If there is one thing designed to strike terror into the hearts of educational establishments in the UK, it is the news that there will be an Ofsted inspection. Ofsted is also known as the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. The body is impartial and independent, reporting directly to Parliament rather than to a government body. Its primary role is to regularly inspect schools and any other services that cater for children and young people, as well as educational establishments for people of all ages. As a result of the inspection, the establishments in question are expected to make changes based on the recommendations in the report.
This article will refer to the inspection of “maintained schools,” which does not include boarding schools and independent schools. There are several stages to an Ofsted inspection, as well as a number of processes that the establishments inspected need to put into place. This includes:
Informing the establishment of the inspection dates
Inspections take place on a regular basis – they are not one-off events to be buried under the carpet and forgotten about. According to the Ofsted framework for school inspection, “A school judged as good at its most recent inspection is inspected within five school years of the end of the school year in which its last inspection took place.” In some cases, a school judged as exceptional may be exempt from a complete inspection, but will undergo a risk assessment. Schools with poor results may have inspection dates brought forward. Based on all this, Ofsted will inform the establishment of the inspection dates, which are generally non-negotiable, just one or two days in advance. In rare cases, schools may not be informed of the inspection at all.
Evaluation of requested materials
Ofsted will request certain documents from the head-teacher and governors. These materials will pertain to the standard of teaching and the results of the students. Ofsted will also look at any other material available in the public domain which could help them come to a decision when it comes to judging standards.
Talking to relevant parties
Usually over the course of a week, inspectors will talk to a range of people, including school management, teachers, students, parents and carers. Questions will primarily refer to the quality of the education in question, but could also refer to safety within the establishment, the behaviour of students, leadership, disability provision and positive and negative experiences in general, including interaction with the community at large. The views of students are also gathered by means of a questionnaire. Inspectors are always highly qualified for the role and undertake regular training.
Inspectors also observe classes to judge how the teacher performs and how the students respond. An inspector will enter the classroom, usually sitting at the back, and will expect teacher and students to carry on regardless. He or she may follow up with individuals after the class has ended.
Feeding back recommendations
Once the inspection has finished, the inspectors will compile all the first-hand evidence from the inspection, as well as any secondary evidence from materials requested. Once everything has been collected in, the lead inspector will put together the report, but emerging findings will be fed back to the other inspectors and to the school in question where appropriate. When the report is complete and has been issued, the school governors should ensure that all parents receive a copy and that pupils are fully aware of the results of the inspection.
School response to the inspection report
Within 40 days of having received the report, the school in question is expected to have responded in the form of an action plan, which must obviously then be put into action. The knowledge that another inspection will take place within a few years is usually enough for school leaders to put things right as quickly as possible. If there are any complaints that cannot be dealt with by talking to the lead inspector during the inspection, or with Ofsted’s helpline following the inspection, there is a complaints procedure that can be accessed via the Ofsted website.
Ofsted inspections are rarely an enjoyable experience, but they do allow parents to be aware of any issues affecting their children and the process increases the accountability of schools to the British taxpayer. In most circumstances, serious issues will be dealt with quickly and thoroughly.