The school received two Requires Improvement judgements between 2017 and 2019, the second of which came just after I became head. That was followed by a change of framework and three further Ofsted visits centred around the effects of the pandemic, so the school has been through quite a bit of scrutiny and visits over three or four years, which took its toll on us and has been exhausting. But in the midst of this we created a culture of being open and transparent.
So, when this academic year arrived, we knew we were ready for the Section 5 inspection as an incredible amount of work had already gone into the curriculum during the previous academic year. We spent a long time developing our subject sequences, making sure the curriculum we were offering was unique and bespoke to our school, and that we were able to show progression.
We spent some time reflecting on what had been positive about our previous inspections: aspects such as behavior; site development; parental engagement; and the leadership structure were all good, which in turn allowed us to focus on getting our curriculum right.
Immediately before the inspection, we discussed with trustees what it is that makes Robert Bakewell unique. We decided upon the top 10 USPs that we would want an inspector to know about, such as the development of our farm and how this enhances our curriculum offer as well as our welfare support. We tried to make sure there was alignment across the whole team about our central purpose, frequently revisiting our journey so far and celebrating successes along the way. I created a crib sheet of what the potential questions from the lead inspector might be in that initial phone discussion, and what our answers should be, which I shared with the senior leadership team and the trustees. It was worth doing because it came through in the report that there was a strong unified team culture towards school improvement.
We also made sure our website was up-to-date and that it celebrated the school. The lead inspector obviously read this closely and I was blown away by how much they knew about us.
When the call came, we were ready. The two hours of the conversation flew by and I just wanted desperately for them to come in and change the grading, as the staff needed that external validation for all their hard work. Communicating that in the initial phone call was important because of the journey we had been on.
Day one focused on deep dives. The lead inspector spent all day on early reading, phonics and our reading strategy, speaking at length with our reading lead. The other inspectors did two deep dives each – into maths, history, art and RE.
On day two, the inspection team did ‘shallow paddles’ on PE, science and computing, which seemed to have the aim of quality assuring the deep dives, just to check that what they’d observed the day before was typical across a wider range of subjects. They didn’t speak to the pupils or do lesson visits in the shallow paddles, as this was more of a leadership discussion than triangulation.
What went well?
We are an incredibly inclusive school with quite a challenging demographic, so we can, at times, manage some difficult behaviours. I told the lead inspector in the initial call that we would not be hiding from this fact; we haven’t had any exclusions for three years, but we knew they could potentially observe children who struggle to access the curriculum. However, they would also see a strong welfare team managing this. I was nervous before their visit about whether they would understand our ethos, but I needn’t have been. They completely understood, as was demonstrated by the first line of the report which mentions that Robert Bakewell has a big heart and clear ethos behind which our whole school community is united. I was so pleased that this had come across.
There was also a good dialogue with the team which was constructive, professional developmental and non-threatening.
Where can we improve?
The report identified that the knowledge and content of parts of our curriculum needed to be better sequenced. We realise the curriculum journey is one that never ends and is constantly evolving, particularly in foundation and early years where we sometimes teach a mixed reception and Year 1 group, and we are working to address this observation.
The second point was to do with our approach to assessment and whether gaps in children’s knowledge could be clearly identified. We are doing a lot of work on retrieval practice, quizzing children and recording where gaps emerge which, in turn, helps teachers with future planning.
What did Ofsted ask?
How do you manage progression and decision-making on learning objectives?
The staff are responsible for creating the sequencing and progress in the curriculum, and we teach through “golden threads” - for example all pupils learn about Robert Bakewell and his impact on agriculture - and we were able to show our mapping of this topic across all year groups in the school.
How do you train staff to teach reading?
The inspectors wanted to know about our fidelity to the DfE-accredited Little Wandle phonics programme and how we deliver this. We were able to discuss our culture of promoting reading across the school and the fact that we have a strong and robust ethos around literacy, which is supported by all school staff.
How do you protect a broad and balanced curriculum?
Over the course of the two days, inspectors saw the broad range of subjects we offer and this was mapped out clearly on our website. We do narrow the curriculum in the early years to make more time for literacy, which is allowed under the inspection framework.
How robust are your safeguarding procedures?
This was possibly the most challenging part, as the inspectors wanted to see case studies on specific pupils, which I found surprising. They asked to see details and what actions had been assigned to every logged incident, to see if they were robust enough. The welfare team was present during this discussion and their knowledge is second to none. The inspector was impressed with the support the school gives to our local community, which goes far beyond education.
School fact file
Headteacher: Jon Bishop
Ofsted rating: Good
Previous Ofsted rating: Requires Improvement
Numbers on roll: 278
Robert Bakewell Primary School is located in Loughborough, Leicestershire. The school was inspected in October 2022, and received a judgement of Good, after a previous Required Improvement rating. Inspectors rated all five inspections criteria as Good.