)
- Remind teachers of the changes from previous inspection regimes and to avoid overly-structured, multi-activity, formulaic lessons following a prescribed format in which ‘activity’ is sometimes in place of ‘progress’.
- Give department teams a short time to meet, share their resource needs for the next day, organise their classrooms and make free with the photocopier if needs be. But share the message that Ofsted is looking for ‘typicality’ – that show-piece lessons that run counter to the ordinary will be rapidly identified as inspectors ask students ‘Is this what your lesson is usually like?’
- Check that part-time staff who are not in today and absent teachers are in the know and can, if they need to, ask their subject leader to contact them to see if there is anything they need preparing if they are teaching tomorrow.
- Have an agreement with site managers that the school can remain open longer this night, that photo-copiers are filled with toner and paper and a technician is on-hand for those inevitable paper-jams and the IT team have someone who can be a rapid-response fire-fighter. It is worth establishing procedures and protocols for the wide array of support staff in schools so that everyone is clear where they will be, what they can offer, and whether over-time payments or time-off in lieu are due for an ad-hoc later night opening.
- The most important message you can give to teachers is this: spend some time this evening preparing your lessons for tomorrow, but then stop; have some time for your family, for yourself, and get a good night’s rest. Your students want to see a refreshed, alert teacher before them tomorrow, not someone who has been up until 2 in the morning marking exercise books.
- Clear the decks for your data manager who will need to be ready to produce ‘evidence’ at short notice over the next 48 hours.
- Collate the latest school-wide data you have available as an SLT: Re-sit examination results – particularly for sub-groups, latest attendance figures, evaluations and monitoring outcomes – everything that puts the data ball in your hands with the most recent evidence rather than the last published data that the Ofted team will be arriving with.
- Rehearse the messages SLT will be giving about the school’s progress and check they accord with the perceptions of the middle leaders Ofsted have said they will be interviewing. Consistency of message is… the message.
- Prepare to be robust. Ofsted will push to see how much resilience there is within the school, teams and individuals. Stiffen the spines and give your teams license to defend, resist and deploy strong, evidence-based arguments to challenge any possible assumptions or hypotheses proposed by the inspection team. To move schools forward takes grit, determination and resolute belief in the path you are taking. Inspectors may be deliberately provocative to see if this is revealed. Politeness required at all times, but stiffened by a resilient spirit.
- If you haven’t produced a protocol ready for ‘the call’ this time. Make a note to do it straight after. Have a clear plan as to how you will use those hours and engender a calm spirit of: ‘let them judge us as they find us. We have confidence in what we provide for our students’.
Managing those few hours between inital phone-call and the arrival in the car-park will say much about your school’s organisation, leadership capacity and ability to operate as a team. These are the features I noticed in my school recently sitting in the middle. There will be many of us with experiences of the new short-notice inspection schedule. If you have further useful advice, please consider passing it on via twitter and it will be added (with due acknowledgement) to this list. The teamwork doesn’t have to be confined within institutions – we can encourage it sector-wide.
You can read a transcript of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s speech to the London Festival of Education on the 17th November 2012 in the previous post on this site. In addition he has recently been interviewed by the Daily Telegraph (24th November 2012) giving further illustration of what he wants Oftsed inspectors to see in lessons : http://bit.ly/UXdpTS