Regular readers will recall that we had a one-day inspection in January 2018. These were an Ofsted scheme for quick inspections of good schools. They’re also short of cash so it was a reasonable efficiency plan. They didn’t look at the whole school, just stuff they had a hunch about from the data. One option after a short inspection is to say – well, yes, you’re still good, but you need to sort out stuff and we’ll be back after a year. That’s what they told us: look again at maths and English, think about higher ability pupils, and carry on improving feedback to children. We were working on all of those. We are always working on all of those.
Perfidiously, the phone rang after 11 months, but we were ready.
In the meantime, there’d been a lot of hoo-hah about Ofsted’s new inspection plans. Realising that just looking at data skewed the way schools behaved, and that curriculum had become dangerously under-thought in many schools, Ofsted declared themselves interested in what was being taught, rather than just outcomes. They were rightly bothered that schools were being entirely turned over to producing the kind of things that inspectors like rather than educating children. They also wanted to tackle some issues in the system, such as off-rolling and three-year key stage fours. Off rolling is the underhand practice of removing underperforming children from the school’s roll so they don’t count in progress scores: three-year key stage fours are said to narrow children’s experiences.
This proved interesting for us once we got the five chaps into the building. We dealt with the off-rolling very quickly. We work very closely with the LA, we take in more strugglers than we send elsewhere and we know exactly where they’ve gone. They were impressed with our commitment but returned to the matter of the curriculum later.
Inspections are half carried out in the Head’s room. There’s a long phone call the afternoon before they come and a longer meeting when they arrive. These check that we know what we’re doing and we have a plan to do it better. After that, they investigate aspects of leadership and management: curriculum, pastoral, inclusion, safeguarding, personal development, attendance, exclusions and so on. They meet groups of staff, governors, parents and students. Simultaneously, they rush about going into lessons to see what’s being taught, or look at a theme. They collect up information and swop observations at the end of the day. Then they invite the Head into their meeting so you get the drift of their thinking.
This end-of-the-day meeting is meant to be open and inclusive, a benefit to Heads. In my experience it’s absolutely terrifying. I’d added a wild card as I was largely unable to hear anything they said. I’d been to the doctor earlier in the week, and was awaiting a return visit. That meant that Mr Tomlin had to accompany me everywhere as interpreter and I was forever asking the chaps to speak up. In these end meetings the Head is meant to be a silent observer, not bellowing what are they saying? like a comedy granny to an amanuensis trying hard not to laugh. At the end of the second day there’s a final meeting with governors and the LA where the lead inspector reads the verdict and declares the deed done. He or she writes the report that night. After an interminable wait for the report to be quality assured, a confidential draft with a 24-hour turnaround appears. There’s no real right of reply, only for factual inaccuracies. Phew.
We’re pleased with our report. Inspectors have told us to persevere with improving progress. They have reminded us that we need to think hard about the impact of starting GCSE in year 9 and whether all children thereafter follow a broad and balanced curriculum. They encouraged governors in their governing. These are all very fair points.
Inspectors thought the sixth form was outstanding with excellent teaching, great outcomes. They had 30 minutes earmarked to talk to students but were trapped for 90 minutes until students were satisfied they’d got the point. That’s how we do it here: if in doubt, explain again.
They liked the work we put into inclusion and the personal development of children. They thought that was outstanding too and used the un-Ofsted language of ‘first class’, which is nice. Everything else is good. We’re glad to be good with outstanding features. It is a fair judgement. We went over the whole report as a staff on Wednesday afternoon and looked hard at what we need to do. Governors and school will form this into our next strategic plan, and we’ll put this on the website later in the year.
Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to get this, and thank you to parents who told the inspectors what they thought of us. They’re not used to hearing from so many at secondary level.
Tallis life goes on. Out on the bridge, a rare sighting of Mr Post-16 Study Room at large with an older young person. They pass sedately and are replaced by two year sevens at roadrunner speed trying to hold worksheets to their chests using only forward momentum (which may be the wrong word), shrieking loudly. Below stairs, Sir Detention annoys a detainee by analysing the correct use of ‘innit’ while Ms Reception rushes to First Aid with a little wheelchair. Humanutopia pack up in the hall after a day’s work holding year 9 to account for the way they treat one another. Two visitors are blown away by dance and drama. It’s getting darker, but there’s no snow.
Tallis should be 50 when the inspectors next call. We’d like them to be even more impressed then: Tallis the brave, onwards and upwards! Plenty to be getting on with.
You can read our inspection report here.
There’s an open meeting to talk about the report and related matters on Monday 11 February at 1800 in the Hall.