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Ofsted – looking through a new lens?








‘There is enough evidence of improved performance to suggest that the school could be judged outstanding if we were to carry out a graded inspection now’, is the headline from our school’s most recent Ofsted inspection in Spring 2023. Not that long ago, this might have prompted a bit of a fanfare and a banner for all to see on North Hill. But today, things are rather different as, for good reason, Ofsted is very much under the microscope.

I’ve written previously on the subject of our inspectorate, usually following a visit when the process has been frustrating and, to be completely honest, pretty scary. On a training day following an inspection, I shared the interrogation scene from ‘Marathon Man’ where Laurence Olivier tries to extract information (and teeth) from Dustin Hoffman’s mouth:

The fear of this scene goes beyond that of a visit to the dentist (which by the way, is nothing today compared to the bad old days of no anaesthetic). It’s more about the terror of Hoffman’s character being unable to find the answer required to stop the pain, which was my experience several years ago at the hands of a particularly intransigent lead inspector.  It was during this inspection that I walked out of the school and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore’. Fortunately, a walk around the block and a good talking to enabled me to get back to the task in hand.

My disagreement with this inspector centred around my frustration at her refusal to see or acknowledge the fantastic things that make our school great: our curriculum and all we do to enrich our children’s experience at school; our wonderfully inclusive community; the priority given to individuality and creativity, instead remaining fixed on the narrow agenda that was the Ofsted framework of the time. ‘I haven’t come here today to see … (insert family centre, early years, Mandarin, class assemblies, sport, history, PE, BSL etc. etc.), I’ve come to see progress in reading, writing and maths in Year 6.’ In the end, we got away with a ‘Good’, but the process was stressful, frustrating and from my perspective, wrong.

So, with such a healthy disregard for Ofsted, why are we now sharing our success? After all, and apologies for a football analogy, nobody likes it when the manager who is known for his criticism of referees, heaps praise when a decision is made in the team’s favour.  The answer is that this time things felt recognisably different. Amanda Spielman’s revision of the Ofsted framework shifted the focus away from the often-misleading standards agenda to what really matters – the overall quality of the education children receive.  Whilst the general view within the profession is that the framework is now much tougher, this change suited the approach that we’ve followed over many years.

This time around, from ‘the 90 minutes phone-call’ prior to the visit, it was clear that our lead inspector respected and understood the aims, ethos and values of the school and, on arrival, was interested to see the breadth of our curriculum. She spent considerable time talking to leaders, teachers, children, parents and governors; she visited the early years, our art studio and cookery school; she spent time in the family centre, the dining centre and the playground; and she watched a falconry display – all of which were off-limits under the previous regime. She had an open mind and was genuinely interested in the school and the rich experiences we provide for our children.

The most satisfying thing for me however, is that this time the published report accurately reflects the school as we know it, along with the feeling of vindication that comes from knowing that our strategy not to chase an Ofsted grade under a flawed framework, was right.

So, unapologetically, I will be getting out the trumpet and blowing it loudly because Highgate Primary is a fantastic school and we’re now a little bit closer to achieving our aim!

Highgate Primary Ofsted Inspection Spring 2023