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Section 5 school inspections: the changes you need to know

The overview and processes

  • The handbook ‘does not replace the professional judgement of inspectors. Inspectors must interpret the grade descriptors in relation to pupils’ age, stage and phase of education.’ The descriptors remain as a ‘best fit’ and not a checklist.
  • Exempt ‘outstanding’ schools may still be inspected but only under section 8 as part of HMCI annual survey or subject survey inspections, if an unannounced inspection is required, or if the risk assessment suggests it should be.
  • Outstanding PRUs and special schools are not exempt.
  • Good schools will be inspected approximately every 3 years, ‘as long as the quality of education remain good’ or as in any of the aspects in the exempt school bullet above.
  • Schools can still request an inspection via HMCI but it is likely to be charged for.
  • Inspection starts any time after 5 working days in the autumn term.
  • The Ofsted ‘do not’ list is reiterated in an attempt to reduce the burden of inspection on schools: Ofsted does not require lessons plans, a specific style of planning, any Ofsted-specific style of self-evaluation, schools to use Ofsted criteria to grade teaching or lessons, to see a particular style or quantity of work either present and past, particular frequency of marking, written record of oral feedback, tracking or data information to be presented in a particular way or to see evidence of individual teacher outcomes for the teachers’ standards.
  • Ofsted will not award a grade in individual lessons for teaching or outcomes. The outcomes bit is new. Currently achievement in lessons can be graded where there is sufficient evidence.
  • Ofsted may still schedule inspections concurrently where collaborative arrangements exists.
  • First notification will be in the afternoon of the day before inspection begins from Ofsted. Once it is confirmed that the inspection will take place, the lead inspector will contact the headteacher again regarding arrangements. Previously the call was made as near to midday as possible by the lead.
  • Staff views are gathered by Ofsted questionnaire or recent school version.
  • ‘Typicality’ remains the key word for teaching, learning and assessment (TLA).
  • Feedback to teachers can still be given individually or in small groups or whole-staff groups but should allow for dialogue about ‘strengths and weaknesses’, context and how the lesson ‘fits into the pupils’ programme of learning.’
  • Inspectors ‘should not take trainees’ performance into account when assessing the quality of TLA across the school.’ They should meet with as many of these and NQTs as possible.
  • Inspectors should consider past and present performance data including that provided by ‘external organisations.’ ‘No single measure or indicator should determine judgements.’
  • As before, meetings with pupils, staff and governors should take place without the presence of senior leaders. ‘The lead inspector must ensure that the executive headteacher, if such arrangements exist, is invited to contribute to the inspection.’
  • During the team meetings, the outcomes should be recorded on an electronic evidence form.
  • Reports will take longer to publish if grade 4. Ofsted may share a report copy with DfE, Regional Schools Commissioner and/or funding bodies where relevant.
  • New Common Inspection Framework (CIF) and inspectors will make judgements in the following order: TLA; personal development, behaviour and welfare (PDBW); outcomes for pupils; EYFS/16-19 study programmes; leadership and management; overall effectiveness including SMSC and the extent the school meets the needs of SEND.
  • The specific reference to formative assessment has been removed although it is included; ‘teachers use any assessment for establishing pupils’ starting points, teacher assessment and testing to modify teaching so that pupils achieve their potential by the end of a year or key stage; inspectors should note that Ofsted does not expect to see any particular system of assessment in place.’

Leadership and management

  • When making the judgement on L and M, it will be considered ‘how leaders ensure that the school has a motivated, respected and effective teaching staff to deliver a high quality education for all its pupils.’
  • The references to internal and external moderation have been removed although ensuring consistency is mentioned which can only be ensured by moderation.
  • There is less about the curriculum but inspectors will consider ‘the design, implementation and evaluation of the curriculum, ensuring breadth and balance’ and how the extra-curricular activities ‘extend their knowledge and understanding and to improve their skills in a range of artistic, creative and sporting activities.’ The outstanding descriptor states, ‘The broad and balanced curriculum inspires pupils to learn. The range of subjects and courses helps pupils acquire knowledge, understanding and skills in all aspects of their education, including linguistic, mathematical, scientific, technical, human and social, physical and artistic learning.’ There is no mention of the Ebacc. Inadequate says, ‘the unbalance and poorly taught curriculum fails to meet the needs of pupils…the range of subjects is narrow and does not prepare pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life in modern Britain.’
  • A new addition to the L and M outstanding descriptor is ‘Leaders’ work to protect pupils from radicalisation and extremism is exemplary. Leaders respond swiftly where pupils are vulnerable to these issues. High quality training develops staff’s vigilance, confidence and competency to challenge pupils’ views and encourage debate.’

Teaching, learning and assessment

  • The TLA outstanding descriptor is more detailed with new phrases such as, ‘Deep knowledge and understanding of the subject’, ‘Maximum use of lesson time…adequate time for practice to embed’, ‘Introduce content progressively and constantly demand more’, ‘Incisive feedback in line with the school’s assessment policy’, ‘Challenging homework’, ‘Pupils thrive in lessons and regularly take up extra-curricular activities’, ‘Pupils love the challenge of learning’, ‘Reflect and value diversity.’ The changes reflect the CIF introduction. Assessment has to be in line with school policy.

Personal development, behaviour and welfare

  • PDBW – the report will include a clear written judgement about behaviour and another about personal development and welfare. The lower of the 2 will inform the judgement.
  • The ‘thirst for knowledge and understanding and love of learning’ phrase has gone from the outstanding descriptor but the essence is intact, ‘pupils are confident, self-assured learners. Their excellent attitudes to learning have a strong positive impact on their progress.’
  • ‘High quality, impartial careers guidance’ is now in the PDBW judgement. It was in L and M but has a higher profile now.
  • The reference to pupils being self-managers in relation to behaviour, safety and diversity remains.
  • A new higher profile mention to pupils keeping ‘themselves healthy’ is explicit; physically, emotionally, mentally and in healthy relationships.
  • A return to the explicit mention of pupils being a ‘thoughtful, caring and active citizen in school and in wider society’, equipped by SMSC.


  • Outcomes = pupils’ academic and vocational achievement. They relate most importantly to progress from individual starting points and the achievement at least of ‘standards expected for their age nationally (at the end of a key stage), or within the school’s own curriculum.’
  • Progress is most important and inspectors will ‘give most weight to the progress of pupils currently in the school, taking account of how this compares with the progress of recent cohorts, where relevant’ and for ‘all year groups’. As part of pupils’ progress, inspectors will consider the growth in pupils’ security, breadth and depth of knowledge, understanding and skills.’ ‘When considering the school’s records for the progress of current pupils, inspectors will recognise that schools are at different points in their move towards adopting a system of assessment without national curriculum levels.’
  • Disadvantaged pupils – Inspectors will firstly assess the gap of those in school with the non-disadvantaged (PP) nationally, secondly assess the in-school PP and non-PP gap, and thirdly consider the impact that schools are having in narrowing the gap. Where a school has a PP group that attains more highly than national non-PP pupils but is still below that in the school, or the gap is widening, the school ‘should not be penalised’.
  • The outstanding descriptor has a more explicit reference to pupils ‘developing excellent knowledge and understanding, considering their starting points.’ Pupils are ‘typically able to articulate their knowledge and understanding clearly in an age-appropriate way. They can hold thoughtful conversations about them with each other and adults.’
  • There is a more explicit measure for outstanding that PP and SEND groups should have progress that is ‘above average across nearly all subject areas’ but this is within the context of individual’s abilities from their starting points.
  • New reference to destination data and pupils being ‘exceptionally well-prepared for the next stage of their education, training or employment’. This was in the 6th form descriptor previously. ‘These destinations strongly support their career plan’ has been added.
  • Finally, a school’s specialist subject has been removed from the key subject list so in primary they are English and maths and in secondary, English, maths, science and any studied by a high proportion of pupils.

Effectiveness of early years provision: quality and standards

  • The effectiveness of the EY provision: the quality and standards – there is more specific detail of what inspectors will consider, including provision for 2-year olds. A numerical grade is still required that can be higher or lower than the overall effectiveness grade.

Effectiveness of the 16-19 study programmes

  • Effectiveness of the 16-19 study programmes – as above: a grade encompassing all 4 main judgement areas.
  • Some new information reflecting the Further Education and Skills handbook, including ‘learners understand how to keep themselves safe and healthy, both physically and emotionally.’
  • High-quality impartial careers guidance is still in place but is more strongly worded saying that it will ‘enable them to develop clear, ambitious and realistic plans for the future. Learners understand the options available and are informed about local and national skills needs.’

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