New to Headship and you get THE phone call

New to Headship and you get THE phone call

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 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 claims, 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 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 it has become 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. Honesty 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. Update it and make it yours as soon as you can, so you can talk it through.


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