Ofsted inspections explained for parents

Ofsted reports explained for parents
Reading Ofsted reports is likely to be one of the first things you do when you’re choosing a school for your child, but what do the inspections actually involve?
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Every teacher dreads getting the call to say that the Ofsted inspectors are coming, but regular inspections are an important part of making sure that schools are providing children with a good education – and as a parent, the reports can be a vital source of information about your child’s school.

There's no doubt that inspection reports are an important factor when parents choose a school for their children – the second most important factor (50%) after proximity to home (61%), according to Ofsted’s 2017 survey of parents.

Which schools are inspected by Ofsted?

All state-maintained schools in England are inspected by Ofsted. This includes local authority-run schools, academies and free schools, as well as non-maintained special schools, pupil referral units and further education/sixth form colleges. 

Ofsted also inspects independent schools that are not associated with one of the independent schools inspectorates, such as ISEB.

In Scotland, schools are inspected by Education Scotland; in Wales, by Estyn; and in Northern Ireland by the Education Training Inspectorate (ETI).

How often are schools inspected?

The frequency of inspection is determined by how good a school is.

Schools rated Outstanding are exempt from 'full inspections' (usually lasting two days) but are be subject to 'short inspections (usually one day) if concerns arise about their performance.  

Good schools usually have a short inspection every four years, although they may have a full inspection if concerns arise about their performance, or if they've undergone significant change.

Short inspections can't change the existing rating of a school. If the inspectors believe its rating should change – upwards or downwards – the short inspection will be converted to a full inspection.

Schools that are rated Requires Improvement usually have a full re-inspection within 30 months.

Inadequate schools will have their inspection schedule individually agreed with Ofsted. This usually involves regular monitoring, alongside support to improve their rating.

How much notice do schools get?

Normally, schools get one working day's notice of an inspection, but Ofsted has the power to go into schools without any notice if it considers it necessary.

This could be if they have received serious concerns about a school, such as a safeguarding issue, possibly from a parent.

What happens during an inspection?

The number of inspectors visiting a school varies depending on the size and type of a school, but the team will include Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) and/or contracted Ofsted inspectors – normally practising headteachers and deputy heads.

Before the inspection, the inspectors gather information about the school by reading the previous Ofsted report, reports of any interim monitoring, any complaints that have been raised about the school, academic data, information about funding, and information from the school’s website.

They also send a letter to parents inviting them to share their opinions about the school on Ofsted’s Parent View website. It's important that as many parents as possible complete the survey to have their views of the school taken into account.

During the inspection, inspectors will observe lessons, check records and gather a range of evidence to inform their judgements, including speaking to staff, governors, pupils and parents and scrutinising pupils’ work.

Inspectors also sit in on lessons, look through children’s books and folders and talk to them about not just their understanding, but also how engaged they are in their learning, and about other issues like behaviour and bullying.

What are the inspectors looking at?

Ofsted inspectors look at four main areas:

  • Quality of education
  • Behaviour and attitudes
  • Personal development of pupils
  • Leadership

The new Ofsted framework puts less emphasis on test results than previous inspections did. 

There will be a greater focus on how schools foster pupils’ broader development, including character, citizenship and resilience.

They will also look at how schools manage behaviour, including low-level disruption and bullying.

'We hope schools will no longer feel the need to generate and analyse masses of internal data for inspection,' says Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman.

'Instead, we want them to spend their time teaching and making a real difference to children’s lives, which is why they entered the profession in the first place.'

How quickly do schools get the results?

Most schools get a draft copy of the report soon after the inspection.

They have the opportunity for them to check it for factual accuracy and make any comments before it’s published.

The final report is then usually sent to the school within 10 days, and published on Ofsted’s website within 15 days, although if a school is judged Inadequate, this can take up to 28 days to allow extra moderation.

What are the possible outcomes?

Schools receive a judgement for each of the four inspection areas, and an overall judgement. There are four numerical grades:

  • 1: Outstanding
  • 2: Good
  • 3: Requires Improvement
  • 4: Inadequate

In the academic year 2018-2019, 85 per cent of schools were rated Outstanding or Good.

What happens if a school is rated Inadequate?

Inadequate schools are monitored and are subject to more frequent inspection. There's no fixed timetable for inspections, but they will normally have a full inspection within 30 months.

They are also obliged to convert to academies, which gives officials more power to intervene.

The schools with the most serious failings may be put into special measures.

They're given an action plan for improvement detailing the areas they must address, and are subject to regular monitoring and inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectors (HMI), usually every term.

Schools are not on their own in tackling their failings. They usually receive extra support, in the form of funding and/or expert guidance from external consultants (sometimes known as 'super heads').

Once HMI believes a school has completed its action plan, they will request another full inspection by Ofsted, and if all areas of concern have been addressed, the school will be removed from special measures.