Ofsted – what you need to know as an overseas teacher

Simply hearing the word ‘Ofsted’ can strike fear into the heart of any teacher. But if you stay cool and focus on your strengths you’ll be well placed to manage the tricky inspection process, writes Matt Brown, Director of Dunbar Education.
Typewriter Checklist for Ofsted

There are many people in the education sector who think that Ofsted simply adds more stress to a teacher’s busy life, and I have to say I am one of those people. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard teachers say how surprised they are to take part in such a pressurised external audit, especially when compared to systems in their home countries. Like them or not, Ofsted aren’t going to disappear any time soon. Keep these tips at the front of your mind if you hear that Ofsted are coming to your placement.

  1. Don’t panic

My first piece of advice is easier said than done! You’ll hear lots of different things said about Ofsted, but you just need to tell yourself that their job is essentially to look at everything that’s good, or not so good, with the way learning is delivered at a school. Your job is to teach young people – and it’s what you’re really good at. If you stick to the principles you’ve been trained in and remind yourself that you’re in the role because you earned it, you’ll have no reason to be afraid.

  1. Let others do the worrying

Panic can, and often does, set in at the staff room when word arrives that Ofsted are coming. It’s likely you’ll see the effect of such pressure on permanent staff members and the headteacher in particular, as they know that the focus is really on them. Try your best not to get caught up in it all and don’t let any negativity affect the way that you approach each lesson. Again, focus on your skills and plan your lesson that’s inspected in the same way that you would any other one.

  1. Turn any feedback into a positive

It’s unlikely that anything which happens in your lesson will affect the overall outcome of the inspection. This is worth remembering even if things go worse than you’d expected. If you get any negative feedback after an inspection, use it constructively as a learning opportunity for the next step of your career. On the other hand, if you get any kind of praise be sure to give yourself credit and mention it during your next application. The school will be doing much the same with any positive story that comes out for them. It’s no coincidence that ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools show their rating proudly on their playground banners and throughout their website…

Here’s some background on Ofsted and a bit more on the way schools get audited in England.

Who is Ofsted?

Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. Its job is to inspect schools to give information to parents, promoting improvement and holding schools to account. It also ensures training and care services in England are delivered to a high standard for children and students.

Ofsted is an independent body that reports directly to Parliament. It’s made up of around 1,800 employees working across eight regions of England while contracting more than 2,300 Inspectors to carry out the inspections. The organisation only covers England, but there are similar schemes in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

How does Ofsted do its job?

Typically a group of Ofsted’s inspectors will come to a school for a period of up to two days. The majority of their work is done by observing a range of classrooms, by sitting in on lessons, across different year groups. They’ll regularly speak to pupils as well as staff about how the school operates.

When might Ofsted show up at my school?

Schools can get up to two days’ notice prior to an inspection. However, Ofsted tends to notify the school of its arrival at around midday on the working day before an inspection starts. They do this to ensure that the headteacher, the chair of governors and all other relevant members of staff are there for the inspection.

Inspections can take place at any point after the end of the first five working school days of the autumn term. So, if pupils return to school on a Wednesday, an inspection can take place as early as the following Wednesday. A school can ask to defer or cancel an inspection, but this is rarely approved. Typically Ofsted inspects all new schools, including academies, within their first three years of opening (most often this will happen in the school’s third year).

How do they judge a school’s performance?

Ofsted will evaluate a school as being in one of four main categories:

  • Outstanding: most schools who are judged ‘outstanding’ are providing learning at a very high standard to meet the needs of its pupils. If your school gets this grading, it’ll mean they are usually exempt from routine inspection, unless they are nurseries, special schools or Pupil Referral Units (PRUs).
  • Good: a school judged ‘good’ provides well for the needs of its pupils. Following this grading, your school will normally receive a one-day short inspection every three years, or a full inspection if the school’s performance has changed dramatically.
  • Requires improvement: a school with this grading has a number of areas which could be improved. If your school requires improvement it’ll receive another full inspection within two years in order to monitor its progress.
  • Inadequate: this grading is given by Ofsted when a school has significant weaknesses and isn’t preparing its pupils well for the next stages of their learning. Schools graded as inadequate will receive regular Ofsted inspections. If the management team of a school falls into this grade, then it will be ranked as a Special Measures school.

What happens after an Ofsted inspection?

Once an inspection has been completed, Ofsted will deliver a full report outlining the findings of their inspection. They’ll send this report to the school to get feedback. The completed report is then published within twenty-eight days of the inspection. It’s a legal requirement for the school to provide a copy of the report to the parents of all pupils, and the results of its findings are published

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