Preparing for Ofsted
If you are the Science Subject Leader at your school, you should expect a “deep dive” when Ofsted visit. As a core subject, the majority of schools are reporting that science is one of the subjects chosen by Inspectors to examine in detail. This is known as a “deep dive”.
This is my experience of one last October (2021). At the time, I was science subject leader in a one form entry school in inner London and the Inspector was visiting with the assumption that we would continue to be a “Good” school: a two-day inspection.
When your school gets “the call”, your Head will discuss with the Inspector/s what subjects they want to focus on. At my school the subjects were: Reading, Science and Maths. Science was in the afternoon on the first day and the HMI (Government inspector) wanted to see Science being taught across the school.
Unlike past inspections I had been involved in, this meant the timetable changing so that Science was taught that afternoon. The lessons were simply the next in the sequence of learning and what would have been taught later in the week. As subject leader, I accompanied the Inspector in all the lessons and discussed with her what was happening. In each case we stayed about 15/20 minutes.
The deep dive
Before this, I had a one-on-one meeting with the HMI to discuss the subject and another afterwards. The focus of those meetings was the school's science curriculum:
- Was it “ambitious and designed to give all learners the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life”?
- Could I explain why we taught each topic in the order we taught it and show how this matched the needs of our pupils?
- Were the activities appropriate for the planned learning outcome?
- Could I demonstrate that the order it was taught in built progression in knowledge and skill? Did it reflect the best time of year to do things? For example, the plants units needed to be in the Spring and Summer.
- How did we monitor whether children retained what we taught?
- Could I explain how we assessed pupils and ensured that this was manageable for teachers?
I had printed off our long-term plan in advance of the first meeting but not the whole scheme of work. The inspector initially asked for this but, as it was a lot of paper, she agreed that I could print off the units we were observing that afternoon. This showed her where the lesson fitted into the sequence – what had come before and what was next – and gave a clear indication of our approach.
We discussed what she would see that afternoon and my honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses in our science teaching and learning. I did regular ‘book looks’ and I had quickly checked them the previous day, so I was aware what issues might come up in the observations. I also had my own ideas about the questions I wanted to ask the children when we were in the classrooms. If you do not currently do ‘learning walks’, it would be a good idea to arrange to do one with your SLT to develop your experience.
In the classroom, the HMI was interested in seeing what was being taught, observing the children as they were working, discussing with the children what they were learning, and asking about what skills they had which supported the enquiries they were engaged in.
Afterwards, her questions to me focussed on progression in substantive knowledge and disciplinary knowledge. Substantive knowledge covers the key concepts/vocabulary, including the order in which you teach them, and disciplinary knowledge covers:
- the skills involved in conducting different types of science enquiry;
- the knowledge needed to use different pieces of equipment/apparatus accurately and safely;
- the knowledge needed to construct graphs and present finding; and
- the skills to be able to evaluate your investigation.
As the inspector had observed a Y4 lesson on Living things and their habitats, where children were classifying plants using microscopes, she wanted to know when children start to classify and sort plants; when they start to use keys; and how that develops. She was also interested in when they first used microscopes and how they were taught to use them.
In Y5, the children had been measuring how long it took for sugar to dissolve in different water temperatures. They were using thermometers and stop watches. She was interested in when they first used thermometers (Y4 when observing ice melting and evaporating), and whether they could tell her the steps needed to use them properly. She was also interested in progression in the substantive knowledge. How did the teaching of materials progress? What did it look like in Y1, Y2, etc. In the classroom, we were both interested in whether children really understood the difference between dissolving and melting, as I had spotted some misconceptions in two of their books the day before.
She met separately with a group of Y1 and a group of Y6 children to talk to them about their learning. She was testing whether the Y6 children could make links with their current learning on the circulatory system and previous learning about the human body. This was to see if they retained information. She also asked about the science equipment they used and probed to ensure they understand how to use it properly. With the younger children, she wanted to see if they could talk about learning from previous lessons.
In addition, the inspector met with all the teachers she had observed that afternoon. I was not involved in this, but the questions focussed on how they were supported to teach science. How much CPD did they receive? What did they do if they were unsure about something? How much did I support them?
In my school’s case, there wasn’t a science ‘book look’ but other schools have had one. This might be because our School Improvement Partner (SIP) had looked at books in the summer term across all subjects and commented on the high standards in science books across the school; I don’t know, but if she was concerned after visiting classes, I am sure she would have asked for one.
The inspector was also interested to see how the science curriculum for KS1 took into account the new Early Years curriculum. If Reception children were learning about seasonal change and observing plants and trees, how did the learning in Y1 build on this?
I found the experience rigorous and fair, but I had been the science leader for many years and had taught science in Y1 – Y6 so was familiar with the content.
What are my tips to help you prepare for an inspection?
- Make sure you understand how the curriculum progresses across the year groups. PLAN assessment has some concise summaries of progression in knowledge for you to read. Include EYFS in this.
- Make sure teachers are teaching the disciplinary knowledge. Are children taught how to use a stop
watch, for example, and regularly reminded? Are the skills required to make graphs regularly modelled in science? Do teachers check that children can use the equipment when planning investigations?
- Are you regularly doing ‘book looks’ and ‘learning walks’ in science? Are you given time out of class to make sure you know what is going on?
- Make sure you and your staff get access to regular science CPD. Look at STEM Learning’s in person as well as Future Learning online courses. Share these recorded PSTT Explorify planning sessions with teachers – each is only 30 minutes long.
- Keep assessments up-to-date but make sure this is manageable for staff. It does not need to involve tests; teacher assessments are fine but use PLAN to help teachers understand expectations. TAPS will help with assessing science enquiry skills.
Explorify Engagement Leader
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