During a short inspection, one of the main priorities is getting to know the school well, very quickly.
The day starts with myself and an Ofsted Inspector (OI) meeting the headteacher and other senior staff. I discuss the plan and what we'll want to look at. This includes meeting all the senior staff. We'll observe lessons and social times, meet with governors, staff and pupils and look at a wide variety of documents.
Ahead of this particular inspection I’d identified that the majority of pupils are eligible for free school meals. Many speak English as an additional language. Quite a lot join and leave the school during each school year. During my initial meeting with the headteacher I get a much more in-depth view of the school.
The school’s intake
The school has groups of unaccompanied asylum seekers and children who’ve never had any formal schooling. The school assesses each pupil to determine their level of English language skills. They’re initially taught in a separate EAL unit for a few weeks. Following that they gradually enter lessons full time.
The headteacher believes lack of spoken English isn’t a reason for them not to be successful; she accepts no excuses. “It’s quite simple,” she says. “They have to learn English, learn it quickly and learn it well. Then we make sure they catch up on their other learning.”
I’m interested in how long they spend in this centre and their experiences. My OI colleague is a former headteacher with experience of supporting EAL pupils. I ask her to visit this unit. She’ll talk to the staff and pupils and tell me how well they’re preparing them for school life.
My colleague returns with a wide smile, eager to talk about the children she’s met. I’m told it’s having a visible impact. The pupils were keen to speak to her with their new English skills. She tells me the staff are very proud of the positive difference they’re making.
When the headteacher pops in for a keep-in-touch meeting, I ask the OI to share her observations. She appreciates the independent view of the unit’s success.
A key part of all inspections is looking at the school’s documentation. It’s positive to see that this school hasn’t prepared anything ahead of time. We see what they use daily to communicate with each other and governors.
These are working documents. Many of them have notes made by the headteacher about how the action plan is going. They detail the progress being made and where she’s concentrating her staff’s efforts. The documents show how well pupils with no prior attainment data are doing. They also illustrate that leaders have carefully considered the best way to assess and track each individual pupil. It’s clear to see that the school leaders are reflective and regularly evaluate progress.
Observing and meeting pupils
We always observe pupils’ social behaviour. Grabbing some lunch, I sit with a group of Year 7 pupils and ask about their experiences of school. They say the older pupils look after them and they all get on well. They tell me that it’s always calm in the canteen, despite hundreds of pupils being served in a short period of time. I can see they are all behaving maturely and enjoying their social time.
I ask eight Year 11 pupils, who have been in the school since Year 7, to tell me about their experiences. They can talk about the changes over the years. They speak about the positive school environment that senior leaders have created in a short period of time.
Meeting with pupils is a top priority. I’m consistently amazed by how maturely they speak. Their responses about the school’s strengths and weaknesses are well-considered and detailed.
School leaders have seen behaviour and the quality of teaching improve quickly over the past few years. Pupils’ outcomes are on an upward trend and exclusions are reducing quickly.
They say all pupils are now respectful of each other and their teachers. They feel safe and valued and are doing well in their examination courses.
Progress and the final feedback
My colleague and I have talked to pupils and staff, seen lessons and observed social times. We've learnt first-hand about the great journey made by the school.
Pupils told us about the school’s effective work with pupils who don’t yet speak English. It’s a privilege to be able to give very specific examples of what we’ve observed.
Our final feedback to governors and senior leaders details the evidence we’ve collected and our evaluation of it. They’ve retained their good judgement and we share some areas we’ve identified for improvement. They agree that these are the right things to focus on next.
We leave knowing that we’ve worked with the school to accurately identify what’s going really well. And we've helped them pinpoint their next steps in the journey.