From Fear to Confidence: Overcoming the Anxiety of the Ofsted Phone Call

Your heart races every time the phone rings.

Your stomach twists and turns when you hear the name.

You try to avoid conversations about it.

You lie awake at night playing over how it will go.


Sound familiar? 

If so, it’s likely you’re also in the midst of the Ofsted window and you're waiting for ‘the call’. 

And it’s phrases like 'the call' that which don’t help how you feel about it. What you imagine it to be and how it actually goes are often two very different things but the speculation, half-truths and rumours that you are surrounded by can build a fearful picture that impacts your sleep, health and relationships - the things you need most in such a demanding and fast-paced role. 

How do headteachers prepare for Ofsted?

As a school leader, I lost count of the sleepless nights I had, anticipating the impending Ofsted call and visit. The fear of the unknown can be paralysing, especially when you know your school inside and out, but don't know when the call will come.

It's hard to express this feeling to others, especially when they say, “but you’re ready, aren’t you?” as if it’s as simple as brushing your teeth and combing your hair, and something you should have already ticked all of the boxes for. Yet Ofsted discussions are everywhere and often leave you feeling unsure, anxious and still none the wiser on what to actually expect.

"What will Ofsted ask me in the phone call?"

"Will I be able to answer their questions on the spot?"

"When they come, will they notice the one wonky bookshelf in the corner of the classroom that we never got around to fixing?"

"Will I ever feel ready?"

Your mind certainly plays tricks on you and for me, this was largely due to not knowing what to expect, which is precisely why all of us at Honeyguide team created the Ofsted Phone Call Preparation Pack.

 Of course, I knew my school inside and out, just like you. I knew our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and challenges, just as you do. But the uncertainty of when that phone call would come was enough to keep me on edge for weeks on end (more like months and months+). And let's not forget the added pressure of having to maintain a calm exterior in front of your staff, even as your insides are churning with anxiety on the days where things just don’t go as they should.

 “Thank goodness they’re not here today…” I would hear my internal voice say. But soon enough, they came...

What should I expect when Ofsted call before an inspection?

The phone rings, your admin assistant knocks on the door with a look of panic and utters those dreaded words:

 "I'm sorry - Ofsted’s on the phone."

Your heart races, you drop everything and your mind begins to whirl at a speed you didn’t know it could.

It's the phone call that you know is coming, that you've been dreading for weeks, and that will inevitably send your stress levels through the roof. You can't help but think about all the things that could go wrong.

What's the first thing that happens in the Ofsted inspection phone call? 

While I can’t do the inspection for you (because I’m not a glutton for punishment!), I can walk you through the process as someone who has recently experienced it themselves. You’ll get the inside view - the view I really could have done with myself - with clear, detailed and opinion-free guidance so you know what to expect. You'll find it all in our Ofsted Phone Call Preparation Pack.

When the call does come through, it's known as the initial notification call. You'll speak to the inspection support administrator first, who'll ask for some key information about the school. If I asked you, "How many pupils are there on your school roll?", I'm sure you'll be able to tell me but when it's Ofsted on the end of the phone, you might find your mind going blank.

That's why the Ofsted Phone Call Crib Sheet is part of the pack. Fill it in, put it in an easily accessible folder and read from the facts and figures when the phone call does come through. Phew - that's one panic over!

Then you'll be given an approximate time for the 90-minute call with the lead inspector, so...


What do Ofsted ask in the 90-minute phone call?

The purpose of the pre-inspection phone call is to help the inspector gain a better understanding of the setting and identify any areas that may require particular attention during the inspection. It also provides an opportunity for the school to ask any questions they may have about the inspection process or provide additional information that may be helpful to the inspector.

The Ofsted Phone Call Preparation Pack provides full details of the ins and outs of this process alongside what we think is one of the most helpful documents - the Example Ofsted Phone Call Questions.

If you're anything like me, you'll want to be prepared. I practiced every question I could conceive of beforehand, not because I didn't know my school but because I knew I'd be tripping over my tongue the second I had to speak to an inspector on the phone.

However, you can have members of your SLT in the room during the 90-minute call, so practising these together can help to get everyone on the same page and build confidence, as they may be feeling nervous too. It’s important to note at this point that Ofsted don’t want you to prepare anything specifically for the phone call itself so there's no requirement that you do this. However, I found it helped me immensely and reduced that nervous anticipation about what I'd be asked.

What happens after the Ofsted phone call ends?

As much as I'd like to say, "Woohoo! Phone call complete - job done!" you know that's not true. As soon at the call ends, you're likely to go into full preparation mode with all hands on deck. Your head could be whirring with questions and actions, like telling your staff, notifying parents and having the urge to finally fix that aforementioned wonky bookshelf - but don't panic!

The guidance gives you a handy checklist of things to consider doing, including tasks to delegate. The pack also contains a Notification List so you have the names and details of anyone else you need to contact, such as your chair of governors, to hand.

So now you know this, you might also be asking yourself...

What else can I do to prepare before I get the Ofsted phone call?

Aside from the tips already mentioned, there are two more handy ways to feel extra prepared from when that phone call finally comes through.


These two checklists, including the Documentation and an Ofsted Folder Checklist, can help you to feel organised. They're fully editable so you can add and delete tasks to suit your school. And, hey, you may not feel you need them but I found it so useful to support my thought process about what I wanted to prepare and why these items would be useful to me. 

And this is probably the most important thing about our Ofsted Phone Call Preparation Pack - it's about helping you to feel prepared and confident, not to create things for the sake of Ofsted, which will take you away from where your heart truly belongs.

What else have we got to help when anticipating Ofsted?

We have a series of guides and templates to help you feel as Ofsted-ready as possible and to hopefully take away some of that uncertainty.  We’ll give you a clear understanding of the Ofsted framework, including the four key areas that inspectors will be looking at: quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development, and leadership and management, as well as how they will look at them.

To get all of this and more, the full Ofsted Inspection Preparation Pack is the one for you!

However, we recognise that not every leader needs every single aspect of preparation. That's why we split this large pack into handy bundles that allow you to audit and investigate individual areas, including:

You can also grab all eight audits in our Audits, Website Compliance and Recruitment Pack here or browse them all on the resource store.

We also know the panic of those two words: deep dive. Don't worry - we've got guidance for every national curriculum subject available individually here, or as one huge pack that's ideal for headteachers and SLT.

Deep Dive in Every Subject: Full Curriculum Set - Honeyguide School Leader Support

We’ve already lost sleep over it, but it doesn’t have to be this way for you. We’ve done the thinking, so you can spend your time doing the doing, and be ready to show off how brilliant your school, team and pupils are!

Sweet dreams!

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