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Scope of Briefing

This briefing provides background on Ofsted inspections of state-funded schools in England. It covers:

  • Recent developments, including planned changes to complaints procedures, and speedier re-visits for schools judged inadequate on safeguarding grounds only
  • The resumption of routine inspections of ‘outstanding’ schools
  • Practicalities of inspections – their frequency, focus, and consequences for schools

Separate school inspection arrangements apply in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Ofsted’s remit

Ofsted inspects all state-funded 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, it begins the process of converting the school to an academy outside of local authority control. The Secretary of State for Education can decide to withdraw an academy order in exceptional circumstances.

Inadequate academies will also be subject to intervention and may be moved to a new academy trust.

Changes announced in June 2023

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 2023 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, on safeguarding grounds.

In June 2023, Ofsted announced changes to school inspections. It said that where a school is judged inadequate on safeguarding grounds only, and where it would otherwise have been graded good or outstanding, it will be re-visited within three months. If improved, the Education Secretary could withdraw the academy order (for a maintained school) or any warning notice (to an academy) and it could see its overall grade improve.

It also said that schools would receive more guidance on when they were likely to be inspected. Although they would still only receive one day’s notice of inspection, Ofsted published a blog article outlining approximately when schools should anticipate an inspection, depending on their circumstances.

Planned changes to Ofsted’s complaints procedure

In June 2023, Ofsted confirmed it was planning changes to its complaints procedures and processes for schools to challenge inspection reports. It launched a consultation on these changes, which is due to close on 15 September 2023.

Proposals include:

  • Withdrawing the current internal review stage, carried out by Ofsted. Instead, once Ofsted has considered the original complaint, complainants will then be able to refer their complaints to the Independent Complaints Adjudication Service for Ofsted (ICASO) straight away
  • Periodic reviews of closed complaints by external investigators
  • More dialogue between schools, senior inspectors and the principal (complaints) investigator

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 inspections. 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.

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