All my comments should be considered on the back of a huge wave of relief from the weight of a period of about 6 months awaiting this inspection having now been lifted! They should also maybe be tempered by the fact that it went well and the outcome supported our SEF judgements (Good) across the board.
Having experienced the short notice variety (with the team themselves being inspected), it was less painful and intrusive than at first one might think. The opening gambit is, of course, bereft of a Pre Inspection Briefing (PIB) so has little to go on bar any information and trends from Raise Online and any previous inspection reports. As a result, and specifically within the context of being a “short stay school” (or Pupil Referral Unit), the experience was one characterised by enhanced dialogue directed at matching the SEF judgements to evidence. No surprise there then but, take note, “dialogue”! At the same time, the inspectors “inspector” (CFBT Senior Officer) was at pains to discuss more than just the straightforward QA of the team. He was most interested in the questionnaires, or rather the lack of effectiveness thereof, as there was clearly insufficient time to get them back from parents – Parentview was aired as a possible solution and a solid understanding of the ludicrously low threshold required for these returns to become part of the process was apparent. This will surely be re-visited as it is obvious how the comments of very few could easily skew the entire inspection process.
The process itself was enhanced by a rigorous search for evidence which was far less tick-box-like than expected as each evidence trail was intermingled with this dialogue model. The format was familiar to the model in use in the late 90’s whereby assumptions were loose and open-ended affording the dialogue to develop contextually and to be supported by a sound and accurate narrative of evidence. Therefore, if the SEF is accurate and, most importantly, a living document, the evidence gradually furnishes the final outcomes and tightens the judgements as they emerge. In this way, we were made aware, with reasonable notice, of what was missing and how to deliver or present evidence more succinctly and in support of emerging judgements.
By midday on the first day, we had a clear target and a lowest baseline particularly after compliance had been inspected. By the afternoon inspectors meeting (which, again, allowed for dialogue and input rather than just observation) an emerging pattern was apparent with sufficient advertising of what would be required on day two. By morning break on day two ….. enhanced clarity of some evidence and filling gaps were all that was required. Judgements were then affirmed and would have taken significant counter-evidence to affect them adversely.
At the end of day two there were absolutely no surprises and staff were far less stressed than one might have imagined as they were all able to contribute as were the kids. Maybe this is particular to PRU inspections, and we are obviously better placed to allude to improved rates of progress, but all in all the team were sincere, rigorous (and fair) and professional.
I think the mainstream setting will suffer from the rate of progress v. baseline focus as the science of data analysis is well and truly sussed by Ofsted. Interestingly however, an over-arching commentary on proportionate progress for cohorts and targeted groups definitely influenced the achievement judgement which may help your cause if your inclusion processes and interventions are effective. Teaching and learning will require a really robust evidence base of classroom observation and the use of an Ofsted observation template to create individual development plans for teachers and TA’s went down really well. These are wholly personalised and not used for PM! Our buddy system is used to support the process and teachers/TA’s own the plans. Just an idea … but it still needs the supported evidence of accurately judged observations creating the historical narrative which results in your SEF judgement.
At the end of it all, I am satisfied that the principle is fine in that the SEF and related improvement plans will be regularly monitored in respect of their milestones and should, therefore, be up to date, validated and living. If that is the case, and leaders at all levels are satisfied that sufficient robust evidence is in place, your own judgements should be approved. The one proviso I would make is that, whatever is made of the process eventually, there is no way in hell that I would have gone to a couple of the meetings I had scheduled off site! The process as a whole cannot be fair if the Headteacher is not present for at least the majority of the inspection with so many elements to be judged and so many staff to support through the process.