Home Menu



Ofsted update: academic year 2023/24

Last revised and updated in May 2024.

Ofsted has published its School inspection handbook for inspections from September 2023.

This guide for members provides answers to practical questions, taking account of some common queries received by our specialist advice team about inspection, and a summary of key changes to the handbook.



Are there major changes to the inspection framework or methodology?  

No. There are however some useful additions, including information about the timing of inspections, raising concerns or complaints during an inspection, and the evaluation of safeguarding. 

We’ve picked out some of the key changes below.

When will my school be inspected?

Inspection schedules are still affected by the impact of the pandemic and the need to inspect all previously ‘exempt’ ‘schools that were judged outstanding between 15 May 2012 and 13 November 2020.

The timing of your school’s next inspection is dependent on:

  • the date of its most recent inspection
  • the outcome of its most recent inspection.

To help schools understand the latest date by which they are likely to be inspected, Ofsted has published a series of tables and explanations at paragraphs 35 to 83 of the School inspection handbook.

This section also indicates whether your school is likely to receive a graded (full section 5) or ungraded (section 8) inspection.

We advise members to consult the tables carefully, to match your school’s circumstances to the appropriate table in order to identify the ‘window’ for your school’s inspection. If you need assistance in interpreting the tables, contact our specialist advice team on 0300 30 30 0333 (option 1).

Back to top of page

My school is affected by RAAC – will Ofsted still inspect?

Ofsted’s deferral guidance states that if a school is ‘significantly disrupted by measures taken to deal with RAAC, it will consider deferral requests as an ‘exceptional circumstance’.

If you wish to seek a deferral, tell the inspection administrator when you are notified of inspection. You will be asked to set out the reasons for the deferral request in a short email. When doing so, be clear about the impact that an inspection would have on the normal operation of the school.

Back to top of page

How are trust bodies involved in inspections of schools within their trust?

References to trusts are now woven helpfully throughout the handbook.

It is worth remembering that Ofsted’s institutional inspections focus on the individual academy being inspected, not the trust. Paragraphs 130 to 133 set out the approach to trusts in school inspections, including how inspectors will meet with trust leaders.

Paragraphs 349 to 353 set out Ofsted’s approach to inspecting leadership and management in trust schools, confirming that some roles and leadership functions performed by trust leaders (rather than individual school leaders) will be relevant to the institutional inspection of an academy school.

Paragraphs 358 to 361 set out Ofsted’s approach to evaluating governance in academies, to recognise the roles of trustees and schemes of delegation, including local committees or boards.

Back to top of page

Does the handbook still contain references to the impact of the pandemic on learners?

References to the impact of the pandemic are now woven throughout the handbook.

Inspectors will not be interested in a narrative history of actions taken during the pandemic.

Instead, they will expect leaders to able to describe how pandemic factors continue to affect pupils; how leaders know this; and the steps that the school is taking to address this through, for example, the use of assessment, adjustments to the curriculum, adaptations to teaching for the cohort or for specific groups, including those with SEND and those that they know to be vulnerable/disadvantaged. 

Members may also wish to refer to evidence about the availability and accessibility of wider social, care, health, and therapeutic services – and how your school accesses these/presses for them to be made available/or copes with a lack of available services.

A good time to cover these issues may be in the ‘educationally focused’ pre-inspection phone call between the lead inspector and the head teacher/senior leadership team.

Below are some selected handbook references that relate to the continuing impact of the pandemic on pupils.

Grade descriptors for the quality of education judgement:

  • Paragraph 453: bullet 15 of the ‘good’ quality of education grade descriptors states: ‘Teachers and leaders use assessment well. For example, they use it to help pupils embed and use knowledge fluently, or to check understanding and inform teaching, or to understand different starting points and gaps as a result of the covid-19 pandemic. Leaders understand the limitations of assessment and do not use it in a way that creates unnecessary burdens on staff or pupils.’ (NAHT emphasis)
  • Paragraph 155 carries a related reference in relation to evaluating workload connected to assessment on ungraded inspections, which states: ‘Inspectors understand that assessment arrangements may have been altered as a result of the covid-19 pandemic. Inspectors will seek to understand how staff are supported and the steps that are being taken to remove the risk of additional workload.’

Ofsted’s approach to evaluating the curriculum:

  • Paragraph 237: Inspectors will consider how the school’s curriculum ‘…accounts for delays and gaps in learning that have arisen and continue to arise as a result of the pandemic’
  • Paragraph 243: ‘…where the school is directly deploying tutors to support education recovery from the pandemic, inspectors will consider how this supports the aims of the school curriculum, rather than evaluate the quality of the tutoring.’
  • Paragraph 266: For those in the early stages learning to read: ‘During all inspections, inspectors will be interested in how the school supports pupils who are at the early stages of learning to read, including older pupils. This is especially the case because of the disruption to learning caused by the covid-19 pandemic.’ 


  • Paragraph 302 states: ‘Inspectors will expect schools to do all they reasonably can to achieve the highest possible attendance, while recognising that the context in which schools operate has changed. (Attendance between March 2020 and March 2021 will not impact on the judgement of the school).’ (NAHT emphasis)
  • Paragraph 304 states: ‘Where attendance is not consistently at or above what could reasonably be expected, inspectors will expect attendance to be a high priority for leaders and for it to be improving towards and beyond national, pre-pandemic levels. There should be a strong understanding of the causes of absence (particularly for persistent and severe absence) and a clear strategy in place that takes account of those causes to improve attendance for all pupils. In some cases of persistent and all cases of severe absence, schools should make efforts to engage in multi-agency work with the local authority and other partners.’ (NAHT emphasis).​
  • Paragraph 305 states: ‘Where leaders are aware of the issues affecting attendance and have a clear, strategic plan of action in place but attendance for all pupils is not yet consistently very high, inspectors should judge this favourably, as long as there is a track record of improvement that demonstrates leaders’ capacity to continue to improve attendance’.


  • Paragraph 308 notes that ‘Inspectors will also recognise that the context in which schools operate with respect to behaviour has changed as a result of the pandemic’
  • Paragraph 309 states: ‘Where inspectors see evidence of poor behaviour but leaders are aware of the issues and have a clear, strategic plan of action, inspectors will judge this favourably, as long as there is a track record of improvement that demonstrates leaders’ capacity to continue to improve behaviour (using the same factors used in considering what category of concern schools should be placed into).’

Personal development:

  • Paragraph 327 states that: Where usual opportunities for personal development ‘...have been disrupted by the pandemic, inspectors will look at whether a school has found alternative approaches to providing a rich range of opportunities since March 2021.

Early years:

  • Paragraph 285 states: ‘We recognise that the disruption to learning caused by the pandemic may have impacted on what children have learned. This could result in some children having a wider than usual range of starting points and gaps in their knowledge. Inspectors will pay close attention to how maintained nursery schools identify and address any of these delays and gaps and what it is doing to address disruption to learning to ensure that children are well prepared for their next stage of education.’ This is replicated at paragraph 428 for inspectors evaluating early years provision on a graded inspection.​

Back to top of page

How will inspectors evaluate ‘safeguarding culture’?

Ofsted has clarified its approach to evaluating what it refers to as ‘safeguarding culture’. This is set out in the safeguarding section of the handbook (paragraphs 367 to 385):

  • Paragraph 381 states: ‘Inspectors will evaluate the extent to which there is an effective whole-school approach to safeguarding. They will want to find out how well staff keep pupils safe’
  • Members are advised to familiarise themselves with paragraphs 381 to 386 which describes how inspectors will approach their evaluation
  • Paragraph 386 states ‘Inspectors will take proportionate account of the ‘…comments made about safeguarding form staff, pupils and parents of pupils who attend the school, balancing these alongside the other evidence collected during the inspection’. (NAHT emphasis)

Back to top of page

What will be the impact on the safeguarding judgement if minor safeguarding improvements are required?

The handbook offers greater clarity on this issue – a school can be judged as effective for safeguarding in the event that there are minor safeguarding issues that do not put children at risk are found. See the full detail below:

  • Paragraph 393 states: ‘Inspectors may identify minor improvements that need to be made to the school’s safeguarding practices during inspection, such as administrative errors in paperwork or out-of-date policies. Some of these improvements may be rectified easily before the end of the inspection. Where this is the case, inspectors will give the school the chance to make these minor improvements. Where minor improvements are required but these are not able to be resolved before the end of the inspection, the school can still be judged effective for safeguarding. Importantly, any minor improvements that need to be made, while strengthening safeguarding practice, will not have an immediate impact on the safety of pupils’ (NAHT emphasis)
  • Safeguarding is a limiting judgement in almost all cases. Paragraph 416 states: ‘When safeguarding is ineffective, this is likely to lead to a judgement of inadequate for leadership and management’.

The safeguarding information that inspectors will require on arrival to the school is set out at paragraphs 110 to 111.

Back to top of page

Are there clarifications to guidance for inspector on separation by sex?

Yes. Paragraphs 365 to 368 review the obligation on schools not to discriminate against pupils on the basis of protected characteristics, including sex. Paragraphs 356 to 358 describe the actions inspectors would take.

Back to top of page

Are there updates that relate specifically to sixth form?


  • Paragraph 328 confirms that relationships and sex education is compulsory, including in a sixth form, if a school has one
  • Paragraph 411 makes clear that the definition of off-rolling has been broadened to include encouraging a sixth form student not to continue with their course of study.

Back to top of page

Can inspectors consider information they find online as part of an inspection?

Yes. Inspectors will check to see that the school meets the online publication requirements of the current School Information Regulations, and other relevant legislation including under the Equality Act 2010 and the Children and Families Act 2014. The DfE publishes the requirements here:

  • Paragraph 103 describes the what the lead inspector will review and consider to prepare for the ‘educationally focused’ pre-inspection conversation
  • Paragraph 103, main bullet 7 confirms that the inspector may review and consider ‘…any other information about the school (including safeguarding) that is publicly available, including information reported in the press or online.’ In practice, the lead inspector is likely to carry out a brief internet search, the results of which an inspector might refer or ask about during the ‘educationally focused’ conversation, and if relevant, include in inspection planning.

The purpose of the educationally focused pre-inspection conversation is set out at paragraphs 104 to 107.

Back to top of page

Can the head teacher or senior staff be present at meetings held by inspectors with pupils, parents or staff members?

Paragraph 121 states: 

  • ‘Meetings with pupils or parents must take place without the presence of any leaders or staff, unless there are exceptional circumstances.’ (NAHT emphasis)

And emphasis is placed on pupils being able to speak freely to inspectors at paragraphs 263 and 387. Ofsted has also published Guidance for inspectors speaking to pupils on inspection.

NAHT has made clear that there are circumstances where certain vulnerable pupils or pupils with special educational needs or disabilities may need to be accompanied by a familiar adult.

Paragraph 118 states:

‘Staff (including leaders at all levels) may always be accompanied by another appropriate person when speaking to inspectors. However, it is important that staff are able to express their views freely to inspectors.’

Paragraph 265 restates this position:

'Staff may always be accompanied by another appropriate person when speaking to inspectors. However, it is important that staff are able to express their views freely to inspectors.’

Back to top of page

Will inspectors expect schools to be open for 32.5 hours a week?

The DfE’s minimum expectation of a 32.5-hour week for mainstream state-funded schools has been pushed back to September 2024. The ‘expectation’ is non-statutory.

  • Paragraph 233 states: ‘…Where it is clear that increasing the overall time pupils spend in school (to at least 32.5 hours per week) would improve the quality of education, inspectors will reflect this in their evaluation of the school, and in the inspection report. If a school is not meeting the minimum expectation, and this impacts on the quality of education, inspectors will expect schools to set out a clear rationale for this and understand what impact it has on the quality of education. They will also want to understand what plans are in place to meet the minimum expectation.’ (NAHT emphasis)

Back to top of page

Will school leaders be kept informed of the emerging judgements of inspectors?

Yes. Paragraph 133 requires the lead inspector to hold regular meetings throughout the inspections to:

  • ‘provide updates on emerging issues, including initial general findings about the quality of education, and to enable further evidence to be provided’
  • ‘allow the headteacher to raise concerns, including those related to the conduct of the inspection or of individual inspectors’
  • ‘alert the headteacher to any serious concerns’.

If by the end of the first day of inspection or during day two it is possible that a school will be judged as inadequate, paragraph 162 states the lead inspector:

  • ‘…must make the school’s leadership aware of this. The lead inspector must also ring Ofsted’s duty desk.’ (NAHT emphasis)

See also paragraph 133, which states:

  • ‘Inform the headteacher, by the end of day 1 or during day 2, there is emerging evidence that the school might be judged as inadequate or requires improvement. The inspector must emphasise that final judgements are not made until the final team meeting at the end of day 2.’

Back to top of page

Who can the inspection outcome be shared with?

Paragraph 161 (bullet two) states:

‘… We expect leaders to share the inspection outcome and findings with whoever they deem appropriate. They should be shared with governors or trustees, irrespective of whether they attended the meeting (and irrespective of what other role they may hold (for example, a teacher governor). Leaders may also share inspection outcomes, in confidence, with others, not involved in the school. This may include leaders’ colleagues, family members, medical advisers and/or their wider support group. However, the information should not be made public or shared with parents.’ (NAHT emphasis)

All inspection outcomes are provisional until the final draft report is received. 

Paragraph 170 confirms that Ofsted expects leaders to share the final draft containing:

  • ‘…the inspection outcome and findings with governors or trustees and whoever they deem appropriate.’ (NAHT emphasis)

Back to top of page

For an inadequate judgement, what is the difference between serious weaknesses and special measures?

If a school is judged ‘inadequate’ overall, the law states that a school must be placed in one of two statutory categories of ‘schools causing concern’. These are:

  • serious weaknesses (technically called requiring ‘significant improvement’)
  • special measures.

The difference between these categories in that in a school with serious weaknesses is performing significantly less well than it might in all the circumstances reasonably be inspected to perform. 

A school judged to require special measures is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and those responsible for leading, managing or governing the school are not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement in the school.

Paragraph 191 sets out how inspectors decide whether a school has ‘capacity to improve’ when judging whether a school requires special measures.

Back to top of page

Does an overall judgement of ‘requires improvement’ mean the school is inadequate?

No. It means the school is providing an acceptable standard of education, but has not yet been judged ‘good’ overall. Previously this judgement was called ‘satisfactory’. An RI school is NOT in a category of concern. 

Two consecutive ‘less than good’ judgements do make a school ‘eligible for intervention’ (to be academised) at the discretion of the DfE regional director. NAHT provides separate advice for schools that are eligible for intervention. Note that an academy order is not final until signed by the Secretary of State. Contact NAHT’s specialist advice team on 0300 30 30 333 if you need further information or advice.

Back to top of page

What should I do if I have concerns or a complaint during an inspection?

Ofsted has added a helpful new section on ‘Schools raising concerns’ at paragraphs 11 and 12 of the School inspection handbook. This reflects a greater willingness on the part of Ofsted to engage and learn from complaints.

It states:

‘11. If a school has any concerns about an inspection, including about inspectors’ conduct or any potential or perceived conflicts of interest, they should be raised at the earliest opportunity with the lead inspector. Concerns can be raised at any point during the inspection, including (but not limited to):

12. Any concerns will be taken seriously, and the act of raising the concern will not impact inspection findings or how a school is considered by Ofsted. If it is not possible to resolve concerns with the lead inspector, the school or responsible body should follow the steps set out in Handling concerns and complaints.'

NAHT advice: Concerns and complaints are more likely to be satisfactorily resolved if raised during the inspection ,and before the final feedback meeting. Do not wait until after the inspection, or until you receive the draft report, to raise a concern or complaint. Once written it is notoriously hard to secure amendments to a report.

Remember that inspectors are expected to keep you informed about the likely inspection outcomes as the inspection progresses (see paragraph 133).

Most inspections are conducted in a professional manner. However, there are circumstances where inspectors’ conduct falls far short of expected professional standards and Ofsted’s code of conduct.  

NAHT is clear that there are no circumstances where it is acceptable for an inspector to behave in a hectoring, bullying or threatening manner towards any member of school staff, including the head teacher.  

Inspectors are under time pressure to complete evidence gathering and evaluation. However, time pressure is never an excuse for poor conduct, nor should evidence gathering be rushed or curtailed, or school staff placed under unreasonable pressure in order to complete the inspection within the inspection tariff. You and your staff should be allowed to present and articulate evidence that you believe to be relevant to the inspection.

Inspectors should be mindful of the mental health and well-being risks that are associated with a high-stakes inspection event, and take steps to mitigate those risks.

Ofsted is required to ensure that inspectors collect and weigh sufficient evidence to deliver findings and judgements are secure, so that the inspection report provides an accurate picture of the quality of education provided by a school.  

You are entitled to raise concerns or complaints. This might be about, for example: the conduct of the inspectors, the completeness of their evidence gathering, the security and accuracy of emerging inspection findings, or the judgements they are communicating.

  • Speak to the lead inspector at the earliest opportunity. Keep a note of the concerns raised, and of the inspector’s response.
  • If the problem can’t be resolved, set out the issue on headed notepaper in brief bullet points. Ask for a meeting with the lead inspector, hand them your note and have a witness to record any comments.
  • The inspector should pause to consider your complaint and respond to it. They may seek advice from senior HMI at Ofsted.
  • Ofsted’s new complaints guidance also provides for school leaders to telephone Ofsted during an inspection (or on the next working day) to seek  informal resolution, if it has not been possible to resolve an issue with the lead inspector. NAHT recommends that you also seek advice from the NAHT specialist advice team, if required.
  • If the problem persists, it may be appropriate to request that the inspection be formally paused, particularly where there are serious conduct issues and/or where the relationship with an inspector or the inspection team has broken down. If this is the case, contact NAHT’s specialist advice team immediately at 0300 30 30 333 to speak to our expert advisor.

From May 2024 Ofsted has introduced procedures to pause an inspection. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis, but Ofsted lists the following circumstances as being likely examples of ‘exceptional circumstances’ that might lead to a ‘pause’ being granted:

- ‘circumstances that compromise [Ofsted’s] ability to gather sufficient evidence to reach valid and reliable judgements, and/or where leaders in the provider require support (for example from their employer), which may be due to concerns about the well-being of leaders

- any other major incident that has a significant effect on the routine day-to-day running of the provision

- any major incident that has a significant effect on the running of the inspection

  • A ‘pause’ can be requested through the lead inspector, or where that is not possible (for example where the lead inspector or inspection team is the reason for the requested pause) or by contacting Ofsted through a telephone number provided with the inspection notification documents. 

Back to top of page

Making a formal complaint about an inspection or inspection report

Ofsted has changed its complaints processes. There is now a single stage process for formal complaints (the second stage ‘internal reviews’) have been discontinued.

Ofsted aims to send the draft inspection report to a school within 18 working days of the end of the inspection (the timeline is longer for Schools Causing Concern (that is ‘serious weaknesses or special measures).

If you are dissatisfied when you receive the draft report, you have five working days in which to:

  • Seek minor corrections to improve the factual accuracy or clarity of the report.  Ofsted will consider these points and respond when sending the final report to the school, normally within 30 working days. In many cases it is possible to resolve minor factual errors or matters of factual accuracy by pointing these out to Ofsted.


  • Submit a formal complaint seeking a review of the inspection process, judgements, or outcomes. A formal complaint might also be about the conduct of inspectors and the inspection. If you believe that the inspection judgement is ‘insecure’ or unreliable, this is the time to make a formal complaint, explaining why inspectors have failed to gather sufficient evidence, misinterpreted evidence, or placed too much emphasis on a single piece of evidence of aspect of inspection. The inspection report will not be published, until the complaint has been handled.

Note carefully: Ofsted will not normally consider a request for corrections or a complaint about an inspection unless the request or complaint is submitted within the five-day window.

Ofsted’s revised complaints procedure is described at paragraphs 168-174, and available in full on this page. It includes a diagram describing how the procedure works.

NAHT’s specialist advice team can advise you on how to make a clear and precise complaint.

Paragraph 161 states that at the final feedback meeting at the end of the second day of the inspection, the lead inspector must ensure that all attendees are clear:

‘… about the key findings from the inspection. The lead inspector must give sufficient detail to enable all attendees to understand how judgements have been reached and for governors or trustees to play a part in beginning to plan how to improve.’

This includes:

‘… for graded inspections, about the provisional grades awarded for each key judgement and for overall effectiveness. They will also ensure that schools understand that the grades are provisional and so may be subject to change as a result of quality assurance procedures or moderation.’

Paragraph 168 states:

‘The findings in the report should be consistent with the feedback given to the school at the end of the inspection.’

if there are significant discrepancies between the lead inspector’s final feedback and the draft inspection report you receive, you can challenge this. Examples might include changed judgements without compelling or adequate explanation; new or additional areas for improvement that do not chime with final feedback; the inclusion of new evidence that was not referred to by the lead inspector during the inspection;  statements for which you believe are noy underpinned by evidence; or significant factually inaccuracies. 

Browne Jacobson has produced an explanation of the changes to Ofsted’s complaints procedures, and will publish a revised  practical guide for members to help them challenge Ofsted inspections later in the year.  

It’s worth saying that the majority of inspections do run smoothly and are staffed by skilled, professional inspectors. But when inspections go wrong, NAHT expects that your concerns and complaints will be taken seriously, and that mistakes, insufficient evidence and inaccurate statements and judgements will be recognised and corrected.

There is now no second stage (‘internal review) for a school that is unhappy with the outcome of a complaint. To escalate the complaint the school would have to refer it to the ICASO service for Ofsted. However, members should always approach NAHT’s specialist advice team for advice where a complaint is not satisfactorily resolved.

Back to top of page

Can I ask for reasonable adjustments to the inspection process for me, my staff or my pupils?

Yes.  When you are notified of the inspection, you should be given the opportunity to state whether you, your staff or your pupils require any reasonable adjustments due to a disability or adaptations to the inspection process to take account of another protected characteristic.

The need for adaptations could apply to any aspect of the inspection process, including, for example, the pre-inspection educationally focused telephone conversation.

If you have any difficulty in securing appropriate reasonable adjustments, you should raise this as a concern immediately – do not wait until the end of the inspection.  We recommend that you follow the guidance above on raising concerns or complaints. Members are advised to seek immediate advice from NAHT’s specialist advice team if the issue cannot be satisfactorily resolved.  In exceptional circumstances it may be appropriate to seek a formal pause to the inspection (see above) – NAHT will assist you if you need to take this step.

Contact NAHT’s specialist advice team on 0300 30 30 333 if you need further information or advice.

Back to top of page

First published 16 May 2024