It was a Thursday afternoon. The school’s Ofsted report had just been published and we had printed copies for the parents to take home. We had been judged RI.
I was in my office and watched a parent read it as they walked through the playground. He flicked through it and said ‘Well, I guess we won’t be putting the house on the market just yet’.
I must admit, that as much as I was anxious about the ramifications of the report (in less than six months of being there, I’d managed to get the school from ‘good’ to ‘RI’, impressive, eh?) I had not considered that preventing families from moving home was something that was in my power.
I have gone through four Ofsted inspections across two schools since becoming a Head. And, in my experience, the parental response has been similar…
they haven’t really seemed that bothered. Actually, that’s not strictly true. They do care. But often, only insofar as the report supports or challenges their own preconceived perception of the school.
In my personal experience, no inspection report has changed how a parent has felt about their child’s school.
Even when my first school went from Good to RI, I had comments from parents who said that they didn’t believe it because they knew that the school was great (very kind if a little misguided: the school did require improvement.)
That said, I also had parents whose response was ‘finally, the school has got what it deserved’. I didn’t, however, have any parents come to me to say that they were concerned because they had thought ‘something’ but that this report had caused them to question it.
Either way, it is a good idea to help frame the report for the parent community – particularly when there is a change of category.
If a school has ‘dropped down’ a judgement then it is a good idea to reach out to the parents to explain why and what steps are being taken to improve the school. I personally prefer to do this in person and en masse.
It is good for parents to hear you talk about the school and for you to share your plans and answer any questions they may have. It is even more important to ensure that when you do so, you go beyond the Ofsted report.
Parents want to know that you are making plans to benefit their children and not just get you through the next inspection.
I would recommend that Heads don’t conduct such meetings on their own. I have found it incredibly supportive to have governors and other staff members at these meetings. It shows solidarity and allows other leaders to be heard.
I would, however, suggest that schools avoid contradicting or actively damning the Ofsted report – although there may be some areas where you wish to add some additional context – as parents need to get on board with your future rather than dwell on whether you’ve got the chops to suck it up and get on with the job.
Even when the school has been judged ‘good’ I’d still vouch for meeting with the parents if only to let them know that you are still planning on working hard and not about to rest on your laurels.
The most important thing about managing an Ofsted report is not letting it define you. Parents will ultimately think what they do based on real experiences. An Ofsted report is a momentary distraction, don’t let it get it in the way of getting the job done.
Tim Browse is headteacher at Air Balloon Hill Primary School, Bristol.