2020 Spring Term 1


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  • An inspector calls
    The thought of a 90-minute pre-inspection phone call with a lead inspector may not seem like something to celebrate but it needn't be too daunting. Here, ASCL Inspection Specialist Stephen Rollett shares his insights. More
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The thought of a 90-minute pre-inspection phone call with a lead inspector may not seem like something to celebrate but it needn’t be too daunting. Here, ASCL Inspection Specialist Stephen Rollett shares his insights. 

An inspector calls

It’s worth remembering that Ofsted’s original proposal was for this conversation to take place on the school site, with minimal notice. This proved a universally unpopular idea and was replaced with the compromise of a 90-minute phone call between lead inspector and headteacher.

So, what is this phone call like and how should it be handled?

Process and pragmatism

My advice is that you shouldn’t run your school for the sake of Ofsted and, therefore, ‘preparation’ for inspection ought not be something that much, if any, time is invested in. However, you may find it reassuring to know how the inspection will proceed and to know you’ve done a little pragmatic planning for key aspects of the process in advance.

You can read about what to expect from the call in the Ofsted handbook. Essentially, the call will consist of two main parts:

  1. shorter planning conversation
  2. education-focused conversation

The main part of the call will be the ‘education-focused conversation’. Ofsted’s School Inspection Update (https://tinyurl.com/wf8wgd2) gives useful clarification around what to expect:

“Inspectors will use this conversation to understand:

  • the school’s context and the progress it has made since the previous inspection, including any specific progress made on areas for improvement identified at previous inspections that remain relevant under the EIF (Education Inspection Framework)
  • the headteacher’s assessment of the school’s current strengths and weaknesses, particularly in relation to:
  • the curriculum
  • the way teaching supports pupils to learn the curriculum
  • the standards pupils achieve
  • pupils’ behaviour and attitudes
  • pupils’ personal development
  • the specific areas of the school (for example, subjects, year groups, aspects of provision) that should be focused on during the inspection.”

Another essential aim of the call is to agree the subjects that will undergo ‘deep dives’ on the following day.

With all this in mind, what should leaders be aware of?

Here are a few tips to help you in the right direction:

  • Break up the call.The total length of the call is a maximum of 90 minutes. This is a maximum duration, not a target, and the call may take less time. Inspectors should not expect you to take the call in one sitting and accommodate any requests leaders make to pause the call, for example to facilitate a comfort break. In fact, even if you don’t need a comfort break, it might be helpful to pause the call midway just to give yourself a few minutes of thinking space. 
  • Have someone else with you. Some headteachers have already reported that they’ve brought other members of the senior leadership team into the call for questions on issues relating to their specific responsibilities. We would expect inspectors to accommodate this. In any case, it is probably prudent for the headteacher to have a colleague with them. This provides someone else to make accurate notes, give prompts if necessary, and also someone with whom to reflect after the call is over. 
  • Make a brief crib sheet for the call and keep an electronic copy on your device. Now you know the areas that inspectors will ask you about (see above) you might find it helpful to jot down a few bullet points to act as prompts for when you take the call. The key is to keep this brief (probably no more than two sides of A4). It’s worth getting some feedback from trusted senior colleagues as they might notice any important omissions. Also, ensure you have your self-evaluation framework (SEF) to hand. 
  • Be prepared to talk about your ‘top-level’ curriculum intent. While your school may have found it useful to write a ‘curriculum intent’ statement, please be aware that Ofsted does not expect this.

Moreover, inspectors have been asked to probe beyond just the intent statements. During the 90-minute call, inspectors will want to get to the nitty-gritty of the curriculum: What sort of curriculum do children receive? Why? Do any children receive a different curriculum, and why?

  • Think about how well your school is covering the requirements of the National Curriculum. Inspectors will want to find whether the breadth and depth of the National Curriculum is being covered. Although academies have curriculum freedoms, Ofsted’s view is that their curriculum should at least match the National Curriculum for breadth and ambition. This means the National Curriculum is an important yardstick for inspectors, whether the school is local authority maintained or an academy. You should do some thinking about this in advance.
  • As part of your planning for the call, consider what you’d say are the headlines for each subject area. You don’t need to know precisely what Year 8 historians are doing in the second week of March, but you ought to know broadly what each subject wants to deliver for its pupils. You should also have some understanding of where there are strengths and weaknesses in the curriculum. 
  • Inspectors may ask for your views on where the ‘deep dives’ should take place – it’s worth thinking about what you’ll say in advance. If they ask you for a strong subject, where will you suggest? If they say they’d like to look at a subject that’s a work in progress, where will you direct them? Inspectors will draw on information in the Inspection Data Summary Report (IDSR) to help them, but school leaders’ views should be considered as well. 
  • Keep it in perspective. Although this call is important, it is just one part of the process and, on its own, is unlikely to make or break an inspection. Once you’ve done this small amount of planning, file your crib sheet away and get on with the most important job – running your school for your children.

Find out more

ASCL’s 2019 SEF toolkit includes a headteacher’s commentary template to support leaders in being ready for this call – find out how to obtain your copy at www.ascl.org.uk/SEFToolkit

ASCL has also produced detailed guidance for the new ‘deep dive’ inspection methodology – see www.ascl.org.uk/QualityofInspection

Stephen Rollett 
ASCL Curriculum and
Inspection Specialist