Watching inspections and checking that the process is working well is part of my role as a Senior HMI. I shadow inspections of our new Ofsted Inspectors (OIs) to review the quality of their work.
Who are OIs? They’re mostly serving practitioners – headteachers or senior leaders in good or outstanding schools who spread their expertise and experience by inspecting for Ofsted. They’re contracted to inspect a certain number of days each year for us. We recruit them directly and train them alongside Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMIs). HMIs are part of Ofsted’s permanent team. They’re the arbiters of quality in the system and provide professional mentoring and coaching for OIs, as well as quality assuring their work.
I arrive in a school on day 2 of a full inspection. The lead inspector was until recently the head of an outstanding school and it shows. I also remember inspecting him. It's obvious that he has an immediate empathy with the headteacher. She's talking animatedly about her students when I arrive and he’s put her at ease. He is also probing and challenging her for evidence to show how well the different groups of pupils have achieved. He asks if pupils on free school meals are doing as well as their peers, which is music to my ears. This is a major priority for us in the South West region. We check every inspection we visit to make sure the lead inspector is acting on behalf of disadvantaged children. There is no reason why they shouldn’t achieve every bit as well as their better-off peers.
When we have a chance to talk, the lead inspector says he's happy with how things are going. He is also reflective about the responsibility of the task in hand:
As a lead inspector, you realise you are at the sharp end. You're accountable for an inspection proceeding smoothly, in coordination with leaders, governors and your team. The phrase ‘doing good as we go’ is a powerful mantra for inspectors.
He’s exceptionally conscious of the potential pressure on the headteacher and her team:
Observing and appreciating the range of emotions of an inspection requires a particular sensibility. All inspectors respect the need to report accurately and impartially. And we must respond appropriately and intelligently to a variety of possible stressful moments.
The Department for Education has published the school's progress scores during the inspection. The senior team are delighted that they are above the national average for all pupils, including disadvantaged ones. They share this information with the lead inspector, feeling that it supports their view that the school should be judged ‘good’.
While this debate takes place, piles of books are growing around me. The lead inspector, quite rightly, wants to check pupils’ work in all year groups, right now. He's looking to see that progress is still good and that last year’s scores aren’t a one-off. I’m delighted to see this important consideration of current pupils’ work. The evidence is building and pointing towards a positive final outcome.
After the inspection I ask the lead inspector for his reflections on working with Ofsted:
You’re never alone as a lead inspector. The quality of support is first class - from senior colleagues, my peers, as well as planning, scheduling, training and other back office staff. They all appreciate the challenges and demands surrounding inspections. And they recognise that the quality and reputation of Ofsted’s work is something that affects us all.
My observations on the day have been positive. It's been a successful inspection, a thoughtful and rigorous process, and we've left behind a very proud headteacher and senior team.