Ofsted and data can both hold fear for principals, but Chris Thomson says embracing both can provide a path to success.

With a fear of being shunned by my peers, I actually view Ofsted as a free consulting service, which all colleges should embrace.

I’ve been principal at Brighton Hove & Sussex Sixth Form College (BHASVIC) for 15 years.

We’ve progressed up the ranks from satisfactory to being judged as outstanding in our latest inspection.

In that time I have learned a lot and one of the main lessons is to embrace Ofsted.

Most people in the education sector worry about an inspection, but here at BHASVIC, we’ve always seen it as an opportunity for a fresh pair of eyes to tell us where we can improve.

I despair of colleges that think you can prepare and achieve outstanding in the run-up to an anticipated inspection. You can’t pull the wool over the eyes of an Ofsted team.

The blossom on the tree isn’t there because it’s stuck on, it’s because the roots of the tree are healthy.

The essence of the whole operation at our college is that we are there to serve our students and we do this from a healthy foundation built over time, not in a few weeks before an Ofsted visit.

One of the backbones to this approach is our use of data, as it gives us that same view that Ofsted provides — a snapshot of what is truly happening in the college not swayed by preconceptions.

I despair of colleges that think you can prepare and achieve outstanding in the run-up to an anticipated inspection

There is no doubt that a teacher’s judgement about a student in their class and how they are progressing will be affected by the relationship they have with the student and vice versa.

By providing the right data we help teachers see the real picture of progress for each and every student, without any external influences.

We use the data to examine the value we are adding as an organisation.

We look at the GCSE grades students achieved before joining the college and by comparing these to national results, we can then predict what they should achieve at A-level.

If a student is predicted Bs and they achieve As, we can see this is the added value BHASVIC has provided over what the student may have achieved if they had attended another college.

This has helped turn teachers’ attitude to data on its head. They now regard it as a tool to see where improvements can be made and it is raising expectations of the college as a whole. It makes us all want to achieve more for our students.

By using the data on a regular basis, teachers start to trust that data is not going to be used as a stick to beat them, it’s actually been the key to unlocking the process of quality improvement at our college.

For us, the data and Ofsted serve as an external pair of eyes, helping us to measure student performance against the national data set. We can see what we are doing well and what we need to do better.

I always think of it in the scenario of Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel — he’s only 45 cm from the ceiling, yet Ofsted and the data serve as the man on the ground who can see the big picture, saying you missed a bit.

Our journey to outstanding has taken 15 years and four inspections, which we’ve embraced along the way. We’ve been told what needs improving then gone away and done it. The beauty of having this data to hand is that when Ofsted does visit, teachers can easily answer any questions.

Do I fear Ofsted? No, they are there to ensure that students get the best education, which is also our college’s mission. We are heading in the same direction.

Chris Thomson, principal, Brighton,
Hove & Sussex Sixth Form College (BHASVIC)