Ofsted’s common inspection framework, launched in September 2015, introduced a system of short inspections for “good” schools and changed how inspectors are employed.
A few months later, when The Key surveyed 979 governors for its annual State of Education report, nearly 40% of respondents said they had found preparing for inspection difficult to manage over the 12 months preceding the survey.
As a researcher in school governance, I answer lots of questions from governors about inspection, the new framework, what happens and how to be prepared. With the most common of these questions in mind, here are eight steps governors can take to make sure they are inspection-ready:
1 Familiarise yourself with the inspection handbook
It may sound obvious but governors must be up to scratch with how inspectors evaluate schools. Ofsted’s school inspection handbook explains how inspectors arrive at their judgment and includes a useful list of factors they look at when considering the school’s governance (as part of their assessment of the effectiveness of leadership and management).
Make sure you are ready to field questions. For example, inspectors will want to know how you ensure the school’s finances are managed well. Having the school business manager attend a meeting of the finance committee and present the budget is one way you might stay informed and fulfil this role.
2 Prepare your evidence
Inspectors want to see evidence that what governors say goes on in the school actually happens, so providing evidence is really important. For example, if you are proud of how the school uses pupil premium funding, show you understand the data by pointing to the impact it has on progress and attainment.
It’s a good idea to have an inspection file with detailed information about the governing body’s impact on the school’s progress and pupils’ achievement. For example, you might include information on specific areas of achievement that the governing body knows are in need of improvement, such as a particular year group that is struggling, and details of how it is expecting the school to address these. It will make the inspection team’s job easier and will help governors answer questions.
3 Address weaknesses identified in previous inspections
With the introduction of short inspections, “good” schools are being inspected more frequently. Schools that “require improvement” or are deemed “inadequate” also receive frequent monitoring. Inspectors want to see that governors have looked at the weaknesses highlighted in previous inspections and taken action to improve them.
Be ready to demonstrate how you have done this. For example, it might be that the previous report highlighted the attainment of pupils eligible for free school meals as a weakness. You could point to a change in how you have used pupil premium funding to address this and the improvement in attainment it has led to.
4 Decide who will meet the inspectors
While all governors should be confident enough to answer questions, inspectors understand that two or three might be most engaged with the school. You may want to ask these governors to volunteer to meet inspectors. They might then hold more regular, for example fortnightly, meetings with staff on key areas like safeguarding or pupil progress. This would help them to develop their knowledge and ensure that when they meet inspectors – whenever the time comes – they can be confident and well informed.
5 Make sure the school website is inspection-ready
Your school’s website is probably the first thing inspectors will look at when preparing a visit, and first impressions count. As the governance handbook explains, there are statutory requirements for what a school must publish on its website. For example, it must show each governor’s attendance record at governing body and committee meetings over the previous academic year. If your school website is up-to-date and compliant with requirements, it will help to establish a positive view of the school before the inspectors arrive.
6 Use governing body minutes to show your impact
Inspectors are legally entitled to see all governing body minutes and may use them to check if governors are carrying out their role properly. Minutes from governing body or committee meetings are a great opportunity to demonstrate how you challenge and support the school’s leadership team. For example, if the headteacher has presented his or her report for the governing body, make sure the minutes show that you asked effective questions and held the headteacher to account. The Information Commissioner’s Office expects minutes to be available for at least the current and previous three years.
7 Multi-academy trusts (MATs) must be clear on how the governance works
Ofsted’s inspection handbook says inspectors will want to meet “those responsible for governance”. In a MAT this is likely to include those at board level and those on the local governing body. If your school is part of a MAT, or you are a MAT trustee, you must be able to explain how delegation to the local governing body works. Are you clear on what the board is responsible for and what has been passed down to school level? Have a scheme of delegation ready to show inspectors.
8 Don’t panic
We can’t pretend that being under inspection is stress-free but it’s important that governors don’t panic when Ofsted inspectors arrive. If you are overseeing your school effectively as a matter of course, and can show how you are doing it, you can be confident.
John Davies is a researcher specialising in school governance at The Key, provider of leadership and management support to schools.
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