A Complete Guide To The Ofsted Inspection Framework & What It Means For Your School

The Ofsted inspection framework is essential reading for senior leaders in schools in England. In 2019, Ofsted’s new inspection framework came into effect and since then, it has been updated several times. As such, it can be difficult to stay up to date. This guide aims to highlight, explain and summarise the key points of Ofsted’s inspection framework, including changes and updates.

Our author, Zoe Hardman, brings her years of experience in inspections both in England and overseas to produce this helpful guide. Using her knowledge of the Ofsted inspection framework, she explains what an inspection under the new framework will look like and how Ofsted uses the grade descriptors to make their judgements on the overall effectiveness of your setting. 

Whether you are working at a primary school, secondary school, further education provider or early years setting, this guide is essential reading as preparation for any Ofsted visit.

What is the Ofsted inspection framework? 

The Ofsted inspection framework is a set of standards and guidelines for Ofsted inspections of maintained schools and academies, non-association independent schools, early years settings, further education and skills providers, prisons and young offender institutions and early years settings. 

Along with the school inspection handbook, the education inspection framework (EIF) aims to guide senior leadership and outline what to expect before, during and after an inspection. 

Along with the main education inspection framework, gov.uk provides a summary of changes to keep you up-to-date. The main areas within the framework advise senior leaders on:

  • The types of provision inspected (what settings the framework applies to)
  • The grading scale and the four key judgement areas 
  • What inspectors consider when making judgements against the four areas
  • Any arrangements for different types of provision including early years settings and further education and skills settings such as colleges.
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The new Ofsted inspection framework 2019

The new Ofsted inspection framework refers to the current EIF which was introduced in September 2019 to replace the Common Inspection Framework.

The idea behind the new Ofsted framework 2019 was to bring a more holistic approach to the inspection process that reflected the true extent of the teachers’ role. Ofsted also wanted to address concerns that were raised by schools surrounding inspections. 

Here is a summary of the significant changes made in 2019 from the old framework:

  • A focus on the curriculum
  • Behaviour and personal development
  • Two-day inspections for ‘good’ graded provisions
  • Longer initial phone call
  • Removal of the use of internal data
  • A focus on well-being during inspections

A focus on the curriculum

The new Ofsted inspection framework emphasises the curriculum. Ofsted has removed making a judgement against ‘outcomes’ from the framework and merged ‘Teaching’ and ‘Learning and assessment’ into one key judgement: ‘Quality of education’.

The new vs olf Ofsted inspection framework focuses

When making a judgement on the quality of education, Ofsted inspectors will take a ‘deep dive’ into a number of subjects and look at the intent, implementation and impact of the curriculum (sometimes referred to as the three I’s) in line with the knowledge and skills taught to learners.  

What are Ofsted’s three I’s? 

  • The curriculum intent: the knowledge and skills pupils will gain. Inspectors want to see an ambitious curriculum designed for all learners including disadvantaged pupils and those with SEND.
  • The implementation of the curriculum: how your curriculum is being taught and assessed. Inspectors are looking to ensure your curriculum is designed for children to remember content and integrate new skills, along with good subject knowledge from teachers. 
  • The impact of the curriculum: looking at student outcomes and information retention as a result of the education they have received. 

Behaviour and personal development

Behaviour and personal development are now judged separately. Prior to 2019, these were judged under the behaviour, development and welfare category. This highlights the importance of a curriculum that develops character as well as academics. 

Two-day inspections for ‘good’ graded provisions

An inspection update worth highlighting here is that a previously ‘good’ graded provision will now have a two-day inspection compared to only one day under the old framework. 

This will give Ofsted inspectors sufficient time to assess whether a school is to retain their good Ofsted ratings. During this time, the inspectors will have the opportunity to upgrade the rating since the last inspection if a judgement is made that the school has got better or worse. 

Graded vs ungraded inspections

Inspections carried out under section 5 of the Education Act are referred to as graded. Inspections carried out under section 8 of the Education Act are referred to as ungraded.

During a section 5 graded inspection, Ofsted will make a judgement on the overall effectiveness of the school as well as the four key judgement areas. They will use the 4-point scale and Ofsted grade descriptors to reach judgements, grading schools as either:

  • Inadequate;
  • Requires improvement;
  • Good;
  • or Outstanding.

A section 8 ungraded visit is still judged against the four key areas but the visit is to determine whether the school is still a good or outstanding provider. 

Under sections 8 and 5, Ofsted can also conduct an urgent inspection usually due to raised concerns. Urgent inspections are selective and focus only on the issues raised and so are not judged on overall effectiveness or against the areas in the EIF. See part 4 of the school inspection handbook for full guidance.

Longer initial phone call

A longer initial phone call between the headteacher (or senior leader) and the lead inspector will now take place the day before the on-site visit. This could be up to 90 minutes and will mark the start of the inspection.

Removal of the use of internal data

Another big change in the new inspection framework is the removal of the use of internal data. Instead, Ofsted will use nationally collected data. A criticism of the old framework was that the outcomes section diverted the focus away from the curriculum.

A focus on well-being during inspections

The new Ofsted framework is seen to put well-being at the forefront of inspections. During the inspection, Ofsted will seek to speak with a range of stakeholders in line with their code of conduct. Staff, including leaders, can opt to have another member of staff present when talking to inspectors. Ofsted wants staff to be able to talk freely.

Throughout the inspection, Ofsted will aim to visit a number of lessons, meet with the CEO or trust leaders, meet with ECT and ECT mentors, and meet with governors, pupils and parents. 

Updates to the new Ofsted inspection framework since 2019

Since the introduction of the new framework, there have been updates along the way.

April 2021: Two minor amendments were made to include safety protocols for inspections during/following the pandemic. 

June 2022: A new section was added under ‘further education and skills provision’ detailing additional sub-judgements for FE colleges, sixth-form colleges and designated institutions. 

June 2023: New paragraphs were added outlining expectations of conduct during inspections, the terminology was changed from peer-on-peer to learner-on-learner and a new paragraph was added on safeguarding culture.

Read more: How Ofsted Inspects Safeguarding

Ofsted Inspection Framework: the 5 areas of judgement 

The most common 2 types of Ofsted inspections are graded (section 5 inspection) and ungraded (section 8 inspection). Most inspections that Ofsted carries out are ungraded where ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools are inspected to retain their grading under the grading descriptors. 

During graded inspections, Ofsted will make a judgement on 5 areas:

  1. Overall effectiveness 
  2. Quality of education
  3. Behaviour and attitudes
  4. Personal development
  5. Leadership and management

Here’s how inspectors will make a judgement on each area. Signposts can be found to further information in the school inspection handbook.

Overall effectiveness

To reach a judgement for overall effectiveness, Ofsted will take into consideration the 4 key judgements below and use all of the evidence gathered to evaluate what it is like to attend the school.

Inspectors will always consider the extent to which the school meets different pupils’ needs, including students and pupils with SEND. 

Quality of education 

To evaluate the quality of education, inspectors will seek a top-level view of the curriculum through meetings with senior leaders and those responsible for the curriculum. 

The deep dive methodology is how Ofsted gains an understanding of the school curriculum through its intent, implementation and impact. Inspectors will want to see first-hand the experience of the pupils to enable them to understand how well leaders know what it is like to be a pupil in their setting. Ofsted expects opportunities to speak with pupils and complete work scrutiny. This will give them the biggest insight into the quality of education. 

Where to find more information in the school inspection handbook:

Grading descriptors for the quality of education can be found in section 453. This will give senior leaders an idea of what high-quality elements of education they are looking for. 

Behaviour and attitudes 

Behaviour and attitudes now hold a more prominent place in the new education inspection framework. Ofsted is looking at how providers and senior leaders create a calm and positive environment that promotes behaviour and the attitudes of the learners. 

Factors that Ofsted specifically looks at are found in section 300 of the handbook and include:

  • having a calm and orderly environment in the school and the classroom
  • setting clear routines and expectations for the behaviour of pupils across all aspects of school life
  • having a strong focus on attendance and punctuality 
  • having clear and effective behaviour and attendance policies with clearly defined consequences that are applied consistently and fairly by all staff
  • developing pupils’ motivation and positive attitudes to learning
  • fostering a positive and respectful school culture in which staff know and care about pupils
  • creating an environment in which pupils feel safe, and in which bullying, discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual violence – online or offline – are not accepted.

Where to find more information in the school inspection handbook:

Grading descriptors for behaviour and attitudes can be found in section 455. 

Personal development 

Personal development is now a stand-alone judgement area in the new framework. Ofsted wants to ensure that the quality of education extends beyond academics and that schools aim to develop in more diverse areas of life. Inspectors are looking to see that school leaders recognise that pupils are influenced beyond school and are working to build confidence and resilience. 

Personal development comes into different areas of the curriculum and Ofsted will want to see this through:

  • Citizenship
  • RE
  • PSHE
  • RSE
  • School trips and visits
  • Assemblies
  • British values
  • Literature
  • Extracurricular opportunities

Where to find more information in the school inspection handbook:

Section 326 has a comprehensive list of what makes up the evaluation and judgement for this key area. Grading descriptors for personal development can be found in section 457. 

Leadership and management 

Leadership and management is an important aspect of the school inspection. The emphasis here is on how leaders, governors, and trusts all work collaboratively to have a positive impact on pupils’ education. Ofsted is looking at factors that have been found through research to ‘have the strongest effect on the quality of education provided’. 

Some aspects that Ofsted inspectors will explore are (a full list can be found in section 346 of the handbook):

  • How leaders engage parents and the community
  • Whether professional development for teachers aligns with the school curriculum
  • There is a clear, ambitious vision for high-quality, inclusive education for all pupils. 

Within this key area, the lead inspector will also make a judgement on the effectiveness of safeguarding within the school. Ofsted inspectors will expect to see the guidance set out within KCSIE being effectively deployed.

It is also important to understand any recent safeguarding updates. This document is paramount to ensuring that as a school you are doing everything to promote the welfare of children. Ultimately this can impact your grading if safeguarding is found to be ineffective. 

To understand the expectations around and the safeguarding questions you and your team may be asked, read our blog on Ofsted safeguarding questions and answers

Where to find more information in the school inspection handbook:

For a full list of the important factors for this judgement, see section 346 of the school inspection handbook.

The Ofsted inspection framework is an essential document for school leaders to understand the expectations of schools and their teams during Ofsted inspections. Under the new Ofsted inspection framework, there is a more holistic approach to the inspection process. This can be beneficial for school leaders to have an opportunity to reflect and have honest discourse about the strengths and areas for improvement in their school. Having this mindset can help to take away the stress of any inspection and instead be used as an opportunity to showcase the excellent work going on in your school and to promote the further development of your teams.

Ensure you stay up to date with any Ofsted inspection framework updates.

What does an inspection look like under the new Ofsted Inspection Framework? 

In this section, our author Zoe guides you step by step through an inspection under the new Ofsted inspection framework, from the initial phone call to the inspection itself. She then explains the 5 areas of judgement Ofsted will grade your school on in their final report.

Receiving the call 

As part of the new EIF, the lead inspector will receive an initial phone call with the headteacher (or senior leader) before the inspection takes place. This could be anytime between 9.30am and 2pm the day before the inspection takes place.

The purpose of this initial conversation is to inform the school of the intended visit. The lead inspector will have 2 elements of focus: a short conversation planning the logistics of the inspection and a longer conversation focused on the education, curriculum design and progress the school has made since the last inspection. 

This conversation may include how the pandemic impacted the school. For a comprehensive breakdown of what to expect, section 96 of the school inspection handbook sets out everything the lead inspector will do and question during this initial phone call. 

As soon as this phone call is taken, the inspection has started! The lead inspector has started with some top-tier questioning and, as a senior leader, it is a great opportunity to ‘sell your school’. It is a chance for headteachers and senior leaders to set the tone and build a positive relationship through professional dialogue. Furthermore, the lead inspector has a duty to check on the well-being of the headteacher and address any concerns.

Inspection and deep dive 

Ofsted conducts an on-site visit to the school to conduct a deep dive into their selected subjects. Ofsted will focus on 3 or 4 curriculum subjects during the deep dive. 

It is during the deep dive that Ofsted will conduct most of their questioning to dig deeper into the curriculum, progress, assessment, leadership, behaviour and safeguarding. The school inspection handbook clearly states that a series of joined-up professional conversations about education [is] at the heart of inspection.

Expect questions and be open, honest and reflective in dialogue. Ofsted questions and answers will provide the majority of evidence for inspectors to make their judgement. Ofsted will not only ask questions to teachers and staff but also to pupils and students.

A key focus of the deep dive is the overall effectiveness of the quality of education. Inspectors will evaluate this using the three I’s: 

  • Intent
  • Implementation
  • Impact

What do the 3 I’s look like under the new inspection framework?

Intent 

When evaluating ‘intent’, Ofsted will focus on the knowledge and skills learners gain at each key stage through the curriculum. Part of this process involves inspectors looking at the scope of the curriculum and how school leaders have thought about the endpoints. 

In addition, they will be interested to see how well components have been broken down and how the content has been sequenced to ensure that learners acquire the relevant knowledge and skills. 

Ofsted will converse with subject leaders about progress and attainment in their subject, schemes of work and/or curriculum planning, question leaders and teachers about pupil premium children, children with SEND, school interventions for ‘plugging gaps’ and ask questions following lesson observations

Implementation

When evaluating ‘implementation’, Ofsted inspectors consider how the school curriculum has been developed and how it is taught and assessed to ensure pupil progress. 

Key judgments are made about the implementation of the curriculum through lesson observations, work scrutiny and conversations with teachers. A big element of this is how the curriculum is presented to learners to ensure they gain the key knowledge and skills and can remember what has been taught. 

Ofsted also wants to see that teachers are supported by school leaders to have expert subject knowledge to ensure that pupils are not at a disadvantage through ineffective teaching. 

Impact

The key judgments made on ‘impact’ are formed by considering the outcomes that learners achieve as a direct result of the education they receive. How Ofsted makes a judgement here is by checking that young people have developed the knowledge and skills across the curriculum to achieve well – this may be reflected in a number of ways (where relevant):

  • National tests
  • Examinations
  • Meeting government expectations
  • Gaining qualifications

Section 238 of the school inspection handbook is particularly useful here for school leaders. It provides an extensive breakdown of the most important factors that Ofsted considers through their research and inspection experiences. 

Collecting evidence 

The priority of all Ofsted inspections is to gather first-hand evidence. After the initial phone call, questionnaires will be sent to parents and staff to collate views about the school. 

Even though deep dive subjects will vary from school to school, the questions and themes will be largely the same. Ofsted will ask questions about the intent, implementation and impact of your curriculum as outlined above. They will collect, connect and triangulate evidence gathered for each area of judgement.

Ofsted inspectors will complete work scrutiny, speak with pupils and meet with many stakeholders in the school. In addition, Ofsted will focus on safeguarding to ensure that you carry out statutory safeguarding and child protection responsibilities to promote the welfare of children. 

Additionally, during their visit, Ofsted will scrutinise records, documentation and any information that relates to pupil behaviour, attendance and safeguarding. Ofsted is interested in how senior leadership encourage all staff members to have a professional curiosity for keeping children safe and uphold the statutory legislation set out in Keeping Children Safe in Education.

When gathering evidence on pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural education, personal development and/or behaviour and attitudes, Ofsted will collect evidence from anywhere that is relevant. This could include Religious Education, PHSE and assemblies. 

If you are looking to prepare for an upcoming Ofsted inspection or simply to continue your professional development, explore these articles on Ofsted:

Ofsted Inspection Framework FAQs 

What are the 5 areas of Ofsted inspection?

The five areas of Ofsted inspection are: Overall effectiveness, quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development and leadership and management.

What is the Ofsted inspection framework?

The Ofsted Education Inspection Framework (EIF) is a document that sets out how Ofsted will inspect maintained schools and academies, non-association independent schools, early years settings, further education and skills providers, prisons and young offender institutions and early years settings. 

What are the 4 standards of Ofsted?

The four standards that Ofsted makes judgments against are the quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development and leadership and management.

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