Ofsted have introduced several important changes to their inspections process following a campaign by Professor Julia Waters whose sister, headteacher Ruth Perry, took her own life after her school was downgraded following an Ofsted inspection.
Inspectors will now return more quickly to schools graded inadequate for safeguarding issues. There will also be changes to the complaints procedure, more information on the timings of inspections and increased mental health support for school leaders.
Here’s what you need to know about the changes and their implications for schools, teachers and parents.
In each area, schools are graded as:
Inspectors make graded judgements on overall effectiveness and 4 key areas:
No, schools will still be given a single-word rating of outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate, despite arguments that these descriptions are not helpful.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers commented: “While the government insists on consigning schools to simplistic single word judgements, the system will remain fundamentally flawed and put unnecessary pressure on school leaders.”
The DofE believes that Ofsted ratings are “the clearest way to give parents confidence in choosing the right school for their child.”
Schools will continue to be given an inadequate rating if there are concerns about children’s safety, but they will now be reinspected sooner to give them a chance to improve. Previously, if a school was judged inadequate they would remain an inadequate school until they were reinspected 30 months later. These changes mean that as long as all the other judgments of the school were good or better, inspectors will return more quickly, after 3 months of the report’s publication, to reassess the safeguarding issues. If the issues are found to be resolved, the school’s rating can be improved. This means that schools who deal with any safeguarding issues promptly will only be labelled as inadequate for a short amount of time.
Schools judged inadequate have to become part of an academy, which some don’t want to do. If the school has dealt with the safeguarding issues by the time of the second visit they now won’t have to do this.
Ofsted will also offer more information and advice on safeguarding standards to give schools a better understanding of what counts as inadequate. The difference between minor weaknesses and more significant issues will be clarified.
Ofsted has launched a formal consultation on changes to the complaints process. They aim to improve communication throughout inspections, to make it easier and quicker to make a complaint and to improve the transparency of the process.
Currently schools don’t know the date and often even the year that they will be inspected. They will now be given a broad time frame for their next inspection of between a term to a year, but they will still only be given 24 hours notice of the inspection day itself.
The frequency with which a school is inspected depends on the grading that they were given in their previous inspection.
Schools previously graded good or outsanding are normally given an ungraded inspection about once every four years to ensure that they remain good or outstanding and that their safeguarding is effective. If the inpectors find evidence that the school is due a higher or lower grade they will carry out another inspection, this time a graded one, within 2 years, to confirm this and allocate the new grade. If there are more serious concerns about the school the initial ungraded inspection will become a graded one and the school's grade changed.
Previously, schools judged outstanding were exempt from routine inspections. This is now no longer the case and all previously exempt schools will be given a graded or ungraded inspection by August 2025.
Schools previously judged as requiring improvement are inspected again within 30 months. The same used to apply to schools judged inadequate but the new changes mean that if their inadequate grading was for safeguarding issues only, they will be reinspected within 3 months instead of having to wait for 30 months.
A full graded inspection will usually last 2 days. Inspections of good primary schools and good or outstanding maintained nursery schools with less than 150 pupils will normally last for 1 day. The number of inspectors will depend on the type and size of school.
Senior school leaders and governers will be given details of the report on the last day of the inspection. Ofsted will send a draft report to the school within 18 days which the school will have 5 days to comment on. The final report will usually be sent to the school within 30 days of the original inspection and published on the Ofsted site within 38 days.
Headteachers will be allowed to share the outcome of the Ofsted report with colleagues and others before publication, as long as they make clear the provisional nature of the report. This is an attempt to address the pressure on heads during the time between the inspection and the publication of the report.
During inspections staff will generally be able to choose to be accompanied by a colleague when they speak to an inspector, if they have concerns. Ofsted will also host regular webinars to address aspects of inspection that headteachers and staff may be anxious about.
The Department of Education currently funds a charity, Education Support, which provides wellbeing help to school leaders. As part of these changes, the funding will be doubled to help a further 500 headteachers by 2024, with a commitment to further expansion of the scheme.
The reports will be de-personalised by referring to the whole school rather than to particular individuals when discussing areas of weaknesses, where possible. Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman explained that the aim was “to change the language of reports so that we don’t sound over focused on the head and senior leaders.” In addition the contextual information at the end of reports will be amended to list all those with responsibility for the school.
Many changes, such as providing more information about the timing of inspections and support for schools between inspections will start immediately. Others will be introduced from September 2023.
The changes themselves have largely been welcomed as a step in the right direction. However, many feel that they don’t go far enough and that more significant changes are needed. Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union summed up the attitude of many when she said “more extensive and fundamental changes” are needed. The National Association of Headteachers has also called for more reform.
A recent YouGov poll suggested that half of adults have ‘little or no confidence’ in Ofsted school inspection ratings, putting further pressure on Ofsted.
It seems likely that there will be. The Commons Education Select Committee has just launched an inquiry into Ofsted school inspections. It will look at the use of single-word gradings and the impact of inspection on teacher workload and wellbeing. A new Ofsted Chief Inspector will be appointed next year when Amanda Spielman's term runs out and that is also likely to lead to changes.