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Guide to Ofsted

Ofsted is changing the way it inspects schools from September 2019. See Ofsted's Sean Harford explain the changes.

What is Ofsted?

Ofsted stands for the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. It is the body responsible for inspecting state schools in England, and it also oversees the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), which inspects non-state-run schools. As education is devolved to the regions, the Welsh equivalent is Estyn, and in Northern Ireland it is ETI. Under its current guise, Ofsted was introduced in the 1990s under John Major’s Conservative government, when a national scheme for inspecting schools replaced a multitude of Local Authority (LA) schemes because concerns about inconsistency had arisen. The current Chief Inspector is Amanda Spielman. 

Is it run by the government?

Ofsted reports to the Department for Education, however it is classed as a non-ministerial department, which means that it isn’t controlled by any one political party. The idea of this is to keep Ofsted politically neutral to guard against interference and partisanship. 

What does Ofsted do?

Ofsted is an inspectoral body, and a large part of its remit is to inspect and appropriately grade state schools in England.

Ofsted state: “Our goal is to achieve excellence in education and skills for learners of all ages, and in the care of children and young people.”

Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) are employed by Ofsted to carry out the inspections in schools. 

Schools are normally inspected for two days. The inspectors are present within the school and within selected classes, while the school day proceeds as ‘normal’. Schools receive very little notice of an impending inspection, usually finding out the afternoon before the inspection begins. Inspections are carried out all year round, the exception being the very first week of a new academic year, in which no schools are inspected in order to give staff and pupils time to settle in. 

The results of all Ofsted inspections are published online and can be found at:

What are the inspectors judging?

From September 2019, inspectors will make graded judgements on the following areas using the four-point scale:

  • overall effectiveness (Outstanding/Good/Requires Improvement/Inadequate)
  • quality of education
  • behaviour and attitudes
  • personal development
  • leadership and management.

How quickly will my child's school be graded following the inspection?

The head teacher will be given a confidential indication of the likely outcome while the inspectors are still at the school at the end of day two. A full written report is sent electronically within twenty-five working days of the end of the inspection, detailing evidence of the inspectors’ findings and justifications for each grading. The school has a short window of opportunity to comment on the report before it is published. The final report will be published on Ofsted’s website within 30 working days. Schools should ensure every parent with a child on the register received a copy of the report within five working days of the school receiving it. 

How are schools graded?

Schools fit into one of four categories, depending upon the results of their Ofsted inspection.

  • Grade 1 (outstanding)
  • Grade 2 (good)
  • Grade 3 (requires improvement)
  • Grade 4 (inadequate)

What happens if my child's school receives a rating of Grade 1 (outstanding)?

The school has achieved the highest measure of educational excellence as judged by Ofsted and becomes exempt from routine inspections except in instances where concerns may arise about a decline in performance standards and the need to re-evaluate. 'Outstanding' schools are subject to risk assessments to ensure standards are maintained. Evidence of any decline will lead to a full assessment. 

What happens if my child's school receives a rating of Grade 2 (good)?

Under the new inspection framework, 'Good' schools will normally receive a two-day inspection approximately every four years. This is to confirm that the quality of education remains good or outstanding. If there is evidence that a school should be judged significantly differently since its last inspection, or if it has drastically changed (such as altered the age range of its intake) then it will subject to a more detailed inspection. 

What happens if my child's school receives a rating of Grade 3 (requires improvement)?

The school will be monitored by inspectors, with inspections every 30 months or so until its grading improves. If its grading goes down, the school will be placed into special measures.

What happens if my child's school receives a rating of Grade 4 (inadequate)?

An inadequate rating flags areas of concern that the school is obliged to address. It will fall into one of two categories, of which the first is the greater cause for concern:

  • Special measures – the school is judged to be failing to provide its pupils with an acceptable standard of education, and is not showing the capacity to make the improvements needed.
  • Serious weaknesses – one or more of the key areas of the school’s performance require significant improvement, but leaders and managers have demonstrated the capacity to improve.

A Grade 4-rated school may be issued with an academy order by the Secretary of State for Education, requiring it to become a sponsored academy (see more about academies). If the school is already an academy, inspectors return more frequently than during routine inspections to ensure that progress has been made. Once a new rating is given, the school is removed from the categories above.

Ofsted will re-inspect an academy that has been found to have serious weaknesses or been placed in special measures within 30 months of its last standard two-day inspection.

What happens during the inspection?

Inspectors will:

  • observe lessons
  • scrutinise pupils’ work
  • listen to pupils read
  • look at examples of pupils’ work for evidence of progress in knowledge, understanding and skills
  • talk to pupils about their work to gain their views of life at the school (often outside of classroom setting). 

Inspectors will evaluate evidence of the impact of the curriculum, including on the most disadvantaged pupils and those with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND). This involves in-depth discussions with school leaders, and they remain in regular contact with the head teacher throughout the inspection.

Inspectors will also assess the school's performance through discussions with pupils and staff, governors or trustees.

Can parents give their views to the inspectors?

Yes, this is actively encouraged. The school should notify parents of the dates of the inspection, providing you with details about how you can offer your views. If you are unable to make it to the school in person, there should be provision to speak to the inspectors on the telephone. Parents can only tell inspectors about their general experiences of the school; inspectors cannot assist with more personal matters such as problems with individual pupils or ongoing disputes, which need to be raised with the appropriate school personnel.

Can parents see the results of the inspection?

Yes, schools must ensure parents of pupils at the school receive a copy of the report.

Do parents have to wait for the inspection to give their views to Ofsted?

No. Parent View gives parents the opportunity to have their say about their child’s school over a variety of issues at any time. It comprises a survey of basic set questions where parents indicate how strongly they agree or disagree. Data is collated into a three-monthly report and the results are published online. Parent View is a way for government to monitor parental opinion of schooling as a whole. While it is not a resource for parents to discuss individual pupils or schools, Ofsted inspectors do view the results of Parent View for individual schools when inspecting them, so it is a useful resource for parents to have their say. Parent View has been upgraded with more tailored questions from September 2019.

Are the Ofsted results the be all and end all?

While it is obviously important to all parents that their child receives the best possible education, there is a feeling among educators that too much emphasis is placed on the Ofsted inspections and results, and some even suggest that the inspectors ought to give equal weight to other factors that aren’t reported upon. In light of this, Ofsted is changing the way it inspects schools from 2019. 

Reviewed: August 2019

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