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Ofsted inspections from September 2021

Last revised and updated 27 September 2021: amends made for clarity to section 5 ii) Remote learning – that the quality of remote education between March and August 2020 will not impact on the quality of education judgement.

Ofsted has confirmed that from September 2021 it will return to a full programme of school inspections. It has recently published a schools and early education update for inspectors, summarising some of the key changes to the School Inspection Handbook and the Section 8 Handbook. The web page that holds each of these documents also includes a summary of changes.

This advice contains detail about the scheduling of inspections, amendments to Ofsted’s inspection methodology and suggested steps that schools can take in circumstances where the continuing covid-19 pandemic may mean that changes to inspection activities or a deferral might be appropriate.

Ofsted publishes a guide to school inspection, which can be found here

This guidance is also available as a downloadable PDF document.

  1. Will Ofsted inspect schools from September 2021?
  2. When will my school be inspected?
  3. How will I be notified of inspection?
  4. Will inspectors be willing to follow any covid safety measures that my school may be operating?
  5. How will the inspection planning telephone call take account of the impact of the pandemic on my school?
  6. Are there any other key changes to inspection?
  7. If my school is affected by a covid-19 outbreak is it possible to seek a deferral?
  8. What do I do if I have concerns about an inspection when I am notified, or concerns during the inspection?
  9. How is Ofsted updating its Inspection Data Summary Report (IDSR)


1. Will Ofsted inspect schools from September 2021?

Yes.  From September Ofsted will resume:

  • two-day onsite section 5 inspections (which will result in full graded judgements)
  • two-day onsite section 8 inspections of ‘good’ schools
  • two-day onsite section 5 or 8 inspections of formerly ‘exempt’ outstanding schools
  • section 8 monitoring inspections.

Schools will be inspected under the Education Inspection Framework, under section 5 or 8 of the Education Act 2005. The framework and handbooks have been amended in light of the pandemic.

2. When will my school be inspected?

Regulations have been temporarily amended to take account of the backlog of inspections that the pandemic has caused. In practice, Ofsted is about 18 months behind in its inspection volumes. 

Below we set out how Ofsted is amending its schedules in response. This gives a guide to when an inspection is likely to take place – overall an inspection is likely to happen about five terms later. However, this is only a broad guide – it doesn’t take account of Ofsted’s risk assessment process, or how it might respond to a complaint or other specific issues. Note also that the chief inspector has power to inspect any school where she believes there is cause to do so.

‘Good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools

A school that was previously judged good or outstanding by Ofsted at a section 5 inspection is normally then inspected under section 8 approximately every four years. For the first routine inspection after 4 May 2021, this interval will be extended by up to six terms.

Formerly ‘exempt’ outstanding schools

Maintained and academy primary and secondary schools that were judged ‘outstanding’ (including converter academies whose predecessor school was outstanding) between May 2012 and November 2020 were ‘exempt’ from routine inspections. Following a change in regulations all outstanding schools are now subject to routine inspection.

Regulations state that all formerly exempt schools must be inspected before 1 August 2026. There is no change to this date.

The initial inspection for a school last inspected:

  • before September 2015 will be under section 5.
  • after September 2015 will be under section 8.

Ofsted is likely to prioritise inspection of schools that had been exempt for the longest period.

‘Requires improvement’ schools

Schools judged as ‘requires improvement’ are normally reinspected under section 5 within 30 months. For the first section 5 inspection ‘after the pandemic’ this interval will be extended by up to six terms. An ‘RI’ school may receive a monitoring inspection.

A school that has received two consecutive ‘RI’ judgements is normally monitored under section 8 and then reinspected under section 5 within 30 months. For the first section 5 inspection ‘after the pandemic’ this interval will be extended by up to six terms.

3. How will I be notified of inspection?

The notification call to schools will usually be between 10.30am and 2pm on the day before the inspection. Key material will be provided by the inspection administrator, including the information that schools are required to provide by 8am on the first day of the inspection (this is set out at paragraph 78 of the school inspection handbook).

4. Will inspectors be willing to follow any covid safety measures that my school may be operating?

Yes. At paragraph 11 the school inspection handbook states that during the inspection planning telephone call the head teacher and lead inspector ‘will agree safety protocols that the inspection team will follow to ensure that the inspection is completed in a covid-19 secure way’.

Ofsted is clear that it will conduct onsite inspections and that face-to-face meetings are the usual expectation. However, the handbook makes provision for flexibility at paragraph 28, stating:

 ‘…it may be pragmatic to carry out some elements of the inspection through video/telephone calls. This will be agreed with the headteacher at the start of the inspection. It will usually only be used to involve governors/trustees and others with leadership responsibility in inspection who are unable to attend the school site.’

Although all restrictions and mitigations have been removed by the government, the context and circumstances of each school are unique. Given the uncertain future impacts of the pandemic it is possible that local factors (such as high infection rates) may mean that some schools choose, or are advised to, reinstate mitigations to keep pupils and staff safe.

If this is the case, the phone call offers an opportunity to explain the specific circumstances of your school, and how any restrictions and measures in force in your school might affect the inspection team’s work. The lead inspector should be prepared to discuss and agree the safety protocols that the inspection team will follow, in order to facilitate inspectors’ work and maintain covid secure arrangements. 

NAHT expects that inspectors will continue to work flexibly and that inspection teams will be prepared and willing to adapt their practices, working in collaboration with schools to maintain any specific safety measures set out in the school’s risk assessment.

If circumstances arise where it would not be appropriate for inspectors to be onsite at all, we recommend that you explore alternative inspection arrangements with inspectors, or in extreme circumstances seek a deferral (see below).

If you encounter any difficulty in agreeing steps to maintain covid safety, contact NAHT’s helpline for assistance at the earliest opportunity on 0300 30 30 333 (select option 1). Do not wait until after the inspection. If necessary, NAHT advises that you ask the lead inspector for a break in the notification call to allow you to seek advice.

5. How will the inspection planning telephone call take account of the impact of the pandemic on my school?

Ofsted’s School Inspection Handbook states that the two elements to the preparatory telephone call will be:

  • ‘a reflective, educationally focused conversation about the school’s progress since the last inspection, including how covid-19 has affected this
  • a shorter inspection-planning conversation that focuses on practical and logistical issues’.

There is more information below about changes to inspection during the pandemic. These changes are set out at paragraphs 7-28 of the handbook along with a list of changes to both the school inspection handbook (listed here) and the Section 8 school inspection handbook (listed here).

Broadly speaking, the changes and amendments provide scope for inspectors to take account of the impact that the pandemic has had on individual schools. No two schools have had exactly the same experience, so it is important that inspectors understand the specific circumstances and context of your school. How your school operated during periods of ‘lockdown’ will have informed the decisions that you have made about your school’s current approach to provision, including your plans for education ‘recovery’, and the approach you have chosen to make use of funding for individual tuition.

Note that inspectors will be interested in the impact of the pandemic on the operational decisions that have been made, the strategic priorities identified and how this influences the way that the school is operating now for the benefit of pupils.  Inspectors will be interested to know how the steps you have taken have had a positive impact for pupils. A solely descriptive account will be much less useful.

Inspectors are likely to have a strong focus on the effectiveness of the steps that the school is taking to secure education ‘recovery’, particularly for disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils, including pupils with SEND.

The list below is not exhaustive, but highlights areas where Ofsted has indicated changes to its practice and methodology as a result of the pandemic

i Curriculum

Inspectors should be mindful that each school’s curriculum planning and delivery will have been affected by the pandemic. Members will want to explain how their curriculum journey over the last year has informed their current approach to delivery – this is relevant background to help inspectors understand the choices that a school has made in response to its current context and circumstances. For example, explaining how remote learning was implemented and how this has influenced current curriculum planning, delivery and priorities will be helpful to inspectors, alongside an explanation of the steps that have been taken to assess pupils, and identify strengths and gaps in their learning.

Inspectors will be interested in:

  • how schools have adapted and prioritised their curriculum
  • how schools are making up for ‘gaps’ in pupils’ knowledge
  • how schools are returning to, or bringing about, an ‘ambitious curriculum’, taking account of the impact of the pandemic.
  • The transition arrangements for curriculum ‘intent’ remain in place – inspectors should recognise that the school may still be in transition with its curriculum and that its plans may have been delayed by the pandemic. The grade descriptors for the ‘quality of education’ judgement require inspectors to consider any ‘necessary amendments’ that a school has made in response to the pandemic.
  • The ‘implementation’ grade descriptor is amended so that inspectors will consider how assessment is used to ‘check understanding and inform teaching, or to understand different starting points and gaps as a result of the pandemic’
  • The ‘impact’ grade descriptor is clear that teacher assessed grades from 2020 and 2021 will not be used to assess impact. See paragraphs 13-14 and also paragraph 15 which includes detail about the way in which inspectors will evaluate tutoring. Further references at paragraphs 178, 204-206, 208, 214, the sections in part 3 on applying the EIF in different contexts; and the ‘good’ grade descriptors for quality of education in the school inspection handbook.

ii Remote education

The handbook recognises that there may be circumstances where pupils may need to learn remotely. The quality of remote education provided between March and August 2020 will not impact on the ‘quality of education’ judgement but inspectors will be interested in how decisions on remote education were implemented. Members should have the opportunity to discuss how they reviewed, evaluated and improved their school’s remote education offer during this period. The school’s plans and any remote education provision in place at the time of the inspection will be included in inspectors’ assessment of the intent, implementation and impact of the curriculum. Inspectors will discuss remote education with teachers, parents and pupils. See paragraphs 16-19 and references in the curriculum section, including paragraph 214.

iii Data

Inspectors will refuse to accept internal data, although members can explain how their assessment strategies have informed curriculum decisions and an understanding of starting points and gaps. Teacher assessed grades from 2020 and 2021 will not be used. Inspectors are likely to refer to older published external data. They should be mindful that the age of this data means that its utility is limited. See paragraphs 20-22 and 219-222 of the school inspection handbook.

iv Leadership

Previous amends to the school inspection handbook recognising the demands placed on school leaders and bullet points of leadership actions taken during the pandemic have been removed. 

Inspectors will be most interested in how leaders have adapted their development plans including the rationale for any new or modified school improvement priorities.

The grade descriptors for ‘good’ leadership and management include reference to leaders’ vision being maintained ‘throughout the pandemic and beyond/during the transitional period’ and proactive management of staff workload resulting from the pandemic and ‘during the transitional period.’  See paragraph 23 in the school inspection handbook and the ‘good’ grade descriptors for leadership and management.

v Safeguarding and attendance

In all section 5 inspections and section 8 inspections of a good or outstanding school a judgement is made about on whether the school’s safeguarding arrangements for children are effective, and the ‘safeguarding culture’ of the school is considered. Inspectors will ‘consider how leaders adapted approaches during the pandemic to safeguard vulnerable pupils and those receiving remote education. See paragraphs 24-26 of the school inspection handbook and paragraphs 16–24 of the section 8 handbook.

Attendance data between March 2020 and March 2021 will not be used to make a judgement on attendance. Inspectors will be interested in how the pandemic has affected attendance in individual schools and how schools have achieved the ‘best possible’ attendance for pupils eligible to attend in person, particularly vulnerable pupils; and how schools have acted to achieve ‘the best possible’ attendance since March 2021.

Inspectors are likely to ask about the steps taken to ensure effective safeguarding arrangements during the pandemic for both pupils in school and those learning remotely, and how these have changed over time. Note paragraph 302 states that safeguarding is likely to be judged ineffective if inspectors are unable to corroborate evidence on safeguarding by talking to pupils. See paragraphs 24 -26 and 302 of the school inspection handbook.

vi Personal development

Inspectors’ primary focus will be on understanding what took place before the pandemic, how this was adapted and how this may have shaped the school’s current provision for personal development. See paragraph 27 of the school inspection and the personal development section and grade descriptorsParagraph 69 of the section 8 handbook states ‘Where usual opportunities have been disrupted by the pandemic, inspectors will look at whether the school has found alternative approaches to providing a rich range of personal development opportunities to all pupils’.

6. Are there any other key changes to inspection?

Yes. There are significant additions to both the section 5 and section 8 handbooks, which include guidance for inspectors on:

  • how Ofsted will evaluate a school’s use of tutors (section 5 para 15) to support education ‘recovery’ including how their deployment supports the aims of the school curriculum; this will be integrated into the quality of education judgement.
  • harmful sexual behaviour, bullying and harassment (section 5 paragraphs 306-310; section 8 paragraphs 62,67,116 and 123) – including that inspectors will expect schools to assume that sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence are happening in and around the school even where there are no specific reports. The expectation is that schools will be working to prevent this, through a whole school behaviour policy with appropriate sanctions, pastoral support and a carefully planned relationships, sex and health education curriculum which includes addressing the issue of consent.
  • the school’s delivery of the early career framework, which is statutory for all early career (newly qualified) teachers (ECTs) (section 5 paragraphs 78,84, 114-115), including establishing the effectiveness of support for ECTs and the quality of mentoring.
  • careers information, education and guidance (see section 5 paragraphs 256-259) which codifies Ofsted’s position and explains how inspectors will evaluate and report on these aspects of a school’s work.
  • 7. If my school is affected by a covid-19 outbreak is it possible to seek a deferral?

Yes – Ofsted’s deferral policy includes a section on covid that states: 

If providers have concerns about the timing of their inspection or visit and request a deferral, we will judge each case on its own merits, in line with this policy. COVID-19 restrictions that require providers to close, or other restrictions as a result of COVID-19, may be a relevant factor for deferral.’

School leaders are best placed to advise inspectors on their own school’s individual circumstances and context.

What are the grounds for deferral?

NAHT advises that where there are grounds for deferral, these will depend on a school’s individual context and circumstances, and might include more than one of the examples below. This list is not exhaustive and does not seek to cover all eventualities:

  • The school’s risk assessment in response to changing local circumstances, or a local or national lockdown has established a strict programme of controls which restricts entrance only to essential staff and specific pupils.
  • Inspectors moving within the school would breach the school’s risk assessment and covid-secure policies.
  • Where there is a mixture of onsite and remote learning, the high number of children of key workers and vulnerable pupils on site is creating operational stress and stretching staff resources to the maximum, making the servicing of an inspection untenable.
  • The school is operating in an area of very high transmission.
  • Pupils and/or staff have had to return to operating in strictly defined ‘bubbles’ to prevent transmission.
  • The school is operating a minimum onsite staffing model, where school leaders have key operational roles that require their presence throughout the day.
  • The school is struggling with sufficiency of staff due to illness and / or self-isolation.

It might be possible for inspectors to mitigate the deferral request by conducting specific aspects of the inspection remotely. In these circumstances the solution probably lies in both the school and the inspection team operating flexibly.

Members are advised to contact NAHT’s helpline (0300 30 30 333 and select option 1) for assistance at the earliest opportunity if this is required.

8. What do I do if I have concerns about an inspection when I am notified, or concerns during the inspection?

It is critical to raise concerns at the earliest opportunity with the lead inspector. If the lead inspector is unable to resolve the concerns the matter should be raised with Ofsted.

Do not wait to raise concerns until after the inspection has been completed.

In all cases, seek advice from NAHT’s helpline (0300 30 30 333 and select option 1) at the earliest opportunity.

9. How is Ofsted updating its Inspection Data Summary Report (IDSR)

Ofsted intends to release an update to its Inspection Data Summary Report in mid-November. 

A list of items that will be updated is available here. The html guide to the IDSR is available here.

Ofsted’s IDSR newsletter confirms:

  • the latest school performance data is for 2019; inspectors will only use this data as a starting point
  • ‘suspension’ is the government’s new terminology for a fixed-term exclusion
  • redesigned sixth form data will be available in early 2022.


First published 21 September 2021