What to expect from an Ofsted inspection

Our webinar with Ofsted answers parents’ questions about what it means to have an inspection and how it works.

Ofsted’s Christopher Russell HMI, National Director, Education and Gill Jones HMI, Deputy Director, Schools and Early Education attended our panel discussion to inform parents about what they can expect from the process of an Ofsted inspection. This Q&A was facilitated by Kerry-Jane Packman, Executive Director of Programmes, Membership and Charitable Services at Parentkind.

The panel discussion covers:

  • What to expect from an inspection
  • How children and parents are engaged with during the inspection process
  • What Ofsted are looking at and for
  • How the education inspection framework (EIF) works
  • How the inspection framework now includes a reading deep dive and the importance of hearing your child read

During the session we received many questions but, due to time constraints, we were unable to answer them all. Please read below for Ofsted’s follow-up written responses to these.

We received some queries which we are not best placed to respond to particularly around how schools are expected to support parents and specific safeguarding requirements. If you would still like to hear more about these topics we would recommend contacting the Department for Education who may be able to help.

Ofsted & Parentkind Webinar 

Questions & Answers 

What is the main thing Ofsted is looking for this year and what is the most common thing letting schools down?

Ofsted inspects all maintained schools and academies in accordance with our education inspection framework and our school inspection handbooks. We’d encourage schools to ensure they’re working to be good across all aspects, rather than focus on any one specific thing.

We recently published a blog regarding children who are still struggling to read when they start secondary school. It is not that this is a specific focus this year, but it is something we are concerned about; children who cannot read well find it difficult to keep up in secondary school as reading is an essential part of almost every subject.

Will Ofsted review its grading system?

We have no plans to review our grading system. Currently on our graded inspections all of our judgements are graded on the same 4‑point scale: outstanding, good, requires improvement and inadequate. This grading scale allows us to provide assurance on the overall effectiveness of the school to both the education sector and the public.

Does Ofsted carry out inspections of private schools?

Ofsted inspects independent schools, also called private schools, that are not part of an association. Independent schools that are members of associations are normally inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. For more information regarding these inspections please see our independent schools inspection handbook.

How should schools prepare for Ofsted inspections?

Schools do not need to do anything to prepare for inspections, and should focus on providing the best education they can. However, some headteachers have told us that they find it useful to be familiar with our school inspection handbook.

We would not encourage any school to undertake a mock inspection (sometimes called mocksteds’) or mock deep dives’ to prepare for Ofsted inspections.​We do not endorse these as we do not think they are helpful. These do not have the same quality assurance as our inspections and we cannot guarantee they would provide schools with consistent and reliable messages.

What happens if the school disagrees with an Ofsted judgement?

During an inspection, the lead inspector meets regularly with the headteacher to share updates on emerging issues, including initial general findings. If the initial findings and evidence that inspectors gather do not match with senior leaders’ account of things, these meetings give leaders the opportunity to show inspectors the evidence that supports their view.

If after the inspection the school disagrees with the findings of the inspection they are given an opportunity to comment on the draft report, inspection process and findings. Ofsted will consider all comments and respond to them when we share our final report. Then the school will have 5 working days to submit a formal complaint before the report is published. Full details of our complaints policy can be found here.

Does Ofsted look at attendance and persistent absence?

On graded inspections Ofsted will always look at attendance and persistent absence as part of our judgement on behaviour and attitudes. For a school to be judged as good for behaviour and attitudes, pupils must have high attendance, within the context of the pandemic. For more information about this please see our school inspection handbook.

Do inspectors look at how schools engage with parents?

Inspectors will look closely at how schools engage with parents. When evaluating leadership and management inspectors will look at whether leaders seek to engage parents and their community thoughtfully and positively in a way that supports pupils’ education. They will also look at evidence of how leaders respond to any concerns raised by parents. For leadership and management to be judged as good leaders must engage effectively, where relevant, with parents.

If a school is not outstanding do Ofsted provide them with support or recommendations?

Ofsted’s aim is to improve education by celebrating excellence, challenging weaknesses and sharing what we learn. In our graded school inspection reports we will always include a section on what the school does well and what they need to do better. This is information for the school and appropriate authority to aid them in their journey of improvement.

When a school receives an inadequate rating or two successive judgements of requires improvement they will receive monitoring inspections. The purpose of our monitoring process is to support and challenge school leaders as they go through a period of improvement and change. For more information regarding monitoring inspections please see our monitoring handbook.

Are there any differences in the inspection process between primary and secondary schools?

The inspection processes for primary and secondary schools are very similar, with minor differences as applicable to the age groups being taught. Inspectors will look at how schools fulfil their statutory duties which can differ according to whether they are primary or secondary. However, there is no difference in the methodology used when coming to their inspection judgements.

What safeguarding checks should schools be doing on volunteers?

The Department for Education publishes statutory guidance on keeping children safe in education. This outlines the necessary safeguarding checks that need to be carried out on volunteers. Our inspectors would expect schools to meet the standards set out in this guidance.

How do inspectors evaluate the pastoral care provided by the school?

Ofsted expects the curriculum provided by schools to extend beyond the academic, technical or vocational, to support pupils’ personal development. The personal development judgement, which is one of the key judgements that inspectors make, evaluates a school’s intent to provide for the personal development of all pupils, and the quality with which the school implements this work. Inspectors will recognise that the impact of the school’s provision for personal development will often not be assessable during pupils’ time at school.

Inspectors will use a variety of evidence to evaluate personal development, including the range, quality and take-up of extra-curricular activities offered by the school. In maintained nursery schools, for example, inspectors will spend most of the inspection time gathering first-hand evidence by observing the quality of the daily routines and activities of children and staff. Inspectors will also discuss children’s development with staff. Much of this will be through incidental conversations prompted by observing the children at play and the interactions between them and adults. Inspectors will gather and evaluate evidence including how well children’s learning and development are shared with parents as required by the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), and the extent to which parents are supported to help their child to learn.

Further useful information is contained in our school inspection handbook.

What has the response of parents been to the Education Inspection Framework?

Prior to the launch of the EIF we sought the views of the public and the sectors covered by the framework through a consultation. Many parents responded to this consultation and were positive about our proposals. Further details can be found in Education inspection framework 2019: a report on the responses to the consultation — GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).

How do you look at provision for more able young people?

During an inspection we look at the provision for all pupils in the school.

For a school to receive a good or outstanding judgement for its quality of education, leaders must adopt or construct a curriculum that is ambitious and designed to give all pupils the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life.

How important is outdoor education to Ofsted?

As part of school inspections, inspectors consider the breadth and depth of the school’s curriculum and its impact on pupils’ outcomes, personal development, behaviour and welfare. Where a school’s use of outdoor spaces and learning is having a positive impact on these matters, inspectors will take this into account as part of their evaluation of the school. Inspectors will also expect schools to be providing rich and varied extra-curricular opportunities for pupils, which may well include gardening and other outdoor activities.

Inspections of early years in schools are in line with the principles and requirements of the EYFS Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage. Paragraph 3.59 of the EYFS sets out that a provider must provide access to an outdoor play area or, if that is not possible, ensure that outdoor activities are planned and taken on a daily basis (unless circumstances make this inappropriate, for example unsafe weather conditions).

What does good governance of the curriculum look like?

The Department for Education publishes a governance handbook that sets out the statutory functions of governance boards, no matter what type of school or how many schools they govern. One of these functions is ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction.

Inspectors will explore how governors carry out this function; for example, the clarity of the school’s vision, ethos and strategic direction will have a significant impact on the decisions that leaders make about the curriculum. Inspectors will consider whether the work of governors in this respect is supporting the school to provide a high-quality education for its pupils.

How does Ofsted ensure their inspection does not interfere with children’s learning?

We will normally contact the school by telephone to announce a graded, ungraded or urgent inspection between 10.30am and 2pm on the school day before the inspection. This allows the school to make any necessary preparations.

The lead inspector will have a short inspection-planning conversation with the head teacher the day before inspection that focuses on practical and logistical arrangements.

During an inspection, teachers can go on with their lessons as they would normally. To ensure this, Ofsted does not grade individual lessons or take a random sample of exercise books/​folders/​sketchbooks/​electronic files or evaluate individual workbooks or expect workbooks to be compiled solely to provide evidence for inspection. We expect the school to carry on as it normally would and do not advocate a particular method of planning (including lesson planning), teaching or assessment.

Is safeguarding evaluated for children that are home schooled?

Ofsted inspects services that provide education and skills for learners of all ages; as such home schooled children fall outside of our remit. The relevant local authority has the responsibility for ensuring the safety of home-schooled children, as they do with all children.

How do you measure children’s development?

Ofsted does not measure children’s development, but we would expect the schools we inspect to track the progress of their pupils. Inspectors will consider how the curriculum developed or adopted by the school is taught and assessed in order to support pupils to build their knowledge and to apply that knowledge as skills. For a school to be judged as outstanding the work given to pupils must enable them over time and across the school to consistently achieve the aims of the curriculum, which is coherently planned and sequenced towards cumulatively sufficient knowledge and skills for future learning and employment.

Does Ofsted have guidelines on structured revision plans and mind maps?

Ofsted does not advocate a particular method of planning (including lesson planning), teaching or assessment; it is up to schools to determine their practices and it is up to leadership teams to justify these on their own merits.