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“Our last inspection was 14 years ago”

September 5, 2022, 10:30 GMT+1
Read in 8 minutes
  • Gwen Lee gives an account of her school's first inspection in more than a decade - and explains why it was outstanding again
“Our last inspection was 14 years ago”

There have been many different inspection regimes since we were last inspected in 2007, and we had been expecting a call for a very long time.

When we heard they planned to inspect outstanding schools, we knew our school - Christopher Hatton Primary in London -would be in the frame and hoped it would happen this year. I’ve always found that the pressure of preparing and waiting for the call is greater than the actual inspection, because it’s on everyone’s mind.


We were well prepared, not necessarily just for Ofsted, but because we always aim for clarity over our vision and consistency across the school and the curriculum, and are able to articulate what we are about. This has to be an ongoing conversation.

Our vision is summed up in a clear message – informed, articulate and empowered – and this runs through everything we do and is easy for everyone at the school to grasp.

We also took care over our website because this really shows what a school is about. It is not just important to have lots of pretty pictures, but also to have clear and consistent messaging about our ethos, values and how we teach.

Ofsted’s focus

Ofsted sent two inspectors – one primary headteacher and one secondary. The secondary head had some experience of primary education, but it was interesting trying to explain why we do what we do to someone who isn’t living the daily life of things like maths mastery.

The call ahead of the visit was very much a discussion about self-evaluation, our strengths and what we are developing. I did have to laugh when they asked what changes I had made since the last inspection. I said, “quite a lot”, as it was 14 years ago.

The inspectors had clearly looked at our website so wanted verification of what they saw there. They asked about how our curriculum met the needs of all our children, what is distinctive about it and about the context of the school.

They were interested in the impact of lockdown and how we support inclusion, as our school has quite a high level of SEND and high levels of deprivation. 

They also talked about the areas for the deep dive and chose reading, PE and history. The inspector paid close attention to our focus on oracy, even though this is not a distinct subject, and wanted to see how this works across the curriculum.

Their questions were what I would expect an inspection team to ask. They wanted to know how we support and meet the needs of children who are in the lowest 20% academically, and how we ensure our strategies are making an impact.

Once in school, the inspectors didn’t really want to speak to me very much, but to verify what I had told them during the call. They spent a lot of time talking to the staff, pupils, governors and parents.

I would recommend that heads give the inspectors a tour of the school for orientation when they arrive, and to use this opportunity to point out the things you want them to see. This is time well-spent, as you might not get another chance.

The inspectors met all the staff and subject leads for the deep dive subjects and observed parts of lessons. They talked to teachers to ensure they had a good understanding of schemes of work, and to the pupils to verify they retained what they’d learned over time. There was a triangulation in their evidence gathering, which I thought was a very good approach.

At one point, it appeared they weren’t convinced that maths mastery was stretching the most high-attaining children, but we (and the children) were able to prove it did. They also watched our pre-teach interventions with lower achieving pupils.

At this point, I suspected they were looking at an outstanding grading and wanted to dig deeper for further evidence that it was justified. They became interested in every subject and if it wasn’t being taught, then inspectors asked to speak to the subject leads, pupils and to see work samples and schemes of work to demonstrate cohesion across the curriculum.

What was nice was the amount of time spent talking to the children, which was great because that’s what it’s all about. They looked at pupils’ work with them, and asked what they remembered being taught, recently and two years ago.

In every conversation with pupils, regardless of age, they asked about behaviour and discipline, bullying, learning about rights and equalities.

What went well

They liked the consistency they saw and the good understanding among teachers of pedagogy in every class they visited. They also liked the focus on oracy and that children are very articulate, despite some starting the school with really low language levels.

From the children they got a sense that they felt empowered, and that there was a strong sense of unity and equality.

Where we can improve

The inspectors told me before leaving that there were no areas for improvement that they could identify.

This was great to hear but life goes on and teachers come and go, so we need constantly to be self-evaluating and cannot rest on our laurels. We need to keep developing and moving forward.

What Ofsted asked

  • How do you support the lowest 20% attainers and ensure their needs are met?
  • It is important we know who they are and can show how they are identified. We don’t use tutors but internal academic learning mentors to work with children who need support, who come to light through our pre-teach interventions.
  • How is your curriculum designed and how do you ensure it meets the needs of your children?
  • Our curriculum is constantly evolving and is designed with the involvement of all the staff, including those working in early years. We also look at best practice in other schools here and around the world and ensure it is constantly adapting to meet pupils’ needs and interests.
  • How do you deal with safeguarding issues in the context of your local community?
  • The inspectors were very interested in the context of the school and the area it serves. It didn’t help that there had been a stabbing nearby on the first day of the inspection. We talked about the need to teach children how to be safe, about their rights and to give them the confidence to say “No, that is not my path in life”. We told them how we work closely with the community police team and other agencies.
  • What grade should Christopher Hatton be given, and why?
  • They asked this of the governors and it’s a very good question because it required them to justify an ‘outstanding’ grading and to show they understand Ofsted judgements. I was asked the same question and replied “outstanding”. Of course!
    Gwen Lee is headteacher of Christopher Hatton Primary School, London