What is Ofsted and how do school inspections work?

What is Ofsted and how do school inspections work?

By Vanessa ClarkeEducation reporter

Getty Images Stock image of adult walking into classroomGetty Images

Ofsted should be reformed, and should move away from providing single-word judgements on schools, an inquiry by MPs has found.

Their report highlighted concerns raised by the inquest into head teacher Ruth Perry’s suicide, which concluded that a critical Ofsted inspection "contributed" to her death.

What does Ofsted stand for?

Schools or organisations are inspected every four years or 30 months depending on their status, and are then graded accordingly:

  • 1 – outstanding
  • 2 – good
  • 3 – requires improvement
  • 4 – inadequate

Many parents rely on Ofsted ratings to help them choose a school or nursery.

What happens during an Ofsted inspection?

During an Ofsted visit – which can last up to two days – inspectors observe lessons and talk to staff and pupils.

The school is normally notified the day before.

Schools can request to defer or cancel a visit, but only in exceptional circumstances.

PA Media Two children walking towards a schoolPA Media
  • a school’s overall performance
  • the quality of education provided
  • pupil behaviour and attitudes
  • staff personal development and the calibre of leadership and management
  • the effectiveness of safeguarding policies

The final report gives the school one overall grade.

Why have lots of ‚outstanding‘ schools been downgraded?

Schools can be downgraded if they fail any one part of the inspection.

But it also highlighted failings in training, record-keeping and checks on staff.

Brighter Futures for Children Ruth PerryBrighter Futures for Children
Ruth Perry’s family says she was under "intolerable pressure"

Schools that were rated good or outstanding used to be assessed every four years, but routine inspections for outstanding schools stopped in 2011, so resources could be focused on the worst-performing institutions.

However, this meant some outstanding schools might not have been visited for more than a decade.

In 2020, the government restored routine inspections to provide more up-to-date information.

There were 3,400 outstanding schools in England in 2020, and Ofsted plans to reinspect them all by summer 2025.

The latest data from Ofsted shows that of the 358 outstanding schools visited between September 2023 and December 2023:

  • 47% retained their status
  • 48% were downgraded to good
  • 4% were told they needed improvement
  • 0% were rated inadequate

What happens after an Ofsted inspection?

Schools graded good or outstanding will be re-inspected after four years, but are also given recommendations on how to improve in the interim.

Any school which requires improvement will be revisited within 30 months.

Schools that are rated inadequate become sponsored academies, and are supported by another outstanding school or charity.

However, under changes introduced in June 2023, if a school is graded inadequate overall because of ineffective safeguarding, but all other judgements were good or outstanding, inspectors will return within three months to see if improvements have been made.

Can schools complain about their Ofsted rating?

Head teachers can challenge the rating their school is given.

The way Ofsted handles the post-inspection period will change in April 2024, with the aim of resolving complaints more quickly, and increasing transparency around decision making.

How do critics want Ofsted inspections to change?

Several teaching unions want the current system of one-word grades to be replaced.

An inquiry by the Education Select Committee urged Ofsted’s new chief inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver, and the government, to consider a more "nuanced system that can provide value to both schools and parents".

Prof Sonia Blandford, from Plymouth Marjon University highlights the time pressures of the current inspection regime, which scrutinises "every aspect of the school" in a very short period of time.

She says the 24-hour notice period also places considerable pressure on teaching staff.

Ms Connor said she was concerned by "the almost complete absence of Ofsted training" for inspectors looking for signs of distress in school leaders.

The Department for Education (DfE) promised to work with Ofsted to improve the system.

An independent expert will also review Ofsted’s response to Ms Perry’s death.

Title: What is Ofsted and how do school inspections work?
URL: https://www.bbc.com/news/education-65013919
Source: BBC – Homepage
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Date: February 5, 2024 at 01:23PM
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