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Ofsted inspection - what does outstanding look like?

October 24, 2022, 10:35 GMT+1
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  • Ian Rowden, headteacher at Blean Primary School, in Canterbury, Kent, recently got 'the call'; here's what happened next...
Ofsted inspection - what does outstanding look like?


We received the call at around midday on a Monday, informing us the lead inspector would be ringing back about an hour later. 

We were expecting to be contacted and knew that Ofsted was in the area, as other outstanding schools locally had already been visited. So, we knew we were on their list and had already ensured all the paperwork and everything was ready to go. 

At the beginning of the year, we had been through the Ofsted framework and checked what they’d need on that first morning, so the housekeeping had been done on aspects such as the timetables, staffing lists and general information. 

I had already had an earlier meeting with my senior colleagues where we’d discussed our previous Ofsted in 2016, what our priorities were and what we had done as a school to improve. We also looked at how we’d worked through the Covid pandemic and our curriculum vision. We knew what we wanted to say and were ready for that conversation. 

We also used our website to our advantage and put a lot of information on there, and I believe the inspector looked at this to ensure what we were saying matched up. 

During the call, the inspector told us what she wanted to look at but also asked what we wanted her to observe, so it felt like it was a dialogue. She was keen to look at early reading and phonics teaching, and to hear the lowest 20% ability pupils read. The inspector also wanted to look at teaching and learning in mathematics across the whole school. 

She asked what we thought should be the subject for the deep dive. We had been quite keen for her to look at our history teaching, but it just so happened that on the days she wanted to visit, history wasn’t going to be taught – which put a huge spanner in our works. We had previously had a visit from the local authority and the adviser had mentioned our strong teaching in RE, so we made the decision that this would be the subject of our deep dive, in foundation.  

Ofsted’s focus

The inspector’s focus was heavily on phonics across the school, and our reading schemes. She was very clear that she wanted to see pupils using appropriate books, and that these matched what they had been taught in phonics. She wanted to listen to children read and spent a lot of time focusing on early reading in reception and Years 1 and 2.  She was very interested to know how we develop reading further up the school as well. 

She also wanted to know about how we teach maths, and how we develop our curriculum from reception all the way to Year 6. 

The inspector spent a lot of time in classrooms, observing teaching and speaking to the children about what they were learning. She wanted to know what they’d remembered from previous lessons and their prior knowledge. There was a big emphasis on pupil voice. 

When talking to children about what they’d learned, she also asked about general school life: do you feel safe in school? What is behaviour like in school? Who would you go to in time of concern? Likewise, when the inspector spoke to subject leaders about their subjects, she asked about their workload.  

We found the whole process very open and it gave us opportunities to talk to the inspector. She had a listening ear and was willing to meet with me throughout the day to discuss what information she had gathered, offering me the opportunity to provide further explanation. It felt like a very honest dialogue. The inspector made no knee-jerk decisions, and it didn’t feel as if there was an agenda or that she was looking for errors. The whole process was very rigorous.   

What went well

She made the point, both to me and to the governors, that her inspection was all evidence-based and not about her opinions. She said she’d spent two days gathering evidence and that she’d referred it back to the inspection framework.  

She commented that our curriculum was broad and balanced, and that children spoke highly of the school, not just when it came to academic support, but also that their social and emotional needs were being met. She noted how happy the children were and that it was clear the staff were well-supported. 

We found the feedback to be a very positive experience. 

Where we can improve

We were waiting for the inspector to identify an area of improvement but she said there was no aspect of what we did that needed further development. We had spent our time with her sharing information about the school, some of which she had not asked for, but we wanted her to see it. She was willing to hear our story and consider our evidence.  

What Ofsted asked 

How is your curriculum sequenced for learning progression? 

We had our curriculum mapped out on the website and the inspector wanted us to provide evidence to show how we were doing this. She didn’t take any documents for granted but wanted to see the work in action. We showed her the pupils’ books and she spoke to the children and the staff about what was being taught and learned.   

What do you use as a phonics scheme?

At Blean, we don’t use any of the suggested DfE schemes and are currently using one that is still being accredited. We were able to show her phonics in action and she was satisfied that it was working for our pupils and that it was achieving great outcomes. But she did grill us on it because of the lack of certification.

How do you ensure curriculum equity?

The inspector wanted to see a broad and balanced curriculum for all children. We were able to show her that pupils who might require interventions were not taken out of class but were very much a part of lessons with everyone else, because our curriculum is inclusive to all. She was able to speak to the children about this and observe their learning.

What are your safeguarding processes?

We had a case study ready to share with the inspector that allowed us to demonstrate how our processes work, and how we collect evidence about safeguarding children.  We shared how we value working with our professional partners to signpost families to the right support at the earliest time. We explained how the safety and wellbeing of our pupils is paramount and how this is the basis of all our systems in school; our curriculum is designed to teach children to be healthy and safe.

School fact file

Headteacher: Ian Rowden 

Ofsted rating: Outstanding

Previous Ofsted rating: Outstanding 

Number of pupils on roll: 429 

Income: £2.08m 

Outgoing: £2.11m 

FSM: 8.2%

Proportion of pupils reaching the expected standards in reading, writing and maths: 71%

Blean Primary School is located in Canterbury, Kent. Its most recent Ofsted inspection, in March 2022, judged it to be outstanding with no identified areas of improvement needed.