Scope of briefing
This briefing provides background on Ofsted inspections of state-funded schools in England. It covers:
- Recent changes, including the resumption of routine inspections of ‘outstanding’ schools
- Debate on Ofsted’s role, operation, and accountability
- Practicalities of inspections – their frequency, focus, and consequences for schools
- Statistical information on Ofsted outcomes for schools
Separate school inspection arrangements apply in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
Ofsted inspects all maintained and academy schools in England, and around half of independent schools, in line with the relevant inspection framework. It also inspects other services, including childcare, social care, and further education.
Consequences of inspections for schools
Currently, there are four overall judgements that Ofsted can reach about schools: outstanding; good; requires improvement; and inadequate. Inadequate is further subdivided into two categories, serious weaknesses or requiring special measures.
For a maintained school, an overall grading of inadequate triggers the mandatory issue of an academy order – ie, begins the process of converting the school to an academy outside of local authority control. Inadequate academies will also be subject to intervention and may be moved to a new trust.
Calls for reform to Ofsted inspections
Teaching and leadership unions, and some other organisations, have recently intensified their calls for reform of the inspection regime. These calls have been amplified following the January 2022 death of head teacher, Ruth Perry. Ms Perry’s school in Berkshire had recently been inspected and the resulting report graded the school as ‘inadequate’ overall.
Removal of outstanding schools’ exemption from routine inspection
Until November 2020, mainstream schools judged outstanding at their last full inspection were exempt from further routine inspection. They are now subject to routine inspection again. For many formerly exempt schools, their next full inspection will be under a different inspection framework than used at the time of their last full inspection.
According to analysis published by Ofsted in November 2022, of the 371 formerly exempt schools that had undergone a full inspection by 31 August 2022:
- 17% remained outstanding
- 62% were good
- 17% required improvement
- 4% were inadequate
Ofsted has been prioritising reinspection of schools that have gone the longest time since their previous graded inspection, so reinspection data may not be representative of all formerly exempt outstanding schools.