What makes a school outstanding?

by | Nov 25, 2022 | Coaching, Curriculum, Leadership, Quality

What makes a school outstanding?

OFSTED and their evidence that many schools have lost their outstanding status

A recent report from OFSTED. Hundreds of Formally Outstanding Schools Reinspected tells us that a staggering 80% of schools that were deemed to be outstanding a decade or so ago and are no longer so as they fall under the hammer of the latest inspection process. To put this into perspective there is also an increase in those schools who have improved and moved up at least one grade. I have no desire to dwell on these statistics. What I want to talk about here is what is revealed by looking in detail at some of the OFSTED reports and what they tell us.

What is revealed by delving into the reports from OFSTED?
Leading the conversation about the journey towards outstanding

Delving into the actual reports for the schools that have been downgraded is interesting. The majority of the ones that I have looked at have been downgraded for the quality of education judgement and for leadership and management. For behaviour and personal development some have kept their outstanding judgement. It is also interesting that commentary on how these schools might improve are quite similar in their suggestions for change.

What isn’t right seems mostly to be couched as the responsibility of senior or subject leadership. The following statements confirm what I have observed, they are taken directly from the most recent inspection reports where a school has been downgraded from outstanding to good and come from both primary and secondary school reports.

  • Subject leaders should identify the key knowledge they want pupils to know and remember, building carefully from early years to year 6
  • Not all pupils in key stage 3 are accessing the full depth of the national curriculum in some subject areas
  • Leaders should continue to work to develop curriculum plans so that in all subjects pupils build their knowledge logically over time
  • Leaders should ensure that end points are clear so that teachers can accurately assess the knowledge, vocabulary and skills that pupils know and remember
  • Teachers do not regularly and systematically check what pupils know and remember
  • Leaders are not monitoring the implementation of the curriculum closely across some subjects
  • Leaders should make sure that all staff understand how to order and sequence the curriculum
  • Leaders must ensure that new learning builds securely on what pupils already know and that they remember the right things
  • Teachers use of assessment does not consistently identify gaps in pupils’ knowledge
  • Leaders should ensure that assessments are carefully aligned with the curriculum
  • Leaders should ensure that the use of assessment identifies and remedies gaps in pupils’ understanding in all areas of the curriculum
  • Sometimes support for pupils with SEND does not take account of their specific needs as identified in their support plans
  • Leaders must ensure that all teachers address misconceptions swiftly and effectively so that all pupils understand what they are required to do
  • Leaders should provide further training to staff so that all are equally confident and expert in teaching the planned curriculum
  • Leaders need to ensure that a rich reading curriculum is provided consistently across the school
  • Leaders should monitor the implementation of the curriculum and support teachers to identify knowledge pupils will need to successfully tackle more complex subject content
  • Leaders should strengthen curriculum planning so that teachers know exactly what all pupils need to learn and understand

Leadership and the Quality of Education

One of the questions that all senior leaders want answers to is ‘what makes a school outstanding?’, hopefully not to satisfy an OFSTED judgement but to create the right culture where all pupils thrive, are happy and continue to learn deeply from the day they arrive in school until the day they move on to their next phase of learning and life.

Outstanding is an interesting word; it has two meanings. We are outstanding, hoorah; or there are still many things outstanding that need to be actioned or dealt with. I do believe that a school is always striving for continuous improvement so will always have outstanding issues to deal with.

Outstanding isn’t about standing still, it is about continuous learning, discovering new skills, feeling able to take risks and innovate and above all being a part of a community of practice that is always aspiring, always growing and where there is a culture that rewards effort, celebrates every learner’s potential and knows that there is no such thing as failure, just a journey towards self-esteem, continuous learning and success.

What inspires you to strive towards outstanding?

It is, therefore, essential that the question changes emphasis to ‘how can we create systems that embrace a culture of continuous learning, reflection and celebration?’ Where this is the question defining the ‘quality of education’ becomes the framework within which senior leaders plan their vision and rationale and communicate it to middle, curriculum and subject leaders. They in turn then translate it into coherent and outstanding sequential learning plans that build knowledge and skills for all learners over time. Senior leaders need to have the tools and depth of understanding at their disposal to build the systems and structures that create clarity of purpose for those who will lead the implementation of high-quality continuous improvement.

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Change is the constant and potentially the barrier to success

Empowering others to be the instigators of positive solutions focused answers to how to manage that change is the skill all those with a leadership responsibility must have in order to instigate policies and strategies that deliver the highest quality outcomes for all staff and pupils. The paradigm is the enemy and managing the inevitable resistance to change is a leadership skill that is an essential tool in the leadership box.

The latest OFSTED handbook defines quality in three distinct sections,

  • The School’s Curriculum
  • Teachers
  • All pupils particularly disadvantaged pupils and those with SEND

These represent a change to the previous format and come as a series of bullet points. They provide a blue print for senior, middle and subject leaders to focus on their role in building the right systems that ensure there are opportunities for collaboration, communication and professional conversations that ensure all subject departments, curriculum teams and others can articulate how to define their responses and build the high quality education outcomes that they describe.

They can be used as a framework for answering the question what makes a school outstanding? But only where they are seen as potential guides that can influence positive change that relates to the uniqueness of the school and not for the sake of appearing to shape policy to OFSTED’s view.

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Senior leadership cohesion in empowering exceptional and high- quality outcomes

So, what is the way forward in the quest for high-quality educational outcomes? Quality is a relative term and in order to define quality in relation to a specific school or group of schools it is essential to firstly focus on the end points. Not defined by what OFSTED say they want, but what the school wants in relation to the local context, cohort of pupils, strengths within the staff and school structure and its ambition for every pupil whatever their starting point.

The OFSTED criteria are a brilliant help, they do provide a starting point and might mirror your own journey so far but treat them with caution and question their validity in terms of your own value judgments. It is your vision for excellence that counts and will show through if it is true conviction mirrored in deep dive conversations across the school.

Working together to realise the vision

The secret is in the need for high quality team building, the essential role of the professional learning conversation and the ability of those with a senior leadership role to empower others to be an essential part of realising what quality means in relation to the curriculum, pedagogy, learning, well-being and behaviour. Working together symbiotically all must have the same conviction as to what makes their school outstanding? It is about deliberate practice, a deep knowledge of the skills or every member of staff, the power of learner voice and the wealth of resources that are available in every school.

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How can Learning Cultures help?

Firstly, my name is Glynis Frater, the founder and CEO of Learning Cultures. I have just finished writing a book, Designing and Delivering the Primary Curriculum that will be published in the spring. I have now submitted the proposal for its sister publication The Secondary Curriculum – defining and delivering 21st century learning. Eighteen years of experience of working with high profile curriculum thinking is at the heart of what, I know, will be two valuable resources for all those with responsibility for curriculum thinking, design and implementation.

Secondly, here at Learning Cultures we have an outstanding team of coaches who like me are all senior leaders in education and have a wealth of experience to draw on. We receive the highest praise and can boast amazing results from the many schools and colleges we have worked with. Our new senior leadership team coaching training programme is designed to provide senior leaders with the coaching skills that will support them to inspire others to translate the vision, create opportunities where teams and individuals share what they do well, celebrate outstanding pedagogy and contribute to a shared passion that will deliver the highest quality outcomes for all learners.

Thirdly, we have a wide repertoire of research inspired and sector relevant workshops, events and services to support schools and colleges linked to policy and what we know is outstanding CPD that is sustainable, enduring and cost effective. Our philosophy is built on our belief that through many of the techniques and skills linked to coaching the training and development opportunities we provide can be cascaded to others across the organisation. All our resources, materials and activities are available electronically so that the recipient of the training can share their learning widely.

Be ahead of the pack and let us help you towards your own quest for continuous improvement.
Leadership Well-being Coaching Curriculum Quality Teaching & Learning

Learningcultures website here Contact us here or
Telephone us: 01746 765076 or directly to me Glynis 07974 754241

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