I am lucky enough to be Chair of Governors at an exceptional Special School and in October we went through the Ofsted experience. There was all the usual stress, more for the staff than for me, and in the end we got the result we were hoping for: Outstanding in all areas. After the inspection I thought about writing about the experience but other things happened, time moved on and it didn’t seem so relevant anymore. Now, however, I have been contacted by another school in the authority who have asked me to attend one of their governors’ meetings to talk about what they can expect when their visit comes round. I’ve been making some notes to help me remember what happened and it makes sense to share this with others.
We had known Ofsted were due and had made it a focus of a working weekend we held early last term. This weekend had been invaluable for us, we finally had the time to discuss things in detail, a luxury that is rarely possible with the crowded agendas of standard meetings. We had taken the opportunity to review the work of the governing body using the LA’s Assessment of Governance self-evaluation form. We reviewed the School’s Development Plan, Pupil Progress Data, Performance Management, eSafeguarding and how we were using the Pupil Premium. A few days later the senior management team and I had the chance to meet with our LA School Improvement Partner to discuss the sort of questions we should expect to face from Ofsted. I don’t think anyone is ever totally prepared but we felt we had covered all the main areas and had identified work that needed doing, we made our plan and waited for the call. It came a lot sooner than we were expecting, just a little over a week later.
We got the now standard half day notice. That evening I had the chance to look again at the list of questions from the LA and collected together notes and documents that I thought would be useful. It was arranged that I would go to school first thing and meeting me would be the first item on the chief inspector’s agenda.
The meeting lasted a little over half an hour and the most important thing to mention was the focus on evidence, after nearly every answer that I gave I was asked: “Where can I find the evidence for that? Where is it written down?” I was glad I had taken the time to put together some documents so that for most of the questions I was able to point to the actual documents the inspector wanted and where I didn’t have anything to hand the inspector made it clear that he would be checking minutes to make sure that what I was saying was accurate.
Two areas came up more than anything else, the first was Pupil Premium. How had governors decided what to spend the pupil premium on and how did we know what difference it had made? With the information from the working day discussions to hand and a copy of the statutory page of the school website in my file I felt that I was able to cover this question well but that wouldn’t be enough, there needed to be evidence of governors’ discussions in copies of minutes over the previous year and evidence that governors had challenged the school and considered different options for spending the money.
The second key area was Performance Management: “Was performance improving? How did governors know? How many teachers had gone through the threshold in the previous year?” Again evidence was key, it didn’t matter that I didn’t know the numbers off the top of my head but I did need to be able to say where they could be found and describe governors’ involvement in the performance management process.
The rest of the time was spent on other areas including:
- The curriculum – how are governors involved in monitoring teaching and learning in the school and how do they know what progress pupils are making?
- Evaluation – how do governors evaluate the work of the school, what information is available to them?
- Challenge – give an example of a time when governors have challenged the headteacher
- Parents – what do parents think about the school, how do governors know and how have they responded to feedback?
- Planning – how are governors involved in the creation and monitoring of the School Development Plan?
It was an intense half hour and the main thing I got from the experience was the need for evidence. We have an excellent senior leadership team who are well used to presenting information at meetings, they anticipate questions and reports are very detailed. Our governors are also very experienced and knowledgeable. This means that discussions don’t always to focus on every aspect of a subject so not everything is minuted in detail. In future we will be a lot more aware of what needs to be recorded and what Ofsted will expect to see, we will definitely be more aware of when and how we are challenging the school.
The experience was stressful but the outcome was fantastic, for the third time in a row the school has been judged to be outstanding. The best thing about the whole process is that the hard work and dedication of the staff has recognised and celebrated.