Ofsted inspection: what will take you from Good to Outstanding?

18th May 2023

Academies will be familiar with the Ofsted inspection process, but there can at times be a lack of clarity in respect of what the inspector will consider to judge an academy Outstanding.

In accordance with the Education Inspection Framework, when inspecting your academy, the inspector will make judgements from Inadequate to Outstanding on the following areas:

  • Quality of education,
  • behaviour and attitudes,
  • personal development,
  • leadership and management.

As well as using these four criteria, the inspector will use all the available evidence to evaluate what it is like to be a learner in the academy, considering whether the standard of education, training or care is Good or Outstanding.

What do you need to demonstrate?

As well as the Education Inspection Framework, Ofsted has published the School Inspection Handbook for Maintained Schools and Academies (the “Handbook”). The Handbook, as its title suggests, is tailored to guide academies through the expectations of inspection. This includes the criteria which the inspector will be looking for when considering the grading for the academy.

The starting point when striving for an Outstanding judgement is to initially meet all of the factors which would identify an academy as Good, and then move on to meet expectations which would indicate that the academy is Outstanding.

Quality of education

To be considered Outstanding in respect of the quality of education, your academy will be expected to demonstrate that the academy’s curriculum intent and implementation are embedded securely and consistently across the academy and it is evident that teachers have a firm understanding of the curriculum and what it means for their practice.

In addition, the work should enable pupils to consistently achieve the aims of the curriculum, which is coherently planned and sequenced towards cumulatively sufficient knowledge and skills for future learning and employment. This will in turn mean that pupils’ work across the curriculum is consistently of a high quality and pupils consistently achieve highly. In addition, pupils with SEND will achieve exceptionally well.

It may be that your academy is going through a period of change, for instance, where it has been brokered into a MAT. In these situations, national performance data may not be wholly reflective of the current quality of education in the academy, and the inspector will view the national data in this context. They will also bear in mind that developing and embedding an effective curriculum takes time, and that the academy may only be part-way through the process of redeveloping a curriculum.

Behaviour and attitudes

When making a judgement in respect of behaviour and attitudes the inspector will consider how leaders and staff create an environment which is safe, calm, orderly and positive, and how this subsequently impacts on the pupils’ behaviour and attitudes. To achieve an Outstanding judgement in respect of behaviour and attitudes, the inspector will want to see that pupils behave with consistently high levels of respect for others and play a highly positive role in creating a school environment in which difference is valued and nurtured, and bullying, harassment and violence are never tolerated.

In terms of the education, pupils should have consistently positive attitudes, with persistence in the face of difficulties. They should be able to make highly positive, tangible contributions to the life of the academy and/or the wider community, actively supporting the well-being of one another. Their behaviour should demonstrate consistently positive attitudes. Your academy should regularly review your attendance, behaviour and exclusions policies and ensure that these are consistently and fairly implemented.

As well as considering these factors, the inspector will speak to pupils from a range of different backgrounds and who have different experiences of the academy’s approach to behaviour, including pupils who have experienced sanctions. The views of these pupils and their understanding of the importance of positive behaviour in school and beyond school will be considered by the inspector.

Personal development

The factors that Ofsted will expect the academy to demonstrate to be judged Outstanding in this area, include that it consistently promotes the extensive personal development of pupils, branching beyond the expected, so that pupils have access to a wide, rich set of experiences and exceptional quality opportunities, which are strongly taken up by pupils, to develop their talents and interests. These experiences should be provided in a coherently planned way, via the curriculum and extra-curricular activities, considerably strengthening the school’s offer. In terms of developing pupils’ character, the academy should demonstrate that its approach is exemplary and worthy of being shared with others. There may be opportunities that can be explored across the education sector with other independent schools whereby you can collaborate together.

Leadership and management

To be graded Outstanding in respect of leadership and management, the academy leaders should ensure that teachers receive focused and highly effective professional development. Further, teachers’ subject, pedagogical and pedagogical content knowledge should consistently build and develop over time, translating into improvements in the teaching of the curriculum.

Leaders should also ensure that highly effective and meaningful engagement takes place with staff at all levels, with issues identified and dealt with appropriately and quickly, particularly when those issues relate to workload. This should lead to staff consistently reporting high levels of support for well-being issues.

When a school is part of a MAT, inspectors recognise that leaders and managers of the MAT are responsible for the quality of education provided in all the academies that make up the MAT. Parts of some of the leadership functions described in the grade criteria will be performed by MAT leaders rather than individual leaders of the school. If leadership functions are performed by MAT leaders, then inspectors will consider whether they need to meet MAT leaders to gather evidence. The CEO or their delegate may request to meet the inspector and attend meetings.

As well as grading these four criteria, the inspector will also use all their evidence to evaluate what it is like to attend the academy and its overall effectiveness. To be considered Outstanding, the inspector will want to see that the quality of education is Outstanding, and all other key judgements are likely to be Outstanding.

In exceptional circumstances, one of the criteria may be judged Good, as long as there is convincing evidence that the academy is improving this area sustainably towards Outstanding. Typically, this will mean meeting every one of the Good criteria but falling short on the Outstanding criteria for that key judgement. It will also be crucial to demonstrate that safeguarding at the academy is effective.

Practical steps

Inspections are an inevitable part of the academy’s life and, whilst they can be a stressful time for staff and leaders, they are an opportunity to demonstrate the best qualities in your academy.

You should ensure that your policies and staff training are kept up to date so that, when it comes time for inspection, your academy is in the best position possible. If you would like support with reviewing your policies to ensure that they comply with the latest guidance, or with leadership training, we would be pleased to speak with you.

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