Reading primary school Ofsted reports: teacher tips for parents

Little girl reading
Whilst many of us don’t get to actually choose which primary school our children go to, it always helps to be well informed about a school’s ethos and achievements. Teacher and education writer Phoebe Doyle offers advice on reading Ofsted reports, questions to ask and what to look out for during school visits.

Visiting a primary school: what to look for and questions to ask

It’s essential to visit a school in order to get a feel for it. You might have heard rumours about what a school is like, looked it up in the school league tables or read its Ofsted report, but nothing is as important as visiting.

  • A good school will be happy for you to visit outside of scheduled tour times, but you do need to phone and arrange a suitable time.
  • Go during school hours so you can see the children working and playing. Note how they’re working in teams and how enthused they appear by their work.
  • Look at displays. Do they look newly done or like they’ve been up for years? Do they celebrate excellent work? Interactive displays are designed to be changed on a daily or weekly basis. They might be showing what is being worked on in class that week and invite children to come and have a go at something, for example: Can you put these numbers in order? Interactive displays are generally regarded as good practice as they demonstrate using the environment as a teaching tool.
  • Ask about parent helpers. You might not have the time to help out, but ask anyway! Good schools should welcome parents to help out and be involved with the school community. 
  • Find out about extra-curricular clubs – there’s an enormous variety between schools when it comes to how much after-school / lunch-time provision they have. From singing and musical instruments, to board games and sports these extra-curricular activities can make an enormous difference to a child’s school experience and also can indicate level of commitment and enthusiasm from teachers.

The school website – what to look for

I think that you can tell a fair bit about a school these days from their homepage (it is, after all, what they want people to know about their school first). There you will probably find a statement about their ethos – read it. Is it what you think of as most important? School philosophies can vary enormously!

On the site you might also find school newsletters archived. Have a read through – just from the tone you can get a feel for the school. Some newsletters are just a list of parent tellings-off whilst others are bursting with celebration of school sports and achievement. 

You might also find other information on the school website, such as a calendar of up and coming trips and visitors coming into school. For me, the busier the better – we want our children to be enthusiastic about their learning so the teachers need to be, too.

Reading an Ofsted report: a teacher's tips

You can’t tell everything from an Ofsted report by any stretch of the imagination, but they are nonetheless a useful tool.

The focus of Ofsted inspections has changed from 2019, with a greater emphasis on learning and development than test results, but as most Outstanding and Good schools are inspected roughly every four years, bear in mind that you may be reading an old-style report.

Under the new Ofsted framework, reports are intended to be shorter and easier to understand, so you can see the main points at a glance.

Here are some of the things you might look at.

Number on roll
This tells you how many children are at the school. This is a really personal issue; some parents dream of sending their children to a teeny village school, whereas others get the shivers at the very idea! 

Never assume that if it is a village school with, say, 70 on roll, that your child will be in a small class. This isn’t always the case as schools may mix year groups together, so the actual class sizes could still be around the 30 mark.

Description of the school
Here you can read about the socio-economic and cultural mix at the school.

How many children are entitled to free school meals is considered an indication of level of social deprivation. Personally I’m looking for a good mix here. Don’t get hung up on how many children have English as an Additional Language; many schools have extra support to help manage language issues. If your child goes to a school filled with languages and cultures to learn from they can only benefit. 

There may be something here on whether children are taught in mixed-aged classes. Don’t let this put you off – all classes have huge differentiation and children can learn very successfully in mixed-aged groups.

Inspection judgements
When inspected, the school is given an overall rating (Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement or Inadequate). Then you can see the judgment broken down into:

  • Quality of education
  • Behavior and attitudes
  • Personal development of pupils
  • Leadership and management

It’s really a personal issue as to which area is most important to you. You might feel that you could forgive, for instance, a Requires Improvement in the quality of education if behaviour is Outstanding.

What the school needs to do to improve
Reading this gives you an insight into the school’s shortcomings, and you’ll need to decide what you can overlook and what is too important to ignore.

Even Good and Outstanding schools are likely to have action points to make them even better.

Whatever rating the school has, the fact that issues are highlighted means that it has to work hard to improve these areas as Ofsted will be looking for improvements before their next inspection.

Don't assume you need to rule out a Requires improvement or Inadequate school immediately. Inevitably, some children will end up with places at these schools, as Outstanding and Good schools are often oversubscribed.

It's natural to worry if you're offered a place at one of these schools, but they'll have more frequent Ofsted inspections to make sure they're addressing the areas of concern, and may receive extra support and funding to help them improve.

Parent View
Want to understand what the school's parents feel about the school? Search for it on Parent View, the Ofsted website which reports parents' impressions of school leadership, teaching and behaviour.