There’s a lot at stake in a school. Especially at this time, when teachers have never been under more pressure and half the workforce are considering leaving the profession altogether in the next couple of years. Schools as a whole are under pressure to perform well.
With that in mind, we’ve reviewed the Ofsted guidelines to discover what they are looking for in an “Outstanding” school. The five key judgements and how they are made are outlined below. Each element can be judged inadequate, requires improvement, good, or Outstanding.
As part of assessing the overall effectiveness of your school, inspectors are asked to consider the experience of your students. Is the quality of their education Outstanding? In order for overall effectiveness to be judged as Outstanding, the other four key judgements must be graded Outstanding.
A key consideration is the ‘effectiveness and impact of the provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.’ In short, this necessitates the ability of pupils to be respectful of others, reflective about their own experiences, to be inspired to learn and be creative, to be conscientious, to be aware of their cultural heritage and how central the democratic process is to the development of modern Britain.
Subjects like PSHE, Citizenship and Politics are instrumental in exploring these areas with students. Inspectors will assess whether or not students with extra learning needs or disabilities are sufficiently supported, and whether or not safeguarding is effective. Safeguarding in schools is a huge topic and there a lot of resources available to help schools tackle it. Ofsted offer their own guide, there are dedicated websites such as Safeguarding in Schools, and the NSPCC provide advice on their website.
Effectiveness of leadership and management
Effectiveness of leadership and management applies both to leaders within the school and governors. Central to this judgement is a consistency of vision held by leaders, and evidence of cooperation, working towards that common goal. In addition, this vision must be effectively communicated to parents and students.
This key judgement can be partially evidenced by how far the leadership team has managed to create and maintain a culture of high aspiration and achievement in both academic and vocational arenas. Keeping morale high in spite of the fear and pressure that teachers are under is difficult, but showing support and encouragement will help to keep happiness levels up. Ensuring that staff are happy is important not only to their well-being and performance but also to your pupils’ performance. Ofsted looks for evidence of good relationships between staff, and between teachers and pupils. Support, encouragement, and opportunities for CPD will help teachers feel valued within their school. Extra-curricular clubs may be helpful in breaking down barriers in the relationships between teachers and pupils. Seeing each other outside of the formal setting of the classroom may encourage students to view their teachers as people as well as authority figures.
Inspectors will be especially interested in any NQTs in the school and how they are supported. We’ve created some resources to help NQTs through their first year.
Challenges to leadership or criticism from within the school or from parents should be addressed. It is important to create an environment for open, honest discussion between stakeholders. Teaching should be exemplary and all staff should engage with each other to improve and adapt to the evolving needs of the classroom.
At several points throughout the document, the inspection handbook stresses the importance of efforts to combat radicalisation. In order to be deemed Outstanding, ‘[l]eaders’ work to protect pupils from radicalisation and extremism is exemplary.’ These efforts can only be successful in a open-minded environment where students feel safe and respectful of their teachers.
Below are some ways for teachers to promote good relationships with their students:
- Engage and connect with students. Use their first names and express an interest in their lives. One-on-one interactions will help students feel like more than another filled chair in the classroom.
- Create a positive classroom environment, where students feel like their teachers care about their well-being. Look out for students who maybe need a little extra support with their studies or with their confidence.
- Encourage and help foster good relationships between students in your class. Positive, healthy relationships between students will make maintaining good behaviour easier and will mean students look forward to class. This attitude will help lessons be truly successful.
Quality of teaching, learning and assessment
To assess the quality of teaching, inspectors will examine planning, observe lessons, look at marking, as well as speaking to students about their learning. Pupils will be expected to be able to reflect on what they’ve learned and their experiences. The inspection takes into account not just how well students are prepared for exams, but how they are prepared for life as part of a modern British society.
Time in the classroom is used well: topics introduced effectively and resources coordinated well. The expectations of pupils should be clear and behaviour must be consistently and effectively managed. Teachers must be aware of the extent of their students’ abilities, to ensure that no one is left behind, but that those performing well aren’t allowed to plateau or coast. Constructive feedback is crucial to facilitate the students’ improvement.
In order to be Outstanding, teachers must be supporting pupils to improve in the classroom, but also by setting challenging homework to consolidate their learning from home. Having a robust homework policy will allow SLT to ensure not only that the right homework is being set but also that there is a clear way of monitoring and tracking it.
Personal development, behaviour and welfare
In this key judgement, pupil welfare is considered closely. Inspectors will examine attendance levels as well as behaviour, and trends over time. Discipline systems will be examined including rates of exclusions.
Also considered will be the general culture of the school, monitored by inspectors, observed both in the classroom and at breaks. Outstanding schools will have conscientious students who value their education and take pride in their school. It is a huge task to improve the atmosphere at a whole school level, but not insurmountable. Small steps can make a huge difference. Encouraging staff to say a simple thanks to their colleagues and show appreciation can build team spirit. A good attitude begins at the top and trickles down.
In Outstanding schools there is a strong sense of respect amongst staff and between teachers and students. Teachers and students alike work to tackle problems like bullying and work to raise awareness of the different forms it can take. Students should feel safe in school and should be able to keep themselves safe with the school’s support.
Subjects like Food Technology and PE will offer invaluable knowledge and skills that students can use to take care of their health. With rising rates of mental illness it is also vital that students are well educated about their emotional and mental well-being. PSHE is a great opportunity to give students the tools they need to be prepared for life outside of school, with scope to cover a range of topics from sexual health to career planning.
Outcomes for pupils
This key judgement is assessed on the basis of students’ progress and achievements. To be Outstanding, progress across the board should be above average; attainment should be ‘broadly in line with national averages or, if below these, it is improving rapidly.’ Disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, or special educational needs should be supported so that they have the same opportunities to succeed.
In addition to good progression, students should be able to reflect and report on their own knowledge with their peers and with adults. This can be facilitated by providing students with the tools to easily view their own progression. Self-marking and peer marking will help students to understand the assessment criteria. Students should be encouraged to read beyond their studies and take initiative with their own learning.
Beyond school, students should be prepared for what comes next whether it’s work, training, or further/higher education. To be Outstanding, Ofsted specifies that there should be a greater percentage of students who go onto further/higher education, employment, training, or apprenticeships compared to the national average. Whatever the next steps for your students, they should have had the opportunity to explore different opportunities. Careers fairs, workshops, and work experience placements can help to build confidence in students and give them a taste of a career they might never have considered.
In lifting the main points from the criteria in each key judgement we’ve tried to condense a lot of information into something digestible. We don’t have the space to cover everything but we hope you’ve found our article helpful. The factor that kept creeping up in every area, is the ability of all stakeholders to reflect on their own responsibility area, from students to teachers, to governors. Being aware of strengths and weaknesses across the school, and the ability to consider these with a fresh set of eyes, is the first step that will allow leaders to take action to move towards ‘Outstanding’.