Created in collaboration with our Ofsted expert. 




Ofsted inspections can be very stressful for schools; especially the anticipation of an inspection. Once an inspection has taken place, however, many school practitioners and leaders have noted that the experience was not as difficult as they first expected.

Ofsted as an organisation has focussed on providing inspectors with training to ensure that their judgments are made with a strict evidence base. The focus for all schools is that they should take clear ownership of the inspection and ensure that they have all the evidence to back up their judgments. All school leaders should clearly look at the inspection handbook and carefully look at the grade descriptors, ensuring they have evidence to support their judgments.

This guidance explores the evidence inspectors will expect to see during an inspection, how this evidence is expected to be presented, and how schools can ensure they have their evidence ready should they get an inspection call.

What evidence do inspectors expect to see?


In preparation for, or during, an inspection, inspectors may ask to see evidence relating to the following:

  • The school website – the lead inspector will spend some time looking at the website to see if it is up-to-date and compliant with statutory requirements. School websites give an initial impression of the school; websites that have not been updated or contain incorrect information immediately give the impression that the school could have problems.
  • The school improvement plan (SIP) – the plan should contain targets that have clear milestones and focus on raising standards and/or improving the wellbeing of all pupils. It is also worth noting that all stakeholders need to have an input in the process of school improvement.
  • Safeguarding – inspectors may ask to see up-to-date policies relating to safeguarding, staff training records, the single central record and up-to-date child protection records. Inspectors will also look at the safeguarding ethos of the school.
  • The school evaluation form (SEF) – schools should make sure that the SEF is brief (two or three paragraphs for most sections is enough) and contains evaluative judgements. The lead inspector only has a few hours to review the SEF to write the pre-inspection briefing, so schools should take this into account.
  • The school’s assessment processes – inspectors will look at how the school’s assessment process and assessment information are used to show how well pupils perform. The inspection process now has a focus on pupils with SEND, pupils eligible for the pupil premium, more academically able pupils and boys – inspectors will look at how well the school tracks the performance of these groups and how they narrow gaps between them.
  • Monitoring folders – schools should ensure the monitoring folders are available to be shown to inspectors; this will support the judgements on teaching and learning.   
  • Middle leaders – middle leaders should show evidence that they have identified their main focus or priorities and how they are contributing to the improvement of the school.
  • Books or work samples – inspectors will expect to see a range of books or work samples across a variety of pupil groups. Inspectors will look to compare pupils with SEND, pupils eligible for the pupil premium and more academically able pupils, looking at how they transfer their literacy skills across the whole curriculum.
  • Pupil wellbeing – inspectors will interview pupils to look at safeguarding. Cyber bullying is also a particular focus and how well the school prepares pupils to stay safe online, particularly at home. Inspectors will also discuss bullying and whether pupils feel safe at school.
  • Reading – inspectors will listen to a range of pupils reading; the focus is now on the early years to Year 3. They will look at reading records and the suitability of the reading scheme in the school.
  • Governors – inspectors will talk at length to governors, particularly focussing on how they challenge school leaders; inspectors may ask to look at governance minutes to highlight that governors are challenging leaders. Where there has been a decline in the performance of the school, inspectors may ask governors what the school is doing to improve this. Additionally, governors will also be asked about safeguarding training, and will need to show evidence of their input with the pupil premium and SEND funding, and how they challenge the performance of these two groups.
  • Lessons – inspectors will want to observe lessons through joint observations with senior and middle leaders. They will observe the feedback given to staff, particularly focussing on how the feedback addresses any issues of underperformance.
  • Reviews and support – if the school has had any reviews (pupil premium or governance) or received any support, e.g. teaching school support, this evidence is very important to provide to inspectors as it highlights the impact of school leaders’ work.
  • Collaborative work – if the school has worked collaboratively with other schools, e.g. peer-to-peer reviews, it is useful to present this information to inspectors.
  • Communication with parents – inspectors will want to talk to parents at the start or end of the school days so that they can establish a clear understanding of how effectively the school communicates with parents.

What evidence will inspectors not ask to see?


Inspectors will not:

  • Expect to see any form of planning for lessons – this will be made clear by inspectors.
  • Ask to see any assessment information presented in any particular format.
  • Ask to see any personalised information on staff or pupils.
  • Ask to see policies presented in a particular format.
  • Ask to see any confidential minutes from governance meetings.
  • Want to see any budget monitoring.

Generally, inspectors do not ask to see documents; however, schools should want to show particular documents, such as the SEF, or pieces of information that provide strong evidence relating to judgements.

Inspectors will not ask to see any information presented in any particular format, nor will they recommend any particular format; however, they may ask leaders to talk through a document if it cannot be interpreted by the inspection team.

How can schools ensure they have all this evidence ready for inspectors?


No school can predict an inspection and any school can be inspected at any time. Schools can predict that they could be in the cycle of inspection; however, the key point for all school leaders is to ensure strategies are in place to guarantee the school is improving and that there is strong evidence to support this.

Key documents and procedures that schools should review regularly and keep up-to-date include:

  • Documents relating to self-review – schools adopting exemplary practice regularly review their self-review processes and documents, and this process should be built into the school’s monitoring cycle throughout the year
  • The SIP
  • Safeguarding – schools should ensure they are always compliant with regards to safeguarding, and the school’s safeguarding ethos should be a central part to the school’s effectiveness

Whilst the inspection process can be stressful for schools, schools with all the necessary strategies, policies and procedures in place, and with evidence of these, may find the process less daunting.