The Ofsted inspection process explained
An Ofsted inspection process can unfold in a couple of ways but inspectors must uphold certain rules and requirements that schools should be aware of, as well as be informed of what might be expected of them before or during an inspection.
How often does a school get an Ofsted inspection?
In all cases, Ofsted inspection can take place at any point from five school days after the first day students attend in the autumn term. The Ofsted inspection cycle of schools is usually four years, but a lot can depend on the type of institution and the previous grading the school received.
Ofsted inspection of new schools
New schools are inspected in the first 3 years after they open, normally in the third year.
Schools judged “good” or “outstanding”: Section 8 inspection
A school previously judged as “good” or “outstanding” will be inspected every four years — this is called a section 8 inspection where inspectors don’t give graded judgements.
Schools judged “good” or “outstanding”: Section 5 inspection
A section 8 inspection can turn into a section 5 inspection, usually within one to two years but sometimes immediately, if Ofsted inspectors find the standards to be better than they were or the opposite, declining. In this case, they carry out a full inspection with graded judgements.
Outstanding schools that were exempt from routine inspections
Maintained primary and secondary schools and academies formerly judged as outstanding at their latest section 5 inspection were exempt from Ofsted’s routine inspections until 13 November 2020.
Following this date, all these schools must have an inspection before 1 August 2026:
- Schools that were last inspected under section 5 before September 2015, will receive an initial section 5 inspection
- Schools that were last inspected under section 5 after September 2015, will receive an initial section 8 inspection
Schools judged “requires improvement”
A school that received a “requires improvement” rating at its last inspection will be inspected again, under section 5, within a period of 30 months.
Schools judged ‘inadequate’
When a school is judged as “inadequate”, it is placed in a category of concern and will become a sponsored (underperforming) academy by the order of the Secretary of State of Education. After this, Ofsted will usually not monitor the school anymore unless there are safeguarding concerns or delays with the school-to-academy transition.
Schools can defer or cancel an Ofsted inspection but only in exceptional circumstances, for example, if a headteacher or a member of the senior management team is subject to a police investigation, the provider had a recent major accident such as serious injury of a student or staff.
1. Before the inspection
Ofsted will notify parents of students in a letter/ email about the upcoming inspection, explaining their options to share their views. Parents can do this on the Ofsted Parent View site, not just on the occasion of an inspection but any time.
Schools also have to gather documents and all related information for Ofsted before the on-site inspection starts. They will have to use Ofsted’s provider portal to upload and share some of these items. Ofsted shares the username and password with each school for log-in.
Schools are also asked beforehand to notify other related parties that take part in the provision of students.
2. Notice of inspection
Ofsted normally notifies schools of its inspection between 10.30 AM and 2 PM on the school day before the start of inspection.
For a section 8 inspection, the lead inspector will give an initial phone call to the headteacher or a senior member of the staff in the absence of the headteacher, where the inspector will:
- Confirm the date of the inspection
- Explain the purpose of the inspection
- Confirm that the school will inform the governing body and the local authority/proprietor/trust (as relevant) and that the lead inspector will wish to speak to them during the inspection
- Provide the opportunity to discuss any specific issues that the lead inspector should be made aware of before arriving to start the monitoring inspection the next day
- Discuss how aspects of the quality of education are improving
- Agree on the approach to inspecting activities testing leaders’ assertions, e.g., talking to pupils, meeting with staff, lesson visits, etc., and activities linked to other areas for improvement the school has been working on, such as attendance or behaviour
The handbook for section 5 inspections describe the same or similar subjects that can be discussed during an initial Ofsted inspection call, and a couple of additional thoughts such as:
- Making the school aware of its duty to inform parents about the inspections
- Establishing if the school has a special educational needs resource base
- Establishing if any students attend off-site alternative provision, full-time or part-time and discussing if any off-site units cater for students with behaviour or attendance difficulties
- Discussing the governance structure of the school
Yes, Ofsted can inspect a school without any notice in which case the inspector will call the school about 15 minutes before arriving.
How many Ofsted inspectors can a school expect?
The number of inspectors will depend on the size and nature of the school.
3. During the inspection
An inspection normally takes up two full days but for primary schools previously judged “good” and maintained nursery schools with a “good” or “outstanding” grade given formerly can usually expect a one-day inspection.
What happens during an inspection?
- Inspectors spend most of their time observing lessons and gathering evidence to inform their judgements
- Inspectors will talk to students and staff, also considering external views of the school’s performance (by a local authority, for instance)
- The lead inspector will sit down with the headteacher several times throughout the inspection to ensure that they and the staff are up-to-date on the inspection process
- Inspectors will invite the headteacher, curriculum and other leaders to visit lessons
- Inspectors will ask the headteacher to attend the final meeting at the end of the inspection
- Inspectors will share oral feedback about their findings to teachers and staff
What happens at the final feedback meeting during an inspection?
The inspectors will explain the grades given to the school for each Ofsted judgement category, and that these are up for provision and may be changed “following quality assurance procedures and should remain confidential”. The main feedback points will be included in the written inspection report.
Inspectors will talk about the complaints procedure and if a school is judged as “requires improvement” or is being placed in special measures, or signalled to have serious weaknesses, here they will learn about the further implications and consequences of the judgement.
4. After the inspection
Ofsted inspectors will write a report with the inspection findings and send the draft for a “factual accuracy check” to schools usually within 18 working days after the inspection. They have the option to comment on it within 5 working days.
An electronic version of the final report will usually be sent to schools within 30 working days after the inspection and in most cases, it will be published on the Ofsted reports website as well within 38 working days after the end of the inspection.
Ofsted will send a copy of the inspection report to:
- The school’s headteacher
- The local authority
- The appropriate authority or proprietor (for example, the governing body or the academy trust where the local authority is not the appropriate authority)
- The person or body responsible for appointing foundation governors if the school has them (including diocesan or other appropriate authorities in the case of schools with a religious character)
- Other prescribed persons such as the Department for Education or the Education and Skills Funding Agency
It’s the schools’ responsibility to provide a copy of the report to students’ parents.
After the inspection, Ofsted also invites related parties to fill out an online inspection survey, sharing their views on the inspection process.