An alternative to high-stakes inspection.


As educationalists we all want high standards, an inclusive ethos that values diversity, and a growth mindset, among other things. We are change ninjas and innovators. How then did we end up with an inspection mechanism that focuses on static standards and accountability? A process that is done to us and provides a label without any meaningful context. Most committed school leaders are interested in continual improvement. We came into this role to build a stronger school and to impact positively on our children and their community.

Imagine if instead of a periodic inspection we had a system of annual health checks. A teaching and learning MOT equivalent. It would still look at school self-evaluation and outcomes for pupils but would also be a process where support, guidance and professional development are an important part. In other words, not just weighing the pig but fattening it too. Imagine it could be a learning process for all?

The health check would begin with a discussion with the leader and the SLT to discuss the school context and the format for the day. We would agree a timetable for lesson observations and the focus eg, reading including phonics. The SLT would select a deep dive subject of excellence and a deep dive subject which is still in the development stages and a number of lessons would be seen in these areas. In that way our Ofsted trained colleague/s can see how practices develop across the school and offer advice.

Working together, Ofsted trained colleague/s and the SLT would visit every class observing lessons. Discussion about what was seen would provide opportunities for both challenge and support. Observations on personal development and the learning behaviour of pupils would be an important talking point throughout the visit.

This would lead on to discussions with key subject leaders eg, deep dive leads and the SENDCO. Questions could be focussed on lines of inquiry to identify strengths and weaknesses in a learning together partnership.

Some teachers would get feedback on their lessons that would focus on the adaptations they made throughout the lesson to accommodate learners. Yet more training and development opportunities here.

Then talking to groups of children about their learning that day in the subjects seen and the children would be invited to bring their learning to the meeting. We listen carefully to what the children are saying about their school and their learning.

Together we would look at a sample of books from every class. The pupil books are labelled with the pupil's name, ability level, year group, previous KS stage results where appropriate, and any additional need such as SEND, DA or EAL. Then, one SEND set of books from every year group.

Throughout the process rich discussions on what is working well and what can be improved provides excellent CPD for the SLT. Finally, together we identify the three key issues for development and, most importantly, discuss strategies to address these.  

The next year’s health check would look at how effective the school has been in tackling the issues raised and focus on finding new ones that the school should prioritise moving forward.

Imagine a system of school improvement that aligns with our values as educationalists, providing learning opportunities for all.   

Ken Johnson is an NEU Leadership member and head teacher of a London primary school.


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Teachers and leaders work under the shadow cast by Ofsted. An unfair and unreliable inspectorate.

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