An average sized 1.5 form entry primary school in rural Hampshire, we had never been particularly worried about what OfSTED would say. We were good. Everyone told us we were "good", nothing more, nothing less. When they came they would find us to be "good". It was so clear, I stopped using other words when describing the school - "it's a good school," I would say!
So when they eventually called and judged us as "outstanding", no one was more surprised than us.
In the summer for 2011, the school received the Golden Ticket - OK, well letter - from OfSTED saying we had another year before they'd inspect the school. So from the summer of 2012 we aimed to be "performance ready", creating alternative timetables, just in case "the call" arrived and it was "showtime". However as days, weeks and months passed, with local schools getting inspected and no call for us, we started to believe they were never going to call. 2013 began and there were still no signs of our favourite inspectors. By the Easter holidays, we'd been waiting a whole year for their visit - we'd almost lost hope, if "hope" is the correct word. SATS week came and went and it was the week before Summer half term. 3 days to go - one day for them to call - before our week long break. We were doing assessments and on the wind down.
Then - as message was passed on from office staff, to senior leadership, support staff and, eventually, teachers in front of their classes - one thing was sure: it was "showtime".
Panic mode set in. Many of us had plans, but only for that evening with friends and family, lesson plans were non-existent because of the assessment week we were in. Families and friends were notified, social plans for the next 48 hours were cancelled and an extremely kind parent (aka - angel) called to offer lasagne for the team at 6pm. All teachers were thinking aloud to anybody who would listen. Ideas were conjured up based on the assessments we'd been doing and, slowly and surely, a timetable came to be created. The whole team set-to, ensuring the building and contents were "performance ready" as well as us. The photocopier went into overdrive creating resources, copying assessments and re-doing displays.
10 hours later - with the school ready, plans in place and emotions subdued - it was time for the final preparation: a good night's sleep.
So that obviously didn't happen. Our amazing headteacher was up and out of his house at 4:30am and at school by 5. I was awake when he woke but chose the "tossing and turning until the alarm goes off" tactic so was in school just after 7am, like most of the other teaching staff.
By the first morning, the mood had changed from panic to determination. We would get through it and we would be good.
The inspectors put the staff team at ease in a 4 minute introduction to the inspection and the aims. The bell rang and the day began. Whispers were flying round the school - Who had they observed? How long were they in there? How did they do? What was the feedback? The staff were all so supportive to each other and constantly offered help, advice, tea, biscuits and other necessities (!!) in minutes, hours and seconds of need.
The children were absolutely wonderful - after all, it was their time to shine too.
One thing had become clear from all the observations - the learning objective and success criteria were key. The inspectors loved the idea of levels on the steps to success and were incredibly impressed with how the curriculum was designed to provide a true purpose for all learning. The first day had passed and the word "outstanding" had entered our school. Many lessons had been judged as "outstanding" and it was clear that the inspectors liked the school.
Day 1 was nowhere near as long as "The Call" day. I was home by 8pm.
Advice and feedback from Day 1 was taken into account when planning and preparing for Day 2. I'd been observed teaching ICT so knew I was probably due a visit in Maths or Literacy. Lo and behold, the lead inspector turned up in my maths lesson - one which I was incredibly pleased with and proud of. At the point she left the room after 30 minutes, the inspection was over for me. I knew that I wouldn't get another visit and my class could do the finishing edits to their stop-motion animation movies ready for the cinema afternoon with their parents, that afternoon!! The children spent the rest of the day preparing for the cinema and I didn't see the inspectors again. They were locked away in the headteachers office before giving feedback to the governors.
Just before the headteacher walked in to give us the feedback, I had naively said, "We'll be good. Everyone's always says how we're good." I felt bad about saying that afterwards.
The whole crazy experience was over in 52 hours. We had proved that a school can get "outstanding" under the new framework with a dedicated, not overworked, team who loved the kids, loved their job and knew the importance of it. We did nothing different to what we normally do, we just had to show the OfSTED inspectors "normal" in a very abnormal week. But, as anyone who works with children knows, the "normal" week never turns out to be as normal as it first appears.
We never needed an OfSTED-judged label to do our best for the children, and we still don't now.
But the judgement has given us reason to celebrate with friends, family, colleagues and pupils and we'll continue celebrating forever...well, until we get the next call!