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Structures, inspection and accountability


Bespoke advice on key structural matters, school performance measures and quality assurance. 

What’s changed in Ofsted’s handbooks for 2022/23 inspections: a quick read

Ofsted has just published its annual revisions to its handbooks for inspections.

Are there major changes?   

No. The revisions to the handbooks are mostly minor and for the most part helpful, making these very long documents a little bit easier to navigate. We’ve picked out some of the key changes and we’ll publish full updated guidance towards the end of the summer.

How have the handbooks changed?

Ofsted has rethought its handbooks. Overall, we think this is helpful, as they are a bit clearer and easier to understand. There’s a short and helpful blog from Ofsted’s national director that sets the scene.

A helpful pdf table explains the different types of inspection, possible outcomes and the likely frequency of future inspections.

The School inspection handbook covers: 

  • ‘graded’ inspections - make the full range of judgements, including an overall effectiveness judgement (previously called ‘full’ inspections and conducted under section 5)
  • ‘ungraded’ inspections’ - are inspections of most previously good/outstanding schools, which make a judgement about whether a school remains good or outstanding (previously called ‘good school’ inspections or ‘short inspections’ they are conducted under section 8)
  • ‘urgent’ inspections - evaluate a specific concern about a school.  These may become a full inspection if there is a need to report on the full range of judgements (previously known as no formal designation (NFD) inspections and conducted under section 8).

The School monitoring handbook covers monitoring inspections (under section 8) of schools that have been judged:

  • as ‘requires improvement’
  • to have ‘serious weaknesses’
  • to require ‘special measures’.

Will inspectors continue to take account of the ongoing impact of the covid pandemic?

Yes. The deferral policy continues to make specific reference to operational difficulties caused by covid that may be grounds for a deferral.

References to covid have been woven through the School inspection handbook. Remember that inspectors will not be interested in an account of your school’s historic actions; but they will be interested in how covid continues to affect your decisions, including how you may be coping with challenges in staffing or delivering the curriculum.

Do the transitional arrangements for curriculum ‘intent’ still apply?

No. Ofsted has ended these arrangements, but is clear that doing so does not imply a cliff edge for schools. Inspectors are required to take a ‘best fit’ approach to the whole of the quality of education judgement. So, not every criterion must be evaluated as ‘good’ for the quality of education to be judged good overall, but inspectors will want to see that the features and areas of strength can be applied to other parts of the curriculum that are still under development. Note that judgements around reading, writing and mathematics remain critical in the primary phase.

Has Ofsted’s inspection methodology changed?

No – but the handbook includes more information about the three part methodology that is used by inspectors and has been the subject of recent training. This involves:

  • forming a ‘top-level view’ using pre-inspection information (including the school’s website) and discussions with head teacher and school leaders
  • collecting and connecting first-hand evidence (including through discussions with pupils and staff, and work scrutiny) to inform each judgement area
  • bringing together evidence to arrive at conclusions to inform judgements.

The handbook describes how inspectors undertake each of these elements.

Is there more information on how inspectors conduct deep dives?

Yes. Paragraphs 215-218 describe how deep dives will be conducted in primary and secondary schools, with further information on specific activities provided in subsequent paragraphs.

How will inspectors treat 2021 and 2022 data?

Paragraph 215 states:

‘Inspectors will use 2022 outcomes cautiously and 2021/22 data will only be used to inform discussion with the schools about pupil outcomes. No schools will be marked down on the basis of the 2021/22 data alone.’

Will inspectors continue to refuse to consider in-school data?

Yes. Paragraph 221 states:

‘Inspectors will not look at non-statutory internal progress and attainment data on inspections of schools. That does not mean that schools cannot use data if they consider it appropriate… Inspectors will be interested in the conclusions drawn and actions taken from any internal assessment information, but they will not examine or verify that information first-hand.’

Will formatted PDF versions of the handbooks be published?

No. NAHT has made repeated representations to both Ofsted and the Department for Education that the handbooks are too long and unwieldy for publication solely in HTML format. The government digital service is apparently adamant that it will not allow publication in PDF format. It is possible to print or save the documents using the print function at the foot of the left-hand navigation menu, but the formatting of the document remains poor.


First published 12 July 2022