New to Headship and you get THE phone call

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Congratulations on your headship!

For those headteachers taking on the role for the first time this term, congratulations! It’s a brilliant and wonderful job in so many respects. Enjoy the role and the positive difference you will now make to the children.

There are of course, pressures and potential downsides and the stresses of the job are well known. One of these is of course inspection. Obviously, the pressures of inspection were at the forefront of debate and people’s thoughts last year, and Ofsted’s reaction to the tragic events further stoked the discussion.

Ultimately, from talking with colleagues in school, the main concern is the unknown and the perceived variation in inspectors. What will inspectors ask for and will we get a ‘fair’ inspection? Despite what Ofsted claim there is still a perception amongst school leaders of some inspectors being ‘firm but fair’ and working with the school, and others being severe and focusing on the negatives, trying to ‘catch leaders out’.

As a former head and a former inspector I can sit on the proverbial fence on this one. I am certainly not an apologist for Ofsted. My own view, like many people far better informed and important than me, is that inspection needs reform and the ‘cliff edge’ judgements need changing. As a system of school accountability it has not really changed for many years in terms of underlying processes, and has actually become more and more stringent and high stakes. However, it is what it is for the time being and school leaders have to deal with the current format and system.

For a newly appointed headteacher it can be a positive thing to have the school inspected soon after you take over. It’s a fresh start and benchmark from which you can move forward. Positive or negative, it wasn’t done on your watch!

Top tips for newly appointed headteachers

  1. Read the relevant sections of the Inspection Handbook which has been updated from September 2023.

Information about when schools will be inspected, the initial phone call and what information inspectors will ask for and schools should have available is all in there. (I know this sounds obvious but not everyone is aware of this in my experience.)

  1. Remember that other headteachers who have had a ‘difficult’ inspection will probably be louder at meetings or on social media than those for whom the inspection process was tough but fair. As I said earlier, I’m not an apologist for Ofsted and it is far (!) from perfect but the negative experiences can be amplified above those that went ok or better,  and this can cause a disproportionate amount of consternation.
  2. Honestly is the best policy. There might be certain cupboards (metaphorical or otherwise) you would rather inspectors don’t look in but the best leaders know their school and its strengths and areas for improvement really well. And as a new headteacher you haven’t had time to get under the skin of the school yet, but you will have a pretty good idea of many aspects already. Share this alongside what you know you still need to find out. You will hopefully have inherited a self-evaluation from your predecessor. Updated it and make it yours as soon as you can, so you can talk it through.

There are lots of other tips and plenty more advice that I will be sharing on a new online course we are running this term:

LIVE Zoom Course: ‘New Headteachers: Leading your School in an Inspection – Top Tips and Advice’

Hopefully I will see some of you on the small screen. Whether that is the case or not, I wish you every success in the new role. Enjoy!

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