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The Evolution of Ofsted: New and Old Standards for Education

Anyone in the world of education is familiar with Ofsted. Ofsted visits are, without doubt, some of the most important and highly anticipated dates in an academic calendar. But why is that? And what has changed and promises to change in the future?

ofsted class observation

Ofsted: A Brief Overview

The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills — otherwise known as Ofsted — is an independent organisation that reviews educational standards and reports its findings directly to Parliament. 

As an independent, impartial body, Ofsted provides objective feedback on areas of education. Ofsted carries out hundreds of inspections weekly and publishes the results online

Ofsted grading is generally seen as reliable, with 67% of parents agreeing their reports to be a valuable source of information and 9 in 10 being aware of the grade their child’s school last received.


What Does Ofsted Inspect? Criteria, Frequency and Consequence of an Ofsted Inspection 

Ofsted Criteria

Ofsted carries out a thorough inspection of the school environment, with the class observation being the most critical part of the assessment. Ofsted uses an Education Inspection Framework (EIF) to accurately carry out regimented inspections to grade schools.  

During the inspection, the inspectors will also communicate with pupils and teaching staff to make judgements as well as research previous evaluations made by the local authority. After this, they’ll immediately discuss the visit with senior leadership to give initial feedback. 

As a result of an inspection, a school will be graded in one of four categories:

  • Grade 1: Outstanding – Exceeding educational standards and preparing pupils for the next stage of education or employment at the highest possible level

  • Grade 2: Good – Providing sufficient support for pupils and acceptable standards of education to prepare pupils effectively for the next stage of growth

  • Grade 3: Requires Improvement – Educational standards are inadequate and require some revision and improvement to raise standards across the board

  • Grade 4: Inadequate – There are significant weaknesses in educational provisions and depending on the judgement of management and leadership different actions will be taken



Frequency of Inspection and How to Prepare

The next question people tend to ask is; how often do Ofsted visit? Approximately, Ofsted carries out inspections every four years. However, the frequency of inspections largely depends on the previous grading. 

For example, institutions rated as ‘Outstanding’ are exempt from regular inspections, whereas those which ‘Require Improvement’ will undergo another full inspection within two years from the last date of visit. 

Schools can prepare for an Ofsted visit, however, institutions will often find themselves timebound as announcements can be made as close as a day before the visit. In some cases, Ofsted can make a visit without prior warning, although this isn’t common practice.

Schools can make informal preparations for inspection, such as revising class plans to ensure they meet the criteria, informing pupils to be on their best behaviour, briefing staff in team meetings and making any last-minute fixes to the school environment. That said, the purpose of Ofsted inspections is to receive a true reflection of the school environment. 

Headteachers can also expect to engage in a phone call a day prior to the visit, where they will be asked to provide more context about the school and disclose any important information that might aid the assessment. 


What Happens After an Ofsted Inspection?

After an Ofsted inspection, the visiting inspector will give immediate feedback to the senior leadership team before the school receives its official report and grade. The report will be published within 28 days of the inspection date, which, by that time, will be available to the public. 

Once schools have received feedback from Ofsted, they’ll be expected to take action in line with this guidance during a period of ‘intent’. Depending on the final grading, schools may receive additional support within this period, especially if the school has been deemed as Special Measures, where further funding and local authority support is required.

Still, much of the onus will be on the school to take accountability for educational improvement.


What’s New in Terms of Ofsted? Inspections During Coronavirus & Questions Around Safeguarding, MATs and School Finances

Although Ofsted stands to be the governing force in rating schools in the UK, it isn’t without criticism, especially from teachers who feel visits negatively impact the health and wellbeing of school staff. Ofsted has been called out for being too willing to criticise and find fault resulting in over half of a workweek dedicated to Ofsted preparation in the form of meetings and data entry.  


Normal Inspections In Abnormal Times

More recently, Ofsted has been criticised for its decision to continue inspections throughout Coronavirus when schools — like the rest of the world — have been battling the turbulence of infection. 

Grading of schools was resumed in Autumn 2021 despite the continued struggle with sanctions, lockdowns and adaptations to hybrid learning styles.

Purnima Tanuku, Chief Executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said [via Early Years Educator]: 

“With providers telling us they are facing unprecedented staff absence rates, they will be very disappointed that Ofsted hasn’t taken these concerns on board and agreed to pause routine inspection activity.

It does not make sense that Ofsted halted routine inspections in the run-up to Christmas but have reinstated them now, albeit with some mitigation measures in place, when Covid cases and consequently absences are at a record high.

Knowing that Ofsted could potentially ring just puts additional pressure on already stressed managers who may feel worried about asking for a deferral.”

Should Ofsted Touch the Topic of Safeguarding?

Another question that many teachers have asked is, should Ofsted grade and be involved with safeguarding issues? Many professionals think safeguarding — as serious a topic as it is — is too complex for Ofsted to take on. With the police, the charity sector, child services and healthcare already heavily involved in the provision of safeguarding measures, this begs the question, do we really need another institution to oversee the issue?

Ofsted has its own safeguarding policy, but it’s still a much-debated topic as to whether independent inspectors should be responsible for judging standards when they lack appropriate expertise or knowledge of case history — especially when there are other, more experienced bodies already hot on the issue that are more able to readily take action.


Should Ofsted Get Involved in MATs? 

In late 2021, Ofsted received a bill giving them the power to inspect multi-academy trusts (MATs). This news didn’t come without controversy, given the current inspection structure is catered towards individual schools and not groups of academies. 

However, the logic behind granting Ofsted permission is to create a standardised way of reviewing academic excellence, as well as give parents a clearer picture of the academy and its performance.


Should Ofsted Oversee School Finances? 

In much the same vein, the question around whether Ofsted should include finance in their assessment criteria is being batted around. 

From the perspective of utilising resources to optimise academic performance, it makes sense for financial management to be included within inspections. However, academies, for example, which run more like a traditional business, blur this line. 

The future looks like an interesting one in terms of Ofsted involvement in schools. In the coming months and years, we’ll see the outcomes of questions posed over finance, safeguarding, MATs and covid recovery and the impact this has on the standards department. 

Ofsted has an interesting past with strict inspection regimes that have since been modified and it will surely make more changes in the future. Yet, we’re seeing Ofsted’s inspections creep into more areas of education to ensure all pupils can access adequate education.

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