Free schools and Ofsted’s education inspection framework – finding the golden thread

On Thursday 16th June we heard from Marie McConville (Harmonize Academy) Stuart Lock (Bedford Free School) and Dr Jonathan Grey (Callywith College) about their experiences of inspection under the new Ofsted framework. As many free schools have had their inspections delayed due to the pandemic, the speakers outlined what to expect when the full Ofsted inspection schedule returns in September.

Believe it or not, Harmonize Academy, Bedford Free School and Callywith College were inspected on the same day in January 2020, despite their different locations across the country. Whilst their experiences weren’t identical, all agreed that the process had been positive and fair. When they spoke with us a several key themes from the inspection process emerged:

You can’t prepare for Ofsted in a day…

During an Ofsted inspection, inspectors are looking to see that the Headteacher’s assessment of the school is accurate. In order to do this, they will speak to staff, governors, pupils and parents. Schools which perform well have embedded routines and a curriculum which is ambitious for the pupil cohort. The inspectors will quickly work out if they aren’t seeing a typical day at your school! As a leader you must make sure you know your school, know your pupils and are honest about the journey your school has been on so far.

… but you can put processes in place to make the experience less stressful

Stuart, Marie and Jonathan all developed a clear plan in advance so that everyone, from the senior leaders to the reception staff, knew what to expect when Ofsted planned a visit. Administration staff were primed to know what details to collect from the notification call, and who to contact afterwards. All speakers recommended storing key documents (such as those outlining attendance, pupil cohort characteristics and progress) in an easily accessible format to have to hand during the initial phone call. This isn’t something new that you need to create for Ofsted – your governors’ reports and school development plans are likely to hold a lot of the information you need!

You’re not in this alone

In fact, as a Headteacher, your contact with the inspectors will be minimal outside of the initial phone call. Once on site, the inspectors will spend time completing subject deep dives and speaking to staff, pupils and parents to find the golden thread. Although Ofsted don’t expect you to create additional documents, or change your curriculum to match the framework, it is useful to make staff and governors aware of the language that inspectors may use so that they feel equipped to respond. It’s possible that you may feel quite disconnected from the process, so do take the time to check in with staff and support them to do what they’re best at – their job!

There was so much covered in this event that it feels impossible to fit it all into a blog post. There’s lots more Ofsted related content coming up on NSN Hub over the next few months, so do keep your eyes peeled. If you’re a free school leader who hasn’t yet joined this platform you can do so here.

NSN are always on the lookout for fantastic free schools to share their journey with others. If you have been open for more than three years, have a Good or Outstanding Ofsted and are interested in sharing best practice, then our Events Team would love to hear from you. Keep an eye on our events page for details of what’s coming up in the future.

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