The Aftermath of Not Achieving Outstanding
I’m an avid fan of the Chelsea Flower Show. In recent years ‘Chelsea’ has been subject to some controversy with critics questioning the revised scoring system, what represents Gold and how seemingly Gold exhibitions achieve the less coveted Silver Gilt? Sound familiar?
Since changing the goal posts in 2012 the Ofsted inspection process has also been subject to controversy and for over 30% of colleges a shift in ratings that has plummeted them in to the requiring improvement category.
So what are the parallels between the Ofsted process and that annually, globally recognised institution, the Chelsea Flower Show?
Pressure to achieve Gold at Chelsea, an outstanding rating from Ofsted, they both add up to success. Success or failure in business can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The aftermath has to be managed whichever side of the fence you came down on. Here, two winning principals have their say.
Dr Paul Phillips, Principal and Chief Executive of Weston College who were rated as Outstanding by Ofsted in 2013, said “An Outstanding college is not created overnight. It is a major journey that involves significant team of people, not only restricted to managers and governors, but also including the whole college, partnerships and communities. In my view, we cannot have an outstanding college without a leadership theory based on putting the learner first, and zero tolerance of under-performance. I was told by one of the inspectors that if what we do here could be bottled up and sold, every college in the UK would get an outstanding rating”. (source: Weston College website)
Chichester College Principal Shelagh Legrave said “I am so proud as Principal of Chichester College to have recieved such a truly outstanding Ofsted report. In 2014, thirteen Ofsted Inspectors rated the College as Outstanding in all four key grades. It is a true testament to the fantastic staff of the College and a ringing endorsement of their commitment to provide exceptional support to our students. The lead Ofsted Inspector commented on the drive of staff to ensure students achieved their potential was so engrained in our culture, it could almost be touched. Inspectors spoke to many students, employers, staff and other stakeholders during their visit and we would like to thank them for the huge amount of positive feedback they gave during the inspection.” (source: Chichester College website – News April 2014)
The article is not designed to get you competition fit; it is a 7-step guide for college managers to help you deal with the immediate aftermath of an Ofsted inspection that leaves you requiring improvement.
1. COMMUNICATE – immediately following the feedback from the lead inspector, acknowledge the effort staff have made. The rating may be disappointing but many staff will be feeling inadequate, exhausted and demoralised. A calm, constructive message demonstrating leadership will go a long way to ensuring this emotion is temporarily felt, staff are kept on board and the direction of travel does not lose momentum. A similar message will need to be sent to students, employers and the wider community.
2. REFLECT – the quality nominee, principal, chair of corporation and other senior staff should convene, ideally on the day of the feedback, to share the emotion. You will be exhausted, disappointed, frustrated maybe even angry. This negative emotion is powerful, if left unsaid it can manifest as sabotage, blame, collusion, narcissim or at its worst, corruption. The whole college and its community need a cohesive, strong leadership approach now more than ever, so take time to vent the emotion – then park it and re-set the Sat Nav.
3. TAKE ACTION – This is where an interim manager can become invaluable. On the first full working day following the inspection instruct all Heads of Department to gather even the most seemingly insignificant scraps of evidence from the process. This information, along with all the formal feedback and evaluations carried out during the inspection need collating as soon as possible. They are quite literally missing clues.
4. ANALYSE – create an ‘incident room’ its time to become a detective. The victim is the college. The suspects; the accuracy of the SAR, data, lesson observation profile; feedback from the conversations the varying college groups (students, staff, employers etc.) have had with the inspectors, the report, etc. Literally collate everything that may give a clue to why you were found to be requiring improvement.
5. INVOLVE – Roles, Responsibilities, Authorities, Accountabilities for managers should have been clear prior to the inspection. In curriculum groups bring together teams of staff and their managers. Use the ‘incident room’ approach to scrutinize where they went wrong (or indeed to celebrate what they got right and how to identify how they will continue to improve). Staff teams need to OWN their mistakes. If performance management processes need to be implemented, make it transparent.
6. EXECUTE – not literally, though most inspections achieving requiring improvement will have casualties. With the detective work over and all staff bought in to the need to improve, publish the plan. It is not a document; it is a daily, weekly, monthly reporting mechanism. It is a tool to monitor progress. It is a tool to keep time management on course. It is a tool to communicate milestones reached, to reward or to take performance actions.
7. COMMUNICATE – every time a milestone is reached make sure everyone knows – staff, students, employers, the community. Celebrate the achievement e.g. through a weekly bulletin announced via the website, email, electronic notice boards, meetings, forums etc.
“Ofsted observed less than 70% attendance at Maths L1 groups. Our zero tolerance approacvh to non-attendance is working. This week over 90% of all enrolments on Maths L1 courses were in their class. Well done all”.
Go on, re-design, plant, water, weed, feed and you’ll nurture the growth that makes the garden rosy again and helps win that Gold.

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