What Ofsted inspects
The NASUWT’s position
Further information


The Education Inspection Framework (EIF) covers maintained schools and academies, non-association independent schools, further education (FE) and skills providers, and registered early years settings.

This guidance sets out the main features of graded and ungraded inspections of schools carried out under Section 5 and Section 8 of the Education Act 2005.

Inspections conducted under section 5 of the Education Act are referred to as graded inspections. Routine inspections of schools judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ carried out under section 8 of the Education Act are referred to as ungraded inspections. Other inspections carried out under section 8 include thematic inspections and monitoring inspections.

See our advice on our Frequently Asked Questions page for further information relating to inspection.

What Ofsted inspects

  1. Teacher workload and wellbeing

  • Inspectors will consider the extent to which leaders take account of the workload and wellbeing of staff.

  • Inspectors will evaluate how assessment is used in the school to support teaching of the curriculum and not substantially increase teachers’ workload.

  • ‘Good’ and ‘outstanding’ leaders and managers must demonstrate that they are aware of and take account of the pressures on staff and that they are realistic and constructive in the way they manage staff, including their workload. [1]

  • Inspection judgements of ‘outstanding’ leadership and management require that staff consistently report high levels of support for wellbeing issues. [2]

  • ‘Good’ and ‘outstanding’ leaders and managers must be able to demonstrate that they protect staff from bullying and harassment. [3]

  1. Key inspection judgements

  • Inspectors will make key judgements about: quality of education; personal development; behaviour and attitudes; and leadership and management.

    • In graded inspections, inspectors will make graded judgements about overall effectiveness and the four key areas.

    • In ungraded inspections, inspectors will pay particular attention to the quality of education and to safeguarding. Inspectors will look at particular aspects of personal development, behaviour and attitudes, and leadership and management. If inspectors believe that the quality of provision has changed (it has improved significantly or there are concerns), the inspection may be converted to a Section 5 (graded) inspection. The inspection will convert to a Section 5 inspection if there are concerns about safeguarding.

  1. ‘Quality of education’ and inspecting the curriculum

  • Inspectors will pay particular attention to the curriculum when evaluating the quality of education. They will focus on intent (what is intended to be learned), implementation (how well the curriculum is taught and assessed) and learner outcomes (impact).

  • Inspectors will seek to understand how the curriculum accounts for delays and gaps that have arisen or continue to arise as a result of the pandemic.

  • Inspectors will pay close attention to the coherence of the curriculum and to how well it is sequenced.

  • Inspectors will look for evidence that the school’s curriculum remains broad for as long as possible, including when delivered remotely. This includes ensuring that remote education enables all pupils to access lessons and learn.

  • Inspectors will look for evidence that the school does not offer pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) a reduced curriculum.

  • Education providers do not need to do specific work to prepare for inspection and Ofsted does not advocate a particular curriculum approach. Ofsted does not have a preferred model of remote teaching.

  • Inspectors will recognise and credit radically different approaches to the curriculum if leaders are able to show that the curriculum has been carefully thought about, with appropriate coverage, content, structures and sequencing, and is implemented effectively.

  1. Internal progress and attainment data

  • Inspectors will only look at statutory national assessment and qualifications data during graded and ungraded inspections of schools. Inspectors will use 2022 outcomes cautiously and data for 2021/22 will only be used to inform discussion.

  • Inspectors will not look at internal progress and assessment data. However, inspectors will be interested in the conclusions that schools draw from internal data and the actions that they take as a result.

  • Inspectors will evaluate how assessment is used to support teaching of the curriculum and not to substantially increase teachers’ workloads, e.g. through too much one-to-one teaching or overly demanding programmes that cannot be delivered without lowering expectations of some pupils.

    • The quality of education judgements for ‘outstanding’ and ‘good’ require inspectors to evaluate whether leaders understand the limitations of assessment and do not assess in ways that create unnecessary burdens for staff or learners.

  • Schools choosing to use more than two or three data collection points a year should have clear reasoning for:

    • what interpretations and actions are informed by the frequency of collection; and

    • the time taken to set assessments, collate, analyse and interpret the data collected, and

    • the time taken to then act on the findings. [4]

  • If a school’s system for data collection is disproportionate, inefficient or unsustainable for staff, inspectors will reflect this in their reporting of the school. [5] This reflects the recommendations of the Teacher Workload Advisory Group report, Making data work.

  1. Inspecting behaviour and attitudes

  • Inspectors will consider whether leaders, teachers and practitioners have high expectations for learners and implement these consistently and fairly, and whether this is reflected in learners’ positive behaviour and conduct.

  • Inspectors will consider whether the school or college deals with incidents of bullying and harassment of learners and staff swiftly and effectively ensuring that it is not allowed to spread.

  • Inspectors will recognise that schools may be working with pupils with particular needs, including pupils with SEND, to improve their behaviour and attendance. While inspectors will look for demonstrable improvement in attendance and behaviour, they will take account of the individual circumstances of the school.

  • Inspectors will talk to groups of staff who may be most likely to witness or experience harassment, bullying and/or poor behaviour, e.g. supply teachers, trainee teachers, Early Career Teachers (ECTs) and catering staff.

  • School inspectors will look at the experiences of a sample of pupils. This may include pupils with SEND, medical needs and/or mental health needs. Inspectors may look at referrals and multi-agency support. In the case of pupils with SEND, inspectors will consider whether reasonable adjustments have been made in accordance with the Equality Act 2010 and the SEND Code of Practice.

  1. Inclusion, ‘gaming’ and ‘off-rolling’

  • Inspectors will look at how schools use PRUs and other alternative provision, including the extent to which the placements are safe and effective in promoting pupils’ progress, including for pupils with SEND. This includes looking at the coherence and sequencing of the curriculum for those pupils and how well pupils are included in all aspects of school life, and prepared for the next steps in education, employment and training. This will include looking at outcomes for pupils with SEND.

  • ‘Gaming’ is where a school adopts practices that are not in the best interests of pupils, e.g. entering pupils for courses that are not in their best educational interests. Inspectors will look for evidence of gaming, including unusual patterns of examination entry. Where evidence of deliberate gaming is uncovered, the school is likely to be judged ‘inadequate’.

  • ‘Off-rolling’ is the practice of removing pupils from school without a formal permanent exclusion, or encouraging a parent to remove their child from the school roll, or keeping a pupil on the school roll but not allowing them to attend school. This is illegal. Inspectors are likely to judge leadership and management to be ‘inadequate’ if off-rolling is taking place.

  • Schools are expected to have an inclusive culture. This includes early identification of need and providing specialist support to enable pupils to engage positively with the curriculum.

  • If high numbers of pupils are moving on and off roll, inspectors will be interested in why this is the case.

  1. Leadership and management

  • Inspectors will consider the extent to which leaders engage with staff and take account of the main pressures on them.

    • ‘Good’ and ‘outstanding’ leaders and managers engage with their staff and are aware of and take account of the pressures on staff. They are realistic and constructive in the way they manage staff, including their workload. [6]

    • ‘Outstanding’ leaders ensure that highly effective and meaningful engagement takes place with staff at all levels and issues are identified. Where issues are identified, in particular about workload, they are dealt with consistently, appropriately and quickly. [7]

  • Inspectors will consider how leaders support and develop staff.

    • ‘Good’ and ‘outstanding’ leaders focus on improving teachers’ subject, pedagogical, and pedagogical content knowledge in order to enhance the teaching of the curriculum and the appropriate use of assessment. The practice and subject knowledge of staff, including early career teachers (ECTs) build and improve over time. This includes building teachers’ expertise in remote education. [8]

    • ‘Outstanding’ school and college leaders ensure that teachers receive focused and highly effective professional development. Teachers’ subject, pedagogical and pedagogical content knowledge is consistently built and developed over time and this translates into improvements in the teaching of the curriculum. [9]

  • ‘Good’ or ‘outstanding’ leaders and managers protect staff from bullying and harassment. [10]

  1. Performance management in schools

  • Ofsted does not require schools to set teachers’ performance targets based on commercially produced predictions of pupil achievement, or any other data set, from which it would hold teachers to account. [11]

  • Ofsted does not require schools to include targets relating to the proportion of good or better teaching in headteacher objectives. [12]

  • Ofsted does not require schools to provide processes for the performance management arrangements for staff and school leaders [13], or anonymised lists of teachers meeting or not meeting performance thresholds for pay progression. [14]

  1. Pre-inspection planning discussion

  • The lead inspector will have a telephone conversation with the headteacher before the inspection. The conversation will have two elements: a short inspection-planning conversation that focuses on practical and logistical arrangements and an educationally focused conversation about the school’s progress since the last inspection, including how Covid-19 has affected this. The educationally focused conversation is likely to be around 90 minutes in length.

  • The pre-planning discussion could be a single conversation or two or more conversations with a break in between.

  1. Length of inspections

  • Graded and ungraded inspections of schools will normally last two days. However, an ungraded inspection of primary school or maintained nursery school with fewer than 150 pupils on roll will normally last for one day.

  1. Time between inspections

  • ‘Outstanding’ and ‘good’ schools will normally be inspected approximately every four years.

  • School that were judged ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ in their last Section 5 inspection will normally be re-inspected under section 5 within 30 months of the inspection.

  • As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the time between a school’s last inspection and its next inspection may change. Paragraph 40 of the School inspection handbook sets out when a school will next be inspected. This depends on the date of the last inspection and whether the school was judged ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.

  1. Ofsted’s approach to inspection

There are three stages to the way that Ofsted inspects: top level view; deep dives; and connecting the evidence.

While inspectors pay particular attention to the quality of education and gathering evidence to make judgements about the curriculum, the approach is also used to gather evidence and form judgements about personal development, behaviour and attitudes, and leadership and management.

The following focuses on this approach as it relates to the quality of education:

Top level view

Inspectors will speak to school leaders and those responsible for organising the content and sequencing of the curriculum (this is likely to be heads of departments, subject and curriculum leads) to get an overview of the vision for the curriculum and how it is designed and sequenced so that new knowledge and skills build on what has been taught before and enables pupils to work towards clearly defined end points.

They will also look at published national data, where it is available. Inspectors will not look at national data for 2020 and 2021. They will use 2022 data with caution.

They will not look at internal progress and attainment data. However, they may discuss how the school collects and uses such data.

Deep dives

Inspectors should work with school leaders to identify and agree which subjects will be included in the deep dives.

In primary schools, inspectors will always undertake a deep dive of reading and deep dives of one or more foundation subjects. In the case of early reading, inspectors will pay particular attention to pupils who are reading below age-related expectations.

In small schools with fewer than 150 pupils the methodology will be adapted to reflect the shorter length of the inspection.

In secondary schools, deep dives will usually focus on a sample of four to six subjects.

There are six elements to deep dives: discussion with senior leaders; discussion with curriculum leaders; discussion with pupils; discussion with teachers; scrutiny of pupils work; and visits to a connected sample of lessons. Inspectors may not carry out all six activities in a deep dive, in which case, they will give more weight to other elements.

Inspectors will identify a sample of pupils for each deep dive. The sample is likely to include disadvantaged pupils and pupils with SEND. Inspectors will scrutinise pupils’ work books or equivalent, and they will talk to pupils about their experiences and what they have learned.

Inspectors will look at the curriculum, teaching and learning across the whole school. In primary schools, this will include the early years curriculum through to the end of KS2. In secondary schools it will include KS3, KS4 and KS5.

Inspectors will visit lessons as part of the deep dive. Ofsted stresses that inspectors are not inspecting the lesson or the teacher. Instead, the focus is on how the curriculum is implemented, including understanding where the lesson fits into the sequence of lessons and the broader curriculum. Inspectors will work alongside school leaders so that leaders can tell them and show them what is happening.

Inspectors will talk to teachers about the lessons they visit and the pupils they are sampling, including pupils with SEND. They may ask whether the teacher is aware of what happened in the subject the previous year and what will happen next.

Inspectors are likely to ask about the teacher’s use of assessment and how this informs teaching and learning. They will also consider whether assessment is proportionate or creates additional workload for teachers.

Inspectors will talk to teachers about how the school’s curriculum informs their choices about content and sequencing to support pupils’ learning; and how the training and support they receive helps them to deliver content effectively.

Inspectors will also talk to teachers about assessment and workload, including whether assessment practices create unnecessary workload.

Connecting the evidence

Inspectors will use the evidence to look for patterns. They will also use the evidence they gather to form hypotheses that can be tested as the inspection progresses.

The final judgement about the quality of education will be about education across the school rather than the specific subjects observed. Therefore, inspectors will be seeking to establish whether what they have found is systemic or if it just applies in specific instances.

  1. Inspection judgements - graded inspections

Schools that receive a graded inspection will receive a grade for overall effectiveness and for each of the quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development, and leadership and management.

Ofsted uses a four-point scale: Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement, and Inadequate. An inadequate judgement will either judge that the school has serious weaknesses or that the school requires special measures.

Ofsted uses Section 44 of the Education Act 2005 to determine whether a school has serious weaknesses or should be placed in special measures. [15]

A school judged ‘inadequate’ will have serious weaknesses, ‘because it is performing significantly less well than it might in all circumstances be reasonably expected to perform’. [16]

A school will be judged as requiring special measures, ‘because it is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and the persons responsible for leading, managing or governing the school are not demonstrating the capacity to sure the necessary improvement in the school’. [17]

  1. Inspection judgements - ungraded inspections

An ungraded inspection will result in one of the following outcomes

  • The school continues to be ‘good’/’outstanding’.

  • The school remains ‘good’ but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that it may have been judged ‘outstanding’ in a graded inspection. In this instance the next inspection will be a graded inspection typically taking place in 1 to 2 years of the publication of the inspection report.

  • The lead inspector considers that the school previously judged ‘good’/’outstanding’ may not have received the good/outstanding grade if had received a graded inspection. In this instance, the next inspection will be a graded inspection, usually within 48 hours.

  • In the case of outstanding schools only, if there are concerns that performance is declining and the school may now be ‘requires improvement, the inspection will convert to a graded inspection, usually within 48 hours. [18]

Ungraded inspection reports will not include grades for the quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development or leadership and management. The report will report that safeguarding is effective.

  1. Inspection reports

The lead inspector will provide feedback to the headteacher and those responsible for governance about the provisional judgements. The report will be quality assured before a draft is sent to the school. [19] The school will usually receive the draft report within 18 working days after the end of the inspection. The school will have 5 working days to comment on the draft report, inspection process and findings. [20] The final report will normally be shared with the school within 30 working days after the inspection. [21]

  1. Complaints about inspection

If teachers or school leaders have a complaint about an inspection, including the way in which the inspection was carried out, then they should notify the NASUWT immediately, outlining their concerns.

Ofsted has a range of measures in place for addressing complaints [22]:
Step 1 (informal): Raise concerns with the lead inspector during the inspection. If this is not possible or the matter remains unresolved the phone Ofsted during the inspection of the day after inspection.
Schools can also raise concerns through comments in response to the draft report.
Step 2 (making a formal complaint): Make a complaint online via the Complaints about Ofsted page.
The complaint should be submitted within five working days of receipt of the draft inspection report. Ofsted will respond to any formal complaint before finalising the report. This will normally be within 30 working days of receiving the complaint.
Step 3 (independent and external review of Ofsted’s complaint handling): If the complaint is still not resolved the school can refer the complaint to the Independent Complaints Adjudication Service for Ofsted (ICASO). This must be done within three months of receiving the formal complaint response letter. If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the ICASO’s review, you can refer your concern to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

The NASUWT’s position

As publicly funded institutions, it is right that schools and colleges are accountable. We consider an effective accountability system to be one that:

  • enables teachers to teach more and test less;

  • evaluates the quality of public education rather than simply measuring the performance of individual schools or colleges;

  • is fit for purpose, secures public trust and confidence in education and greater parental and public engagement in and support for public education; and

  • is driven by educational rather than political concerns.

Inspection forms one part of a school and provider accountability system that is high-stakes and punitive. As a result, inspection is likely to continue to drive practice in many schools and colleges.

Many of the problems that members encounter are not due to the inspection framework or guidance in the handbooks per se, but arise because individual inspectors and leaders interpret the framework and guidance in ways that were not intended.

We will continue to monitor inspections and practice in schools and colleges closely in order to identify and challenge issues robustly.


Teachers, school leaders and NASUWT Representatives should follow the Ofsted complaints procedure if specific issues arise during inspection.

Teachers and school leaders should report concerns about inspection to the NASUWT via our Ofsted Inspection Survey. The NASUWT will use this information to identify issues and trends and will raise particular concerns with senior Ofsted officials.

Teachers and school leaders should contact their NASUWT Representative if they have concerns that their school is using inspection to justify implementing inappropriate policies and practices.

Further information

Ofsted, School Inspection Handbook.
Ofsted, School Monitoring Handbook.
Ofsted YouTube channel for videos and webinar recordings covering issues related to inspection.
Ofsted Education Blog for updates and issues relating to the inspection of schools, early years, and further education and skills.

[1] Ofsted, School inspection handbook Subsequently referred to as SIH) paragraphs 459 and 460
[2] SIH, paragraph 458
[3] SIH, paragraph 459, sixth bullet
[4] SIH paragraph 375
[5] SIH, paragraph 376
[6] SIH, paragraph 459, fifth bullet point
[7] SIH, paragraph 458, fourth bullet point
[8] SIH, paragraph 459 second bullet point
[9] SIH, paragraph 458, third bullet point
[10] SIH, paragraph 459, sixth bullet point
[11] SIH, paragraph 31, eighth bullet point
[12] SIH, paragraph 31, seventh bullet point
[13] SIH, paragraph 31, fifth bullet point
[14] SIH, paragraph 31 fourth bullet point
[15] SIH, paragraph 165
[16] SIH, paragraph 165
[17] SIH, paragraph 165
[18] SIH, paragraph 200
[19] SIH, paragraph 169
[20] SIH, paragraph 170
[21] SIH, paragraph 170
[22] SIH, paragraph 171


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