Ofsted’s ‘School inspection handbook’ 2018 sets out the main activities carried out during an inspection, as well as the evaluation criteria used to make a judgement of a school.


The judgements 


Ofsted uses the following judgements – ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ and ‘inadequate’.

Schools judged as inadequate will be deemed to be in a formal category of concern – these categories are ‘serious weaknesses’ and ‘special measures’.

Inspectors make judgements on a school’s overall effectiveness, the effectiveness of leadership and management, the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, pupils’ personal development, behaviour and welfare, and outcomes for pupils.


Inspection schedule


Outstanding schools are exempt from inspection under section 5 (a full inspection) – they receive section 8 inspections (a short inspection) instead. 

Good schools receive a one-day short inspection approximately every four years, providing the quality of education remains good at each short inspection. A good school can automatically receive a full inspection if Ofsted’s risk assessment process indicates the quality of provision may have significantly deteriorated.

Schools judged as requires improvement will receive another full inspection usually within 30 months of the publication of their previous inspection report.

Maintained schools and PRUs that are judged to be inadequate will be subject to an academy order. Academies causing concern could have their funding agreement terminated and may be re-brokered to another trust. Academies that are not re-brokered will be subject to monitoring by Ofsted and are usually re-inspected within 30 months.




Ofsted will normally telephone a school the afternoon of the working day before the inspection to announce it – this will be followed by a confirmation email and a phone call from the lead inspector to the headteacher. Schools are responsible for informing relevant bodies of the inspection, including alternative provision providers.  

Inspectors will request that a variety of information is available at the start of an inspection including a summary of the school’s self-evaluation, the current SDP, a list of referrals made to the DSL and up-to-date attendance records.


During an inspection


The lead inspector will meet the headteacher and SLT at the beginning of the day, not before 8:00am – the lead inspector should then meet with the headteacher regularly throughout the inspection. Inspectors may also conduct meetings with parents, staff, governors and other stakeholders, without the presence of the headteacher or senior staff.

Inspectors will gather and evaluate evidence of pupil achievement through observations and documentary evidence – the pupil groups focussed on will depend on the areas for investigation. Inspectors will also gather evidence by formally and informally meeting with pupils and staff.

The headteacher, members of the SLT and middle leaders may be invited to take part in joint observations alongside the lead inspector, after which they will discuss their views about the strengths and weaknesses of teaching, learning and assessment.

A final feedback meeting will take place at the end of the on-site inspection with key members connected to the school, including the headteacher and chair of governors. During this meeting, inspectors will provide the school with their provisional grades, their main findings and an explanation of how the judgements have been reached.


The report


Shortly following an inspection, the lead inspector will write up their report and submit evidence to Ofsted – reports are quality assured before a draft is sent to schools.

Usually, schools receive an electronic version of the final report within 14 working days of the end of the inspection, with the final report published within 19 working days. If the report is subject to further quality assurance from Ofsted, the final version will be received within 23 working days; therefore, the final report will usually be published within 28 working days.

Ofsted may publish the report at any time after the report has been received by the school.


What’s next?


  • Our 3-Minute Read takes a more in-depth look at the ‘School inspection handbook’.
  • Make sure your school is prepared for its next inspection by using the checklists in our Ofsted Preparation Resource Pack.
  • Our article, created in collaboration with our Ofsted expert, provides tips for you to make sure you’re always prepared for an inspection.




Ofsted (2018) ‘School inspection handbook’