OFSTED During Covid: A summary of their questions and our responses

This is a summary of an experience of an OFSTED ‘visit’ during October 2020 from one of our HeadsUp4HT’s members who is an Executive Headteacher in an infant school in the UK.

In sharing this, we hope to give you a transparent reflection of the items discussed during the inspection. This may support you, help prepare you or build your confidence and understanding of the process. Many thanks to our contributor.

Infant School Monitoring Visit

Telephone Call:

1. After agreeing to come in, inspectors asked for a well -ventilated room and wash room facilities etc
2. They asked if we had any confirmed cases (for their risk assessment)- we had literally just sent all Year 6 and 6 staff home
3. Explained the purpose of the monitoring “Covid time research” visit and that the questions were very much script-like used across all schools visited
4. They outlined the day ahead:

10 am start

10:15-10:45 Context

11:00- 11:45 Safeguarding

12:00- 12:30 Attendance

12:45 -1:45 Curriculum

2-2:30 Behaviour

The call lasted approximately 30 mins.

1. How effective are leaders in returning children to the school and implementing the curriculum?
our plans in the lead up to lockdown
our experience during lockdown
our actions since lockdown and full return to school

They also continually asked if anything positive or negative has emerged as a result of the above areas, actions etc

They went on to ask about our reflections in terms of what we might do differently next time and the learning that we have taken from everything that has happened and what we have actioned moving forward because of this.

Context of our school lockdown

We feel that what we did during lockdown has impacted on the full return of staff and pupils in September 2020:

o Utilised the lockdown opportunity for CPD to tackle areas that clearly needed addressing (my evaluation of current provision)
- Safeguarding
- Online Safety
- Google Classroom
- Purple Mash
- Mindfullness and Wellbeing
- Reading: RWI, Daily Supported Reading, Destination Reader (KS2)
- Writing: The Write Stuff
- Maths: Inspire
- Environments- clear out
o Recovery Curriculum –The Big Think approach for PSHE underpins all our learning now and is accurately aligned to our Christian ethos and values. That is the only change. Expectations are high so all the children are in receipt of a broad, inclusive curriculum. The timetables have not changed and this was the case from the word go. There have been additional outdoor PE sessions and music, singing etc have continued.
o Weekly calls and transition meetings at the end of the summer term, helped identify families who were anxious about coming back.
o Having Reception and Year 6 come back allowed time for staff who were absent to stagger their return and take part in CPD ready for the new term
o Risk Assessments
o Accountability document to delegate new and clarify expectations of roles and areas of accoutability
o SPAH Ways (non- negotiables)
o Communication to staff and children
o Rigour of home learning – high expectations - further enhanced by Google Classroom (and training) Purple Mash (safeguarding keeping safe online)
o Extra INSET days to allow for full preparation and teacher training -safeguarding addendum to include Covid info and Behaviour policy addendum
o Main barrier: No internet access at home (40%) and only mobile phones

Training for staff

o Mostly online training of staff e.g: already mentioned
o Oracy and effective communication, emotional inteligence
o Ongoing training for staff; also accessed training via Tom Sherrington, Mary Myatt, Ed Tech and Reach Team, Curriculum HEP, Bereavement Training, Mental Health First-Aid (Rebecca), SSS online. National Online safety.

Wellbeing of staff & relationships

o Updated staffing structure (Roles and accountability) – thought about where relationships were best, particularly for our most vulnerable children given Covid and absence from school
o Communication and checking in with staff
o SLT – line management structure supported others
o Signposting staff to external courses, including stress management courses – help lines provided on school website

School’s priorities and changes in priority

o Focus on Emotional strength through The Big Think and working closely with councellors
o Inclusive SPAH curriculum
o Sustainable & remote/blended learning offer
o Governor involvement re: Safeguarding, H&S
o More of a focus on oracy and language rich environments






o 1 new member started during lockdown 
o All new staff were included in all meetings and training opportunities then 3 more in infants and a music teacher


Attendance during lockdown

o Reported daily to DfE
o LAT (LDBS London) Weekly State of play

Attendance now

o 96/ 97% overall

Removals from roll since September

8 children left as a result of Covid in


A concern are the number of children leaving this week (infants only) due to circumstances out of our Eg. N-1 chid (left the country)

R -1 child homeless and rehoused out of borough

Y1 -1 child homeless rehoused out of borough

Y2 -1 child deported

Barriers to children returning (Google Forms survey and follow up calls)

Y6 first then Reception

o Travelling to school via public transport for those out of borough
o Parental anxieties
o Quarantining children/self-isolating

Attendance Policy changes

o None  - no fining of parents being brought in

Actions to make sure children are attending

o Parent Support Worker
o First day calling
o Calling parents and reassuring them
o Ongoing weekly communication via letters/newsletters and website updates/ Twitter/ phone calls/ visits
o Presence on the gate each day
o Working with EWO
o Home visits where necessary


How are children adapting to the return to school

o All good – very calm; staggering/timetabling has supported children’s behaviour

What actions have we put in place to ensure smooth return?

o Transition sessions
o The Big Think- mindfulness and wellbeing
o Videos of school on website – new class tours
o Zoom professional Meetings
o Transition information packs for children with 1-1 support or for children who needed it
o Meet the Teacher Meetings remotely – video and phone calls
o Very small school with a Christian ethos, familiar staff (transition not an issue)

Barriers to pupils’ behaviour/ attitudes- no issues

o Lack of routine for some children but thus far, no significant cases of this (quickly remedied)
o Some anxiety about new procedures e.g: children’s families with autism

Changes in routines for staff and pupils

o Risk assessment- shared all staff
o Bubbles, staggering, timetables, one-way systems, hand-washing, spacing, lack of visitors, visits,

Policy changes

o Reviewed Positive Behaviour Policy and addendum to reflect hand, face, space and new expectations – posters around school
o How we communicate and engage parents

Actions to support SEND children and @ risk children

o As above
o Weekly phone calls
o Regular communication with parents
o Individual risk assessments
o Inclusion Manager meetings earlier this term

Any poor behaviours or surprising changes in behaviours of children

o None – no behaviour incidents have been logged thus far

Exclusions – what have we done? What will we do?

o No exclusions to report

Use of external agencies to support behaviour – how has this changed during lockdown and now?

o Specialist behaviour support to support one vulnerable child who has yet to return (Supply Reception- high ratio of adults)
o N/A as not needed for others

Use of funding to support children’s behaviour

o Other than with one children, not applicable as not required



What are the changes to our safeguarding practices?

o TAF, CP & CIN meetings all undertaken remotely.
o EHCP pupils had individual risk assessments completed that were annotated as and when necessary (phone calls each week).
o Any struggling were referred to external agencies: Trailblazer, EWO, EP
and counsellors available for families and staff
o Recording concerns and following up – this is the same CPOMs.
o Guidance provided to staff about indicators of concern (training).
o Follow-up during lockdown on children not accessing work
o Home visits undertaken to monitor particular concerns and deliver food, check on wellbeing of the families we called
o Teachers completed weekly calls logs- where necessary SLT / DSLs followed up with any necessary safeguarding
o Used own knowledge of families to offer places to other vulnerable groups

How are we ensuring ongoing safeguarding for staff during remote education?

o Remote Learning Policy and handbook that are supported by risk assessments
o Meetings – inviting all staff to meetings and if didn’t attend, follow this up (meetings also recorded and available where necessary to support follow up)
o Weekly support staff meetings
o Free sessions from MIND and regular signposting to support agencies/training
o Offered Zoom staff meetings (NHS)
o Flexible with timetable if others for example, have not been in school
o Phoning staff
o Regular and clear communication to all staff
o Being open, honest and reassuring
o Code of conduct for remote teaching implemented as well as Remote Learning Policy and Contingency Plans

How have we identified new vulnerabilities?

o Same systems as before
o Know families who are vulnerable and providing support as required e.g: use of PSA worker
o home visits
o Risk Assessments including all BAME staff, pregnant staff members and those who arec most vulnerable
o Identifying indicators of new mental health needs and staff understanding its link to safeguarding; this was referred to on during INSET days re: KCSiE

How do we make sure the children get specific help?

o Referrals to relevant agencies
o supporting – food and clothes (books, pencils and packs)
o Resources available in school
o Weekly Inclusion meeting meetings focused on wellbeing and how well children have settled back in school (Team Time, additional time for support staff to meet with class teachers after school)
o Open channel of communication for parents via emails
o School nursing service
o Vulnerable children during lockdown re: FSM vouchers and local foodbank
o Providing individual support to parents who are self-isolating

How are we managing safer recruitment?

o Policy being updated to reflect changes
o Supply staff – checking of DBS and all necessary procedures (usual procedures in place)
o Recruitment would be undertaken remotely
o No volunteers or work experience students
o All specialist teachers, SALT etc when on site adhere to school’s protocols and procedures which have been shared with them e.g: Risk Assessment

How are we managing allegations against adults?

There aren’t any but if there were:

o Report to ExHT / HoS and would refer to LADO
o If about ExHT to Chair of Governors
o Would be done through social distancing and risk assessing each meeting

Any challenges in maintaining the SCR?

o None – all up to date

Concerns raised since lockdown – how have we managed them?

o Managed via email, phone-calls and PPE
o Safeguarding concerns logged on CPOMs
o Children not returning to school via HoS and EWO (only one but has since left to return to their country of birth)
o Parents called within the first day and then every day if necessary
o More details are now required when parents call in about child being sick



What is our trajectory to be delivering our full and usual curriculum?

o In place with rigour
o Immediate return - Transition, well-being, mental health, routine, relationships with peers and adults alongside assessments entered as Summer 2 after 2 weeks in
o Phonics and reading
o The teaching of subject-specific vocabulary, key knowledge or skills will continue to be a focus.

What barriers will we be facing to get this in place by the summer term?

o Class/staff absence and return to remote learning – see Remote Learning Policy
o Reading/writing stamina
o Readjusting to learning routines and behaviours
o Mental health issues
o Interpreting government guidelines
o Gaps as and when summative tests have been analysed – these have started re: tests
o Access to resources – bid in for additional resources re: GT, New Wave, Tottenham Grammar
o Volume of curriculum to cover between now and the end of the academic year

What is the breadth of the curriculum now? Is there anything we are not teaching?

o All subjects are being taught, though in more limited depth in some areas re: content
o Content which is chronologically important will be taught; teaching of required skills is non-negotiable
o RSE catch-up from summer term and prior to statutory requirement for April 2021
o Currently no swimming or external trips/visitors

Is there a difference between the offer each year group is getting?

o No, although each group will adjust according to need

How are we prioritising the content of our curriculum?

o Core areas in the morning to catch up with teaching of core skills where there are gaps

What priorities do we have in each year group?

Already mentioned

What are our assessment practices? What is the initial assessment revealing?

o Referred to week 2 data- early indicators are that outcomes are low.

Reading – are we changing the books we are reading because of COVID?

o Children take books home and quarantine when they come back
o Daily cleaning increased significantly

What is the nature of the support we are offering children to catch up? What strategies are we using?

o QFT – linked to all new training undertaken
o Online resources
o Interventions
o National Tutoring Programme sign up and engagement with EEF resources
o In house training re: high expectations

Are we doing anything to support specific gaps in knowledge?

o Pedagogy of teachers through CPD to determine gaps and plug them
o PLR – Professional Learning Journeys (Flip model of monitoring)

Remote learning – our journey to now. What are we offering currently?

o Purple Mash
o Google Classroom
o Online resources: Oak Academy, Oxford Owl, Learning Village for EAL children, Rock Star Tables etcetc
o Specific resources/work adapted for SEN children
o Packs provided for children as required

Is remote learning aligned to our curriculum?

o It was during lockdown; blended learning opportunities are being developed further via CPD
o Expectation currently to set one piece of online homework and give feedback after half term that has increased

Another Lockdown/ School closure/ Bubbles or Year groups isolating

What might the school do in case of further lockdown?

o See Remote Learning Policy
o Will continue to keep in regular contact with parents  

How are we using funding? How much is it?

o National Tutoring Programme, drawing on best practice from EEF
o Additional resources to be used at home
o Separate bid re: Grieg Trust , New Wave
o Embed funding strategy into Pupil Premium Strategy
o School Home Support

Has remote learning and the lockdown brought any positives? For any specific groups?

o Upskilled staff and children re: remote learning
o Routines and procedures are working better
o Community of staff have gelled better
o Parents more appreciative of what the school is offering – much positive feedback

What is the role of the parent in remote learning?

o Continually reviewing our parental engagement processes and practices
o Encouraging staff to attend parental engagement training
o Maintaining communication with harder to reach parents (AHT for inclusion)
o Tailoring the expectations of parents to the ages of the children
o Ensuring communication is delivered through a range of means (text, email, website or face-to-face)where necessary in order to make accessible to all
o Asking parents for suggestions of how they can help
o Target and communicate with clarity so all understand (consider language needs, translators)
o Home visits
o To ensure that pupils are safe when accessing online work – this was shared with parents
o Parents need to be present during Zoom meetings with councellors or any others that are necessary


Look after your Head

Look after your head

Recent time have been hard for everyone. Headteachers, in particular, have weathered some truly testing storms admirably whilst carrying the weight of their school communities’ health and safety on their shoulders. I, for one, could not have managed that without breaking down into a blubbering mess. I’ve been thinking though: who looks after the heads? I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to many school leaders, both digitally and in person, and often the subject of ‘loneliness’ can come up: being a head can be a lonely place to be, especially when you’re fighting battles that nobody in our profession is trained for.

I’ve read blogs, books and had training on ‘managing up’, but I haven’t seen much on ‘supporting up’. I imagine many of us do this for those around us or those we line manage without thinking about it, but in these challenging times I believe we need to make a conscious effort to look after our heads. Within this blog I will suggest some strategies to support your school leaders as they do their very best to navigate these unchartered waters:

1. Check in

Checking in and asking how someone is doing can have a significant impact on the trajectory of their day. Popping by with a cuppa and a smile can bring people out of dark spots quickly. In my experience, the kindest heads always bounce these questions back and ask how you are, so persevere and make sure you check in properly!

2. Back them up

Heads are making incredibly difficult decisions – some potentially life or death – and need their school communities to be 100% behind them. When a decision has been made, we should do our best to see it through as positively as possible. We, as school staff, are able to be islands of calm in a world of panic and it is our duty to always do our best.

3. Challenge them sensitively

Many people are at breaking point. Tempers are short and patience is wearing increasingly thin. There are going to be decisions made that not everybody agrees on, however there are suitable ways, times and places to have these conversations. A private conversation with your head can clarify things both for yourself and them – I’m sure they would appreciate your input and if you have reacted in a certain way then the chances are that other people have too. Challenging publicly and harshly or, heaven forbid, bitching about decisions in the background, can eat away at the foundations of a school’s spirit and demoralise many.

4. Chocolate goes a long way

Sneaking your head a bar of chocolate or a sweet treat can go an awfully long way. If you head is tied up in meetings, especially endless Governing Body discussions, having a sweet treat on their desk can give them the energy boost they need to power on. Brownies definitely work best in my experience!

5. Spread the load

Asking what you can do to help can significantly reduce the pressures and stresses on a head. Even if it’s something small, like a phone call or a lunch duty. That extra 5 minutes of thinking space can have a really positive impact when heads are trying to juggle so much at once.

6. Send them home

This one relies on you having a great relationship with your head. Many heads are working ridiculous hours, often staying awake to try and catch up on midnight Government guidance. Sometimes heads need someone to pop in and suggest they call it a day and head home to rest, then they can tackle problems with a fresh mind in the morning. This is easier said than done as so many people are worrying about things, however it can get really unhealthy and stressful when we start losing time with our loved ones. Alongside this, I would strongly advise leaving them alone on evenings and weekends – that email can wait until the morning!

7. Tell them how well they’re doing

It takes no time at all to pop across and say well done to someone. A (distanced) pat on the back and a thank you can take the weight of worry off a headteacher’s shoulders as every decision they make will be coupled with the self-doubt of “Am I doing this right? Is it safe? Is it the best way?”

I am sure many of us do all of these things already with those we line manage and work alongside, but often the head can be in a lonely place trying to keep everyone happy and healthy without anyone checking in on them. After reading this blog, try out one or two strategies and give your head a much needed boost.

How Are You?

“We see the things they will never see” Oasis – Live Forever

It has been the most extraordinary 6 months.  Against a backdrop of uncertainty, fudged guidance, rapidly changing parameters and unhelpful rhetoric Headteachers have put their ‘game face’ on and led their schools and communities.

As is, increasingly, the norm, every decision is scrutinised and laid open to public debate, on social media, in the playground and in the staffroom… an echo of the wider societal problem created by social media and the ‘meme informed expertise’ culture.  A slow erosion of trust in the skills and expertise of Headteachers, school leaders and school staff.

It’s infuriating!

In normal times it is hard enough to explain the sheer breadth of the work that goes into running a school: Educational leader; Business leader; community leader all coming with their own accountability and risk management.  During Covid-19 the responsibilities of the Headteacher, have been expanded to include Public Health leader and all-round buffer to the complex consequences of the pandemic.

As a Headteacher you soak it all up… most are modest to the core and therefore quietly get on with it. It seems that no-one is interested in the pressures and the stress and to try to explain does little to overcome the well-established tropes about teachers… we accept that few will understand.  HTs remain silent, accepting that “We see the things they will never see”.

The problem is that this quiet and stoic resilience becomes the norm and everyone assumes all is well… until it isn’t – “oops, we’ve broken our Headteacher, where can we find another one?”

Who is asking “How are you?” of our leaders?

It’s a question I have asked and been asked countless times in the last 6 months, in conversations with Headteachers and leaders across the country.  In the current climate it seems important to ask but inevitably it is only a pre-cursor to the actual content of the call/online meeting, a nicety to start the conversation off.  As time is so precious it’s quickly brushed aside with something along the lines of ‘yeah, Ok’.  There is an unspoken agreement not to delve too deeply into the actual answer, both parties realising that to go there would be to open Pandora’s jar.

“Ok” will suffice.

It begs the question, who is actually checking how our school leaders are?  Who is taking the time to make the question “How are you?” the reason for the conversation?

At HeadsUp we don’t think it’s Ok.

We think to be a Headteacher is the best job in the world, but we recognise the risks, many of us have been there and have the scars to prove it.  Many of us have walked along the cliff edge, only to blown away by an unexpected and unforeseen gust of wind…

We believe it is time to be intentional in supporting the well-being of our school leaders and at the same time create a new narrative about this brilliant subset of the education profession.

At HeadsUp we believe that:

  • school leadership is the most challenging and most rewarding job in education
  • Headteachers do not get the recognition, positive feedback or support that they deserve
  • Education has become overly focussed on deficit and negativity when there are so many inspirational moments happening everyday, in every school in the country and we are missing them
  • the application of accountability systems and school performance tables have led to large numbers of Headteachers being ‘scapegoated’ out of education - cliff edge accountability and ‘football manager’ syndrome
  • the time is right to challenge and reframe the perception and treatment of HTs
  • it is time to celebrate and promote values-led leadership and the emotional intelligences of school leadership
  • if we are to see real cultural shift and progress in the way we educate our young people then HTs should be free to deliver their vision and their strategy for their community.


Our Vision:

“All Headteachers, past, present and future, are given permission to be the leaders they set out to be”


Our Mission:

  • celebrate the skills, experiences and vulnerabilities of school leaders
  • provide ‘crisis’ coaching support to those HTs being treated unethically
  • provide guidance and advice to HTs who are unsure of their future career options
  • highlight the issue of ‘disappeared’ HTs
  • challenge the systems and organisations that are driving the unethical treatment of HTs
  • campaign for system wide mentoring and coaching support for HTs free at point of access.


Our offer:

  • someone to talk to at times of crisis - coaching and advice
  • a supportive network of like-minded values-led leaders who can share their successes and concerns without judgement or accountability through access to weekly HeadsUp network Video Call events
  • The time and space to think about a future model of education through regular themed network Video call events and HeadsUp conferences
  • The opportunity to share our stories, anonymously or otherwise, so that we and the system can learn from them
  • Leadership advice and training that focus on the emotional intelligences of HTs and the tools to put this into practice within your organisations.


At HeadsUp we do see the things that they will never see.

The HeadsUp network is run by InspirEDucate.  The Network support offer is free of cost, due to the generosity of the HeadsUp collaborators and Partners who support our work.

What We Have Found Out So Far

It is an unfortunate fact of life that careers do not always work out as planned. On occasion, this can result in a headteacher moving on from their post. There is a perception that once someone has left a headship in difficult circumstances there is no way back. On the evidence of the many conversations I have had in recent months the truth is very different. The good news is that in nearly every case there is a positive outcome. This narrative needs to be articulated more often.

HeadsUp (@HeadsUp4HTs) is a free support service set up by former headteacher James Pope. It is led by headteachers for the benefit of their peers. Initially the remit was to support those in crisis, particularly colleagues either in the process of leaving or had recently moved on with no idea of what might come next. Over time this has extended to those who can see the end coming in the near future, are wrestling with their conscience about whether to stay or go or just need someone to listen. After engaging with Heads Up some of those headteachers went on to leave their posts, but usually of their own volition and feeling they had made a positive choice. As one who made contact put it “if you want to leave it will be for a reason, listen to yourself.” Others stayed in post with a clearer sense of what they really wanted and turned a corner.

There is an overwhelming consensus  amongst those who have experienced difficult circumstances that it is wise to take some time out if at all possible. For some it was a couple of months, for others a year. Few stuck to their original plan and found their instincts guiding them. Almost all realised that their final months in post had taken more out of them than they thought. During this time one person realised that he had “done too much bargaining with myself” in their previous post and “compromised on things I shouldn’t have. This was not obvious to me at the time”.

Some applied for headship posts too soon and without being in the right frame of mind. It was only at interview the realisation came that they had not invested enough in their recovery. Others found a hybrid position, where the opportunity arose to work on a part-time or interim basis at an equivalent level to their previous post. ‘Dipping a toe back in’ was a theme and commonly led to a surge in confidence. Sometimes this led to a realisation about what they definitely wanted to do, and sometimes the opposite, but all valued the experience.

For everyone came an opportunity to reassess their lives and their health and see what they really wanted for the years ahead. After years of working with multi-agency teams, plenty found it second nature to organise a team around themselves of family, friends and specialists such as coaches, counsellors and mentors. As another put it “bouncing back requires resources”, particularly if what was described by many as a “burning sense of injustice” could still flicker from time to time. One commented that “you aren’t the best person to comment on your own well-being”. The most difficult moments were often not those anticipated in advance. For some it can “take longer to process the nature of the departure more than leaving itself”, particularly “when everyone else goes back for the next term and you don’t.”

Some concluded that they wanted to get back into headship, and others opted for a change of tack. For the former group the much feared reputational damage was not the issue they had imagined (“people know less about your story than you think”), even when a simple internet search showed the details. There are those who found themselves waiting for a job longer than they might have expected and others, to their surprise, got a job they really wanted at their first attempt. The kudos of having once been chosen to run a school, despite other circumstances, outweighed more recent events particularly when they could describe their positive impact and “own their truth.” Those who held out against “downgrading yourself in terms of your own expectations”, including an inaccurate assumption that they would have to take a step backwards to move forward, reaped the rewards in the end.

For those who wanted to look elsewhere the possibilities turned out to be broader than anticipated. The modern educational landscape offers more in terms of career opportunities than was the case ten years ago. Networks and contacts came through as vital time and again, emphasising the importance of building them on the way up. Some gained permanent work as a result, others a growing range of assignments. Those whose career had all been in one organisation found it could be more difficult to get going, but never impossible in the end. Some found their “capacity to work and absorb pressure”, was a significant asset in other settings.  A high proportion of their knowledge and skills was also transferable beyond a headteacher’s desk.

HeadsUp’s services are now growing to a broader agenda that is now pro-active as well as reactive. It is becoming a network that enables heads to sustain each other in the job for longer and where coaching and professional development are on offer. It also encourages heads to be ‘positive disrupters’ in the education system and think beyond how they lead and look beyond a narrow range of accountability measures. Having peers to talk to beyond sector, local authority or MAT boundaries can make all the difference.

Alex Atherton (@alexatherton100) is a former headteacher.

James Pope (@popejames) leads Heads Up.