Getting the Ofsted visit notification leads to a mixture of feelings, from mild anxiety to full-blown panic. But knowing exactly what to expect – and what to prepare for – can make all the difference to that moment.
We sat down with Sarah van der Merwe, Head of Apprenticeships at The Learning Enterprise, who experienced a full Ofsted inspection in October 2021. She walked us through each step of the Ofsted process, from the moment she received the call to a well-earned Outstanding grade at the end.
In part one of Sarah’s exclusive Ofsted diary, you’ll learn:
- How to prepare your team and board for Ofsted
- The data and numbers you’ll need to hand
- What to expect from the Ofsted planning and intent meetings
You can find a link to part two of Sarah’s Ofsted diary at the bottom of this page.
Preparing for an Ofsted visit
We had the phone call from the Ofsted administrator on a Friday morning. It informed us we’d be receiving a full inspection notification and that the lead inspector would call us within the next hour. The three inspectors then came the following week.
There was slight panic, but I had a communication plan in place. As soon as we got the call, we knew what to do.
I notified the Director of Operations Jacqui, who would notify the CEO of TLE. I was named as the lead nominee, but we still had our CEO on their contacts too. We needed to make sure that nobody panicked and that all bases were covered at all different levels.
Keeping your board in the loop
Small things really help when you’ve had the Ofsted call, like planning the headings of email subject lines.
We put “Ofsted – urgent action required”, so our exec team and managing directors knew they needed to read the email and absorb the information. They also knew instantly that it was top of the priority list.
Preparing in advance meant the board knew exactly what part they would play and how we’d communicate with them. They also knew I’d request access to their diaries because they would need to be involved. It meant they were happy and comfortable with the process.
Making a strong first impression
The call from the lead inspector was informal; just a meet and greet. But I knew that was where we were going to make our first impressions – and those first impressions count.
The lead inspector talked about the length of our inspection, who would be involved (so we could confirm there weren’t any conflicts of interest with the inspectors), and the areas that they’d be focusing on. They also wanted to confirm our learner numbers, so it was really important that I could pull those up quickly and see how many were on each programme.
Communicating with Ofsted
As lead nominee, there’s so much responsibility on your shoulders that it’s easy to miss something. I think Ofsted recognise that now.
During the initial conversation, they asked about communication preferences and I suggested Teams so I could include Jacqui. They also invite the managing director in on every inspection day.
Even if there’s limited amounts the managing director can add, it’s good to have another pair of ears. Then we can take the information forward if we need to.
The Ofsted planning meeting
The next step is the full planning meeting. Ofsted asked when I wanted a call back; I tried to give myself as much time as I could so we set up the meeting for 11:30am.
You then get portal access. You need to upload all your learner data, which includes learner names and age, programme level, employers, assessors – everything you can think of.
This was really easy for us, because we use Bud and I do it every Monday morning. I had everything I needed at my fingertips and I knew it was correct.
I went on PowerBI and pulled off the programme data to upload. It was literally a five-minute job and so much easier than having to scramble around different areas and systems.
In the planning meeting, Ofsted confirmed they’d received everything and told me the deep-dive areas they were going to look at. Then they asked us to start thinking about the key meetings and our plan of what would happen over the next three days.
Setting up key meetings and interviews
I approached the key meetings in terms of giving Ofsted a showcase of our learners, employers and staff.
Obviously they weren’t just going to fall for the people we’d picked – we had to make sure we could evidence everything. But I completely jam-packed those three days and didn’t give them breathing space. There was no wiggle room. It left the ball in their court of whether they wanted to swap something out.
The lead inspector was impressed with the planning and was really clear on her expectations, so we knew what she wanted to see from us. She was really supportive – more so than I’ve known in any other inspection. It was very much about working with us, not against us.
Giving a presentation in the intent meeting
The intent meeting was on Tuesday morning. This involved a face-to-face between the lead inspector and managing director, with myself and the other inspectors dialling in remotely.
Our intent meeting was a 15-minute presentation. I’d already asked for their email addresses in the planning session, so it meant I could give them full access to Bud in the meeting. I gave them a 20-minute navigation around Bud to show them where everything was, like progress reviews, activities and feedback from assessors.
I also explained that they’d be able to ask learners and assessors about how they used Bud. We ended up having a learner and manager talk the inspector through the boards at the same time, which was really helpful. One inspector asked them about past activities as well, which they could pull up in an easy and visual way.
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Read part two of Sarah’s Ofsted diary
In part two of our Ofsted Diary series, Sarah fills us in on the questions her assessors were asked, how she challenged areas of weakness and the steps she took to put everything into the final Ofsted day. Read part two here.
Want to be better prepared for an Ofsted inspection? Wish you had peace of mind that all the data you need is at your fingertips? Book a Bud demo below.