The support of a school business manager can make all the difference to your next Ofsted inspection, explains Nina Siddle
Generally speaking, schools associate Ofsted primarily with teaching and learning. While teaching and learning rightly has key prominence during inspections, the impact that the school business manager (SBM) can make is more significant than is often realised. Having experienced three Ofsted inspections during my career in education, my experience of our recent inspection was somewhat different. Since completing the Bursar Development Programme and studying for the BA (Hons) in School Business Management, my role has changed dramatically. The impact this development has had on my profile and ability to contribute to higher-level issues has been significant. This could not have been demonstrated more positively than during our inspection. The headteacher, two assistant heads and I (the SMT) had already agreed that whenever humanly possibly, the head would have the support of at least one of us during any interviews with the inspectors. The assistant heads provided that support when possible, but at the end of the day they also had class commitments. As such, I provided support in as many interviews as possible. As we all acknowledge, Ofsted can be exhausting for a headteacher – and this is why the extra support, additional perspectives and contributions of others can make all the difference. Prior to an Ofsted, the SBM can ensure many aspects of school life are managed rigorously, allowing the head to concentrate on their specialist areas. Here are some good examples of school management that the SBM can ensure are regularly maintained, easing the burden of an Ofsted inspection.
1. An understanding of the pre-inspection process and the pre-inspection briefing (PIB)
There is a process of communication in the two days prior to the inspection. Upon notification by telephone that Ofsted will be attending your school, they will provide the head with details of the inspection team and information/questionnaires to distribute to governors and parents. The lead inspector will make contact with the head briefly and will arrange to make a lengthier phone call later that day. This will usually involve some discussion about the Self-Evaluation Form (SEF) and requests for information the team would like to have upon arrival at the school.
On the day before inspection a pre-inspection briefing (PIB) will be emailed to the head. This gives the school a flavour of the direction the inspection will take and outlines areas that the team may like to explore further. Ultimately, the whole staff will need to have a handle on this, but initially the head and senior leadership team (SLT) will analyse it and look for any areas that are important to focus on and evidence.
Your participation in the build-up to the inspection is very important. Evidence may be easily accessible, but you may find it needs preparation. Your support will be well received by the headteacher, who may prefer to focus on other areas of the PIB.
Making a regular monthly analysis of your school’s absence percentage is essential, and it should go into more detail than the statutory returns we make to our LAs. My analysis is broken down into percentages for each reason for absence and identifies those families who contribute to this over a predetermined amount of sessions. This can be used by the education welfare officer and/or home-school officer to determine home visits or the introduction of medical evidence. For us this analysis also contributes to a new, more challenging reward system for our students, which I am supporting through external sponsors. This is time consuming, but it shows good community cohesion and a proactive attitude in managing the school’s attendance. Ofsted puts a strong focus upon attendance and your comparison to national expectations. I produced examples of my monthly analysis, our revisions to the reward system and a detailed analysis of the last academic year’s attendance. From this we could demonstrate how that analysis had impacted on our future plans – impact being the key word!
3. Policy making
A rigorous system for the review of policies is essential. These should be seen by Ofsted as working documents under a tight review calendar. Some policies are more pertinent than others in the current climate, for example:
- all equality policies and research data/action plans to support them (especially the Disability Equality Scheme (DES))
- child protection policy
- educational visits protocol
- health and safety and risk assessment.
The DES is particularly important; you’ll notice that the SEF asks whether it is in place or partly in place. This will be checked!
4. Educational visits
An up-to-date, accessible policy should be maintained, accompanied by all other visit proformas and guidelines. I carry out a monitoring visit each academic year, on a random basis. Copies of the monitoring records are held with the archived visit proformas/risk assessments and also held in the school’s central record, available to all staff. Also included in the file are records of service provider visit forms, which are signed by them to confirm they meet with all health and safety, insurance and accident requirements. I also provide staff with a working file to take on every visit. It includes:
- volunteer declarations
- generic and specific risk assessments pertinent to that visit
- good behaviour contracts for specific students
- accident and emergency procedures
- incident log of telephone calls proforma
- emergency contact numbers and guidelines.
Ofsted will enquire as to what procedures and documentation is in place for educational visits – so be prepared!
An up-to-date central record of safeguarding checks is maintained in hard copy and electronically. The hard copy should be held securely as a confidential record. Ideally, all Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) documentation should be filed alphabetically with a spreadsheet of your entire school community, including all staff, governors, volunteers, supply teachers and university students. A rolling programme of CRB checks and their costs should be built into your three-year planning.
6. Assessment data
Data, achievement and assessment is a huge part of an Ofsted inspection and impacts massively upon the outcome your school will receive. The SLT should have a working knowledge of their school’s assessment process and data management systems. There needs to be an awareness and understanding of such areas as RAISEonline, Fischer Family Trust data (FFT), assessment management software and student tracking/question level analysis. While this may not be the direct responsibility of an SBM, during an Ofsted inspection, having all the SLT familiar with this area of management is essential. It is also vital to keep a log of transience. If this is a perennial issue for your school, the maintenance of these records is imperative. It can impact upon your attainment and target setting and also on SEN provision and funding. Having this evidence can help to support an argument you may have in favour of current achievement. For the head to have the confidence that the SBM has a strong hold on this data will be a huge support.
As with attendance, a detailed annual analysis of exclusions should be maintained and used to plan future strategies for behaviour and improvement. As long as the school can demonstrate how it has informed its strategies and show that there has been a positive impact, then that will be sufficient. Keeping an up-to-date record of this is vital. School databases manage this easily, so the SBM can ensure that hard copy analysis is maintained for the headteacher.
8. Economic wellbeing
Ofsted will want your school to demonstrate how it encourages economic wellbeing throughout school life. While much of this is fed through the curriculum, there are many aspects of this priority that the SBM can impact upon proactively. The school council is an aspect of school life that the SBM could easily manage. A budget can be allocated to them and other contact arranged from outside providers. Your local bank may be keen to be involved with a school bank, or even perhaps helping to feed money management into the curriculum. Your link as SBM will be invaluable here.
9. Health and Safety
Ofsted will want evidence that rigorous systems are in place for general health and safety, risk management, accident reporting and first aid. I would recommend an electronic method of risk review. Hard copies are still essential in my view, for quick central reference available to all staff; however, the process of review can be extremely time consuming when done manually. The majority of assessments won’t change from year to year, so a quick change of date and signature is all that is needed.
The ability to quickly access a complete and concise record of CPD may not be vital during an inspection, but can be desirable. If, for example, you are asked to evidence CPD in a specific area of the curriculum, perhaps to demonstrate proactive management in increasing attainment in that area, having a central record that can be accessed at the press of a button would be impressive. The SBM is well placed to ensure this is maintained, particularly since they usually have sight of all time out of school for CPD to maintain supply records and budget/invoice monitoring.
Make sure your website is up to date with current plans, policies and newsletters, etc. If this is not in line with the documentation you provide to the inspectors, it doesn’t look good.
Providing there aren’t any obvious discrepancies on the SEF, this is hardly touched upon during an inspection. Surprising, I know, but with the advent of FMSiS and existing audit procedures via LAs there are already rigorous procedures in place.
With the advent of the Bursar Development Programme schools, heads and SBMs have identified the need to develop administration systems and structures to cope with demands. As we all now realise, many strategic elements can be handled by the SBM to avoid additional burdens on heads. In order for the SBM to provide as much of a support as possible during the inspection process the role must have a strategic contribution to the leadership and management in your school and the headteacher needs to positively embrace the role and its accompanying CPD. The SBM role can be utilised in conjunction with assistant heads and deputy heads to enhance the leadership team and introduce distributed leadership – providing focused leadership in specialised areas, including during the all-important Ofsted inspections.
Nina Siddle is the school business manager at Withernsea Junior School in East Yorkshire