Do you think yours can become an outstanding school? Dave Weston gives advice on helping schools reach the highest level at Ofsted, through strong leadership
Every primary head aspires for an outstanding judgement from an Ofsted inspection. Public acknowledgement of excellence is important to many professionals and local communities. Ofsted should allow every school, regardless of socio-economic background or resources, the opportunity to achieve an outstanding grading. There is an active debate as to whether raw data is the only important indicator that inspectors use to make overall judgements. Ofsted would argue that CVAs and KS results are only part of the evidence base which is used to judge schools, but there is alternative evidence to show a close correlation between high test scores and overall Ofsted gradings.
In the school year 2006-07, the proportion of primary schools graded as outstanding by Ofsted was 14%, with 46% graded as good. A further 34% were considered to be satisfactory and around 5% of schools were put into a category as inadequate or special measures. Many of the schools classified as good could be moved into the outstanding category with slightly better data, a more confident, evaluative SEF and a richer, more stimulating curriculum.
It is important for schools and their heads to adapt effectively as the wider agenda changes and as the Ofsted framework evolves. Current issues include the Every Child Matters agenda, the development of a better curriculum and improved community cohesion – no small task.
A key aspect of an outstanding primary school is excellent leadership, which refers to the headteacher, senior leadership team and the governing body, and that to be outstanding, all aspects of leadership should be at least rated good. The key indicators of outstanding leadership, paraphrased from Ofsted, are that:
In one outstanding primary school, Ofsted commented that ‘consultation, collaboration and partnership are watchwords’ in the success of the school. In another school, Ofsted reported that ‘a crucial factor in the school’s success is the outstanding leadership of the headteacher.’
The 2003 Ofsted framework looked how leaders ‘influence and motivate, create effective teams, encourage an inclusive culture and provide good role models for other staff and pupils.’ Ofsted stressed the importance of the school leadership having very effective self-evaluation. In another outstanding primary school the Ofsted report commented that ‘The headteacher knows the strengths and weaknesses very well. This is evident in the very good quality of the school’s self-evaluation. Excellent systems are in place to check the school’s effectiveness of all that goes on.’
Therefore, the leadership of the head, senior leadership team and governors is crucial in the development of a successful school. The governance of a school should be creative and dynamic in reflecting on performance, promoting effective change and in developing strong and positive links with the local community. The key strategies that you can follow to achieve outstanding leadership will include the following:
Headteachers in some of the successful primary schools which were judged as outstanding had a similar approach to the curriculum: ‘They saw the curriculum as a means for ensuring the vision, involved themselves actively in managing it and, at the same time, created a strong sense of teamwork by involving the staff in discussion and decision-making.’ [The Curriculum in Successful Primary Schools. Ofsted report (p7), HMI 553, Oct 2002.]
To support an overall outstanding judgment, a primary school should have a curriculum which is rated at least good in all major respects and is exemplary in a number of areas. Ofsted states that an outstanding curriculum will be broad, balanced and innovative, and encourages very high standards of attainment.
In the Ofsted framework inspectors are encouraged to look out for schools in which most pupils participate effectively and keenly in a wide range of extra-curricular activities of exceptional quality. Outstanding resources and accommodation should be developed to support school initiatives that go beyond formal curriculum requirements. Community links should make a significant contribution to pupils’ achievement and to school improvement.
The curriculum in an outstanding school will:
Teaching and learning
The third key area in Ofsted inspection is teaching and learning, including the Foundation Stage (which now has its own section in Ofsted reports, looking at the six aspects of early learning). To get an overall outstanding judgment, teaching should be at least good in all major respects and exemplary in significant elements, and as a result learners succeed and make exceptionally good progress. To receive an outstanding grade for teaching and learning, a school must ensure that lessons are taught in an inspiring and highly-effective way.
Teaching should be stimulating, enthusiastic and consistently challenging. Teachers should have good subject knowledge, how to teach it and how pupils learn. There should be excellent relationships in the classrooms and good pupil behaviour should enable effective learning to take place. Pupils should be helped to judge the success of their own work and set targets for improvement.
Standards of achievement
To be an outstanding school, standards achieved should include at least good progress in all major respects as reflected in contextual added value measures. The use of data should be analytical and based on progress measures rather than raw attainment. Standards should show that pupils consistently work at or near their capacity, and make and sustain comprehensive gains in their learning. Almost all pupils should achieve highly and progress at a good rate in relation to their capabilities and earlier attainment (as reflected in value-added measures). At least two levels of progress should be achieved between KS 1 and KS 2 in English and maths. This includes celebrating SEN pupils moving from Level 1 to Level 3.
Indicators of outstanding practice
Tips for heads
To move a school from a rating of good to outstanding is a challenging task for a headteacher and there is a close link between standards of attainment, high-quality teaching and learning and effective self-evaluation. Ofsted considers that best practice in school improvement is based on ensuring:
Primary schools should achieve the best possible CVA, showing progress and rigorous self-evaluation closely linked to improvement. The implementation of these priorities should help aspiring schools on the difficult but achievable journey from good to outstanding.
Dave Weston is a school improvement partner