What happens when Ofsted don’t call?

When Ofsted don't callIn the present climate of inspection and judgement, you’d think being left off the list would be manna to a school, but what is it like when Ofsted don’t call?


The preparation

We know we shouldn’t teach to the test or even have half an eye on what inspection teams may want, but we all do it.

So, each time there is an update in the inspection framework, things change. It may only be a tweak here and there but probably someone on SLT will have logged it and made sure it was implemented. If it is a major revision, then the whole of the staff will be involved in taking on the new recommendations. The governing body is likely to have a session on the new inspection so that they are ready for the call.

When it comes to teaching, there will still be an emphasis on the year groups where the end of year results are published. Any changes in the curriculum will have been added to timetables. For the summer of 2016, this was a massive job because not only did the curriculum changes but the levels, which were hated with a passion were removed and we were suddenly bereft of our standards.


The expectation

School have been inspected forever it seems and as far back as 1839, HMI has visited a selection and reported on their findings. The creation of Ofsted in 1992 brought inspection into the main arena and for school leaders, Ofsted is part of their raison d’etre. The timings of inspections have changed sometimes dependant on the capacity of the teams and sometimes on government policy.

As a headteacher, I had a YEAR’s notice of my first inspection!! That might seem great news but by the time the Ofsted team arrived for their week-long stay, we had enough paperwork (all colour coded) to fill a huge truck! Since then the notice periods have reduced as has the time team reduced team spends in the school.  We now get a call the day before. This means that in schools awaiting an inspection their shoulders don’t go down until around 2pm in the afternoon Monday to Wednesday.


When Ofsted don’t call

For most schools, they have had a routine of inspections every 2-3 years. They have a good idea when they are due a visit and the timing is usually based on the judgement of the previous inspection. For those schools judged good, the next visit may be 5 years. However, most of those schools judged outstanding do not appear to be on anyone’s list for inspection. I know of a school given the top grade and they haven’t had a visit for over 10 years. They are ‘risk assessed’ on a regular basis. This means someone in Ofsted looking at data for standards and attendance and making the judgement that things haven’t changed. A letter confirming this is sent to the school.


How it feels

You might think that knowing Ofsted are not likely to call would be welcome. Getting that outstanding judgement is brilliant and will give staff the confisdence that anything is possible. The school will buy a banner and have the ‘outstanding’ logo put on all it’s paperwork. This euphoria can last a couple of years, even maybe 3/4.

Nevertheless, as the years pass, so the stress builds. It is not  impossible that the call could come so everything has to be ready ‘just in case’. As mentioned earlier, we don’t want Ofsted to be the be all and end all of our work but it is a consideration. Being on high alert constantly can be so draining. Much of the work of the school will have to be concentrated on what produces data for that vetting system and it means the character of the school remains unknown and uncelebrated. A check is not made on whether children are happy and motivated and whether staff feel valued. It means that the idea that Ofsted is only interested in standards is reinforced.

Schools are under great pressure when it comes to inspections. Those in special measures, inspected constantly, may look at outstanding neighbours with envy, for the lack of pressure of impending visits. however, not having a regular visit can become as stressful and surely it is also unfair but that is the subject of another post!


Are you one of the ‘not visited’ schools? How does it feel?

when Ofsted don't visit



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  • Gosh what an enlightening post, Julia, thanks you. I know quite a few teachers who have experienced Offstead which sounded rather stressful.. I did not quite imagine the potential for stress of Offstead not calling, making me have even more empathy and sheer admiration and respect than I already do for teachers.


  • Helen

    I am HT of a school who had a light touch inspection in 2007 and last full inspection in 2004! As a first time head starting there 4 years ago, I was told by the LA to be ready for inspection. Four years later and there is still no sign. It is hard being constantly on alert, ready and waiting. I agree that we don’t do everything for Ofsted but… it would be good to get it over with.


    • 5sc1

      It must be a real pressure for you & SLT not wanting to put pressure on but needing everything to be tip top Helen


  • Great post and interesting insights thanks


  • Jill Berry

    Thanks, Julia. I know a fair few heads/schools who have had this “sword of Damocles” experience of waiting ( a long time) for “the call”.

    Did you see this in Schools Week on Friday? http://schoolsweek.co.uk/ofsted-ignores-more-than-100-schools-for-a-decade/


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