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Section 8 school inspections: the changes you need to know

Section 8 covers the following types of inspection but this guide relates only to good schools or those that are outstanding but not exempt:

  • short inspections of schools judged good at their latest Section 5 inspection and those outstanding schools that are not exempt from Section 5 (special schools, pupil referral units and maintained nursery schools)
  • monitoring inspections of schools judged as requires improvement at their latest Section 5 inspection
  • monitoring inspections of schools judged as having serious weaknesses
  • monitoring inspections of schools judged as requiring special measures
  • any inspection that is undertaken in other circumstances where the inspection has no specific designation, known as ‘Section 8 no formal designation inspection’
  • unannounced behaviour inspections.

The overview and processes

  • The Common Inspection Framework (CIF) ‘provides for inspection to be proportionate to the performance and circumstances of schools and other educational provision’.
  • Just as in Section 5, 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 or 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.
  • The effectiveness of safeguarding will be reported on in short inspections of good schools but in all other Section 8 inspections the letter will state that safeguarding is or is not effective, unless a concern relating to safeguarding prompted the inspection.
  • Three key safeguarding documents that schools need to know
  • The final feedback meeting will be attended by the same people and agree the same information as in a full Section 5 inspection. Confidentiality regarding the outcome and the timings of the report letter is broadly the same also.
  • Ofsted has the opportunity to share the draft report with the DfE, funding bodies or Regional Schools Commissioners (RSC) if HMCI thinks it appropriate. For example, where a Section 8 inspection has become a Section 5 one and the outcome is a grade 4 category.

Short inspections of schools judged ‘good’ at their most recent inspection or in the non-exempt ‘outstanding’ school category

  • The inspection will last for one day and take place approximately every three years. The HMI lead will have a half day prior to the on-site inspection to prepare for the inspection and half a day afterwards to write the report letter.
  • The key aim is to determine whether the school ‘continues to provide a good standard of education for the pupils and whether safeguarding is effective’ or an outstanding standard where the inspection is for outstanding special schools, PRUs and maintained nursery schools.
  • Where there is insufficient evidence to ascertain continued good or outstanding provision for the non-exempt schools; the evidence suggests that the school may be outstanding; or there is a safeguarding concern, the Section 8 inspection can be converted into a full Section 5 inspection with a full team, usually within 48 hours.
Process diagram - converting short inspections into Section 5 inspections

Process diagram – converting short inspections into Section 5 inspections

  • If the school is judged to still be good, there will be no individual graded judgements but there will be some suggested next steps for the school to work on.
  • HMI will lead these short inspections but may have a team inspector where the school is a secondary or a primary of more than 600 NOR, or two more inspectors if provision is complex such as having multiple sites.
  • ‘A decision to convert the inspection does not predetermine the outcome of the Section 5’.
  • Short inspections are ‘designed to promote even more constructive, challenging professional dialogue between HMI and school leaders’ but it is up to the school leaders to provide evidence that they are ‘maintaining and continuing to improve the good quality of education’ and have the capacity to continue to move things on ‘quickly and effectively’.
  • Every short inspection will be ‘unique’ to the school; there will be no set process or trails although the key purpose is to ‘evaluate
    • whether the school remains good
    • whether safeguarding is effective or not
    • the capacity of all leaders, managers and governors to drive continued improvement
    • how well the school has dealt with any areas for improvement identified at the previous Section 5 or the next steps identified from a previous short inspection.’
  • This will be done by considering whether good effectiveness has been maintained in each of the main judgement areas through visiting lessons and learning, examining documentary evidence, obtaining stakeholder views, meetings with key staff and looking at pupil work. The quality, challenge and impact provided by external support will also be considered.
  • School leaders are not expected to produce any documents or self-evaluation just for Ofsted, but the correct assessment of the school’s strengths and areas that need improving or improving further is key in order for leaders to prove that they have the capacity to continue to improve.
  • It is expected that parents will be contacted and contribute to the inspection along with other relevant bodies.
  • All information available for a full Section 5 inspection will also be available to the Lead HMI prior to a short inspection and the notification call to the call will also be as near to midday as possible, unless the school is a PRU or special school when they will be contacted at 09.00 the day before, with the inspector/s being on-site from midday that same day to ‘conduct an on-site face-to-face preparation meeting with the leaders’ and enable the ‘specific contextual factors’ to be assessed.
  • The HMI call will largely be to address practical issues including the information that HMI wish to see.
  • On-site inspection will begin with a ‘short and focused discussion’ with the headteacher and other senior leaders where appropriate but following this there is ‘no standard short inspection timetable, every short inspection is different.’
  • Feedback will include the range of evidence seen; whether the school remains good; whether safeguarding is effective; and the report letter publication procedures.
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