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Ofsted's interim inspections (‘visits’)  from 28 September 2020 – what to expect


In March 2020, Ofsted suspended all inspections as a result of the covid-19 pandemic. Ofsted has confirmed that routine section 5 inspections and section 8 monitoring inspections will not resume until January 2021, at the earliest. 

However, from 28 September 2020, Ofsted is intending to conduct 1,200 light-touch inspections, which it terms ‘interim visits’. 

These inspections (‘visits') will be conducted using Ofsted’s powers under section 8 of the Education Act 2005. 

This guide for members provides answers to practical questions about ‘interim visits’ and a summary of the key areas that inspectors will focus on. 

Jump to the following sections

Is an ‘interim’ visit an inspection? 

Yes – NAHT took legal action to establish this.  The ‘interim visit’, as Ofsted calls it, is conducted using powers of inspection under s8 of the Education Act 2005.  

However, inspectors will not evaluate a school’s provision, or make any judgements. Instead, they will gather information (see below) through a conversation, which will be briefly reported in a letter to parents, and collated to inform some national findings. 

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Are the ‘visits’ voluntary? Can I refuse to take part in an ‘interim visit’?

No. Inspectors usual powers under s10 apply – they have a power of entry to the school and power to examine and take copies of documents. Obstructing inspectors is an offence punishable by a fine. 

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How is the interim visit different to a section 5 inspection under the 2019 framework?

The interim visit will not result in any graded judgements. 

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Which schools will be inspected? 

Ofsted has selected about 1,200 schools across all grades for a ‘visit’. However, this is not a balanced selection, meaning that schools judged 'requires improvement' are more likely to receive an inspection.  Ofsted says it will ‘visit’ all inadequate schools. 

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How will schools be notified about an ‘interim visit’?

Ofsted says the lead inspector will notify the school by telephone at around 10am the day before the ‘visit’.  This will be a short call focused on the school’s context and current circumstances.

This is an opportunity to make inspectors familiar with the requirements of the ‘system of controls’ operating in your school, the requirements of your risk assessment and make practical arrangements.

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Who will inspectors want to meet?

Ofsted’s operational note says this will normally the head teacher and designated safeguarding leader.  However, feedback from members who have had pilot ‘visits’ indicate that inspectors have also asked to speak to other leaders and teachers. 

Clearly, there will be circumstances where other leaders should be included. The head teacher is well placed to judge which leaders or teachers it might be helpful for inspectors to meet with, subject to their availability and the school’s ‘system of controls’.

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We are in an area with lockdown restrictions or our school has many staff absent making it difficult to facilitate the ‘visit’.  Can I ask for a deferral?

Ofsted’s deferral policy has been updated to take account of the pandemic. It states the following: 

"Local lockdowns that require providers to close, or other restrictions as a result of covid-19, may be a relevant factor for deferral. Visits to schools and colleges may still go ahead when substantial numbers of pupils/students are not on site but continue to be educated through remote or ‘blended’ learning." 

Any request for deferral must be discussed during the notification telephone call.

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How long will the inspection last?

One day.  Inspectors will arrive at about 10am and leave no later than about 4pm.  Inspectors have been instructed to avoid entering or leaving the school at the same time as pupils. 

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How many inspectors will there be?

The ‘visit’ will be conducted by two HMI.  No OI are being used for these inspections.  Inspectors will gather evidence alternately, using an electronic record. 

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Is any preparation required? 

No. Self-evaluation is not required.  No documentation will be required other than "standard documents… that leaders use for… normal day to day business." 

However, it will be useful for members to be aware of the likely areas that inspectors will focus on (see below). 

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How will an ‘interim visit’ differ from a routine inspection?

HMI is expected to conduct ‘collaborative conversations’, which will focus on the actions of schools rather than evaluating their impact. Ofsted says inspectors’ questions will be open-ended to allow them to gather information from the head teacher. 

Inspectors will not observe lessons or evaluate pupils’ work.  They will not usually meet with governors, trust leaders or local authority representatives. 

If it is safe and in accordance with the school’s ‘system of controls’, inspectors may ask to speak to staff or pupils. The school itself will be best placed to assess the risks associated with this activity. 

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What will the inspector ask during the inspection? 

Ofsted’s operational note provides information about the visits.  The job of inspectors is to collect evidence and gather information to help them understand the following: 

identify pupils needing help; who are at risk of harm; or who have been harmed
secure timely help, expertise or referrals for pupils that need it
manage safe recruitment and allegations.

Inspectors should not make any evaluation of, or judgements about, the school’s response to covid-19. 

Inspectors will not make an evaluation or graded judgement of a school.   

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What happens if inspectors have concerns about a school?

If inspectors found significant concerns about safeguarding or grave concerns about leadership, additional inspectors would join the inspection team within 48 hours, and where possible, on the same day. 

Inspectors would then conduct a section 8 no formal designation (NFD) inspection, which would focus on the specific area of concern. 

Ofsted will not convert the ‘interim visit’ or the s8 NFD to a section 5 inspection in this period (except in the most exceptional circumstances), but it would prioritise the school for a section 5 inspection when routine inspections restart.  

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Will there be a report published after the inspection?

Inspectors will agree on the content of a ‘letter’ with the head teacher. This should not contain any written judgement or evaluation of the school, nor will it state whether the school has made progress since the last inspection.  

The school will receive a draft letter within 18 working days, and it has five days to comment on the content. Ofsted says it will send the final letter to the school within 30 working days and publish the letter on its website within 38 working days. 

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Will the inspection or its evidence base be used to inform, select or schedule a school’s next inspection?

Ofsted confirmed to NAHT the following: 

  • The evidence base from an ‘interim visit’ will not be accessible to inspectors when the school is next inspected
  • The outcomes of an ‘interim visit’ will not be used to inform the scheduling or selection of a future inspection. 
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What do I do if there are problems with an inspector, the team or their work?

It is vital to raise any issues during the ‘interim visit’. Don’t wait until the inspection is completed. 

Some matters can be resolved by simply speaking to the lead inspector, but you should always call the NAHT helpline (0300 30 30 333 and select option one) for advice if you have concerns.  

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How should I expect inspectors to behave in my school?

Inspectors are public servants. They must behave in accordance with the following:

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What do I do if I want to make a formal complaint?

Under Ofsted’s revised complaints policy, a formal complaint must be submitted before the end of the fifth working day after the school receives the final version of the ‘letter’.  

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Ofsted's inspection handbooks and information 

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First published 08 October 2020