The UK government uses various bodies and systems to oversee and uphold education standards, aiming to provide every student with access to quality education for real-world readiness. Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills, plays a pivotal role in this quality assurance.
This article delves into Ofsted's responsibilities, their inspection methodologies, the grading system they use, and the criteria for awarding Ofsted grades. Additionally, we will explore tools available to UK education providers for meeting these standards.
Ofsted's responsibilities include:
Schools, academies, and independent schools
Colleges and apprenticeship providers
Other educational institutions and programmes, excluding higher education
Adoption and fostering agencies
Initial teacher training and ongoing teacher development
Early years and children’s social care services
Enhancing overall education and training quality
Advising policymakers on service effectiveness
Assisting parents in making informed school choices for their children
Ofsted inspections are conducted under the framework of the Education Act 2005. These inspections can be either graded or ungraded under sections 5 and 8 of the Act, respectively.
The law requires that school inspections occur at intervals no more than five years from the end of the school year in which the previous inspection was completed. However, the legal maximum interval extends to up to seven years for any schools whose last inspection was before 4 May 2021.
Schools previously rated as 'requires improvement' or 'inadequate' will receive a graded inspection, along with a chosen number of schools previously judged as 'outstanding' or 'good'. In a graded inspection, schools are evaluated comprehensively using Ofsted's detailed framework. This includes grading the school across various key judgement areas, which we will cover later in the article, as well as its overall effectiveness.
While some schools rated as 'good' or 'outstanding' will undergo a graded inspection, many will experience an ungraded inspection. Distinct from a graded inspection, an ungraded inspection doesn't assign new grades. Instead, its primary aim is to assess if the school maintains its current grade level based on the outcome of its last graded inspection, leaving the school's overall effectiveness grade unchanged.
An Ofsted inspection is carefully planned and communicated in advance. The key steps include:
Ofsted typically notifies the school of a graded, ungraded, or urgent inspection via telephone call between 9:30 am and 2:00 pm on the day before the inspection. However, in exceptional circumstances, such as in cases where serious complaints have been made, Ofsted retains the authority to conduct any of these inspections without notice. In such instances, the lead inspector will usually call the school approximately 15 minutes before their arrival on site.
Once the lead inspector has informed the school of the inspection, they will conduct a 90-minute preparatory call with the school's senior staff. This call typically consists of 2 elements: a brief discussion on practical and logistical planning, and a more extensive, reflective conversation centred on the school's progress since the last inspection, including the impact of COVID-19 on this.
Graded and ungraded inspections typically span 2 days, although an ungraded inspection at a primary school or maintained nursery school with fewer than 150 pupils or children enrolled will usually be conducted over a single day.
Inspectors' inspection and evidence-gathering methods, also known as "Deep Dives", involve class observations, gathering parent feedback via the Ofsted Parent View website, interviewing teachers and pupils, and noting any serious concerns like harassment or bullying.
Post-inspection, a final feedback session is held with school leaders covering the school's overall effectiveness, strengths, improvement areas, urgent issues, and recommendations for improvement.
The lead inspector must write the inspection report and forward the supporting evidence to Ofsted soon after the inspection ends. The report should detail the judgments made and mirror the evidence collected. Additionally, the conclusions presented in the report should align with the feedback provided to the school upon the inspection's completion.
Once an Ofsted inspection and evidence collection is complete, inspectors assign a graded judgement based on the overall quality and effectiveness of the service, which is included in the inspection report. This judgement is derived from assessing 4 key areas:
Quality of education
Behaviour and attitudes
Leadership and management
The grades given by Ofsted are:
Grade 1: Outstanding
Signifies exceptionally effective services, meeting learners' needs and achieving the highest quality and excellence standards.
Grade 2: Good
Indicates services effectively meet students' needs and provide good quality education or care.
Grade 3: Requires improvement
Assigned to services that need improvement, but have shown the capacity to improve and have action plans for addressing weaknesses.
Grade 4: Inadequate
The lowest rating, indicating poor overall quality of education or care that needs significant improvement.
Receiving a 'requires improvement' or 'inadequate' grade can negatively affect an institution's reputation, influencing its student and staff recruitment prospects.
Ofsted is committed to ensuring that the next generation receives the education and care they need to reach their full potential. This commitment extends to assisting educational institutions and care providers in enhancing their services, with the goal of fostering success and well-being among children from diverse backgrounds.
With these objectives in mind, Ofsted takes several measures to ensure the quality of institutions that receive an 'inadequate' or 'requires improvement' rating. These measures include:
Increased scrutiny: Educational institutions may undergo more frequent inspections or receive targeted attention to address their areas of weakness.
Intervention and collaboration: Ofsted collaborates closely with the institution's governing board to develop a comprehensive action plan for improvement. Recommendations may include specific resources, training opportunities, or engagement with support partners.
Enforcement action: In extreme cases where an institution fails to demonstrate improvement despite intensive support and monitoring, Ofsted may take regulatory action. This can include closing down the institution, though this is a measure of last resort.
Funding implications: Institutions that receive a Grade 3 or 4 rating may face financial consequences, including the risk of losing or having their funding reduced if they fail to improve.
This section outlines the four critical areas assessed by Ofsted under their updated Education Inspection Framework.
Evaluating the overall quality of education, Ofsted's framework focuses on the 3 I's: Intent, Implementation, and Impact.
First, evaluators will examine the institution’s commitment to constructing an ambitious curriculum. This curriculum should enable all students to achieve the essential knowledge and cultural capital for success, with a special focus on inclusivity, particularly addressing the needs of disadvantaged learners and those with Special Education Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) or high needs.
Institutions can demonstrate good intent through several means:
Bespoke curriculum and coherent planning: Institutions should establish a curriculum linked to strategic objectives and an ambitious vision that encompasses what children will learn and how they will be prepared for future challenges. This involves a coherently planned and sequential curriculum, demonstrating how students will progressively build knowledge and skills for further education and employment.
Principles and purpose: The curriculum should articulate clear principles and purposes, ensuring a well-rounded and stimulating learning experience. It needs to express clear values and a comprehensive approach, catering to diverse student needs and aspirations.
Stakeholder involvement: Involving stakeholders through regular curriculum review sessions is crucial to keep the curriculum relevant and aligned with contemporary educational needs.
Evaluators will then assess the effectiveness of curriculum delivery. Some of the criteria they look for include:
Teachers have good knowledge of the subjects they teach.
Subject content is presented clearly and engagingly.
Teachers use assessments skillfully to gauge and enhance pupils' understanding.
Teachers provide constructive feedback to guide pupils' improvement.
Teaching strategies are tailored to accommodate all learners, particularly disadvantaged students and those with SEND.
Classrooms are structured to facilitate focused learning.
Teachers promote confidence and enjoyment in reading with suitable reading materials.
School and college leaders provide teachers with effective support, enhancing their instructional effectiveness.
To evaluate the impact of the curriculum and teaching methods, inspectors will focus on:
Students' knowledge and skill acquisition, primarily measured by their performance in national tests and examinations.
Students' reading proficiency, emphasising the frequency and depth of their reading, along with their fluency and comprehension abilities.
How effectively the curriculum prepares students for their next stages, be it further education, employment, or training.
In evaluating this key area, inspectors focus on the following indicators:
Proper student behaviour and conduct.
Consistent application of behaviour standards to all students.
Positive learning attitude exhibited by students.
Regular student punctuality and attendance.
Positive and respectful student-teacher relations.
Zero-tolerance approach to bullying and discrimination.
Beyond behaviour and attitudes, inspectors will also look for evidence of personal development:
Interests and talents: The curriculum is designed to facilitate students in discovering and nurturing their interests and talents.
Character development: Emphasis is placed on cultivating resilience, confidence, and independence in students.
Citizenship Skills: Students are equipped to be responsible, respectful citizens who actively contribute positively to society.
In evaluating leadership and management team, inspectors consider:
Vision: Leaders should have a clear and ambitious vision for delivering high-quality, inclusive education and training.
Curriculum and assessment improvement: There should be a continuous focus on enhancing the curriculum and the effective use of assessment methods.
Support for teachers: Leaders are expected to provide support to teachers to ensure all students successfully complete their educational programmes.
Engagement and responsiveness: Effective engagement with learners and staff is key, with a proactive approach to addressing their concerns realistically and constructively.
Safe working environment: A commitment to protecting school staff from bullying and harassment is essential.
The evaluation team will also assess governance effectiveness by determining if those responsible:
Hold leaders to account for the quality of education or training, and oversee efficient resource management.
Ensure the education or care provider fulfils its statutory duties.
Support effective arrangements to ensure the education or care provider fosters a culture of safeguarding students.
Safeguarding children and young people is a crucial aspect of Ofsted's evaluations.
A strong safeguarding strategy underpins the safety and well-being of students, reflecting directly on an institution's leadership and management effectiveness. As such, Ofsted's inspection framework rigorously evaluates how schools and educational providers implement safeguarding policies, ensuring a safe learning environment for every student.
Effective safeguarding involves comprehensive measures: from thorough staff training and clear reporting procedures to the establishment of a culture that prioritises student welfare above all. It encompasses not just the physical safety of students but also their mental and emotional well-being. Inspectors assess the robustness of safeguarding policies, the diligence in their execution, and the responsiveness of institutions to safeguarding concerns.
For educational leaders, the emphasis on safeguarding requires a proactive approach. This includes maintaining up-to-date knowledge of safeguarding requirements, fostering open lines of communication for reporting safeguarding concerns and incidents, and ensuring that all staff are equipped to identify and act on potential safeguarding issues.
The National Governance Association offers these concise tips from people who have been through Ofsted inspections:
Clarify the key messages you want to convey to the inspector with the governing board.
If you are unsure what the inspectors are saying during their feedback session, don’t hesitate to ask them to explain.
Keep detailed records of key decisions and best practices made throughout the year. You can use this evidence during conversations or interviews with inspectors.
Keep minutes of the feedback meeting for future reference.
Invite as many governors as possible to participate in the feedback meeting.
Be familiar with your school’s development plan and be prepared to explain what can be improved, your plans for these improvements, and the steps already taken.
Ensure regular maintenance and checks of governing board records and the school's website, as Ofsted may review these during their inspections.
Effective management of past Ofsted feedback and recommendations, including feedback from teachers and students, is crucial for maintaining or improving Ofsted grades. However, organising and actioning this feedback can be laborious and challenging.
A simple way for teachers and staff to report incidents via mobile devices. For a comprehensive guide on effective incident reporting in educational settings, check out our checklist on how to report incidents in the workplace.
Tools to create, track, and complete corrective actions based on Ofsted feedback.
Facilities to record completed corrective actions and best practices, serving as evidence of quality in future inspections.
Audits and inspection template creation aligned with Ofsted standards, which can be easily filled out by staff on mobile devices.
A unified platform for school leaders and the governing board to access and manage all relevant information and communications in one place.
To learn more about how Vatix can help your school or institute achieve and maintain a high Ofsted grade, contact us here to talk to sales.