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Ofsted Ratings and Reports Explained for Primary School Parents & Teachers

Depending on your viewpoint a school’s Ofsted rating is either an essential signifier of a school’s quality or a best guess from Ofsted inspectors who can do little more than scratch the surface of a school on their visit.

But for parents these Ofsted ratings are still often the most important decision making tool they have to choose between local schools.

Therefore you need to understand what these Ofsted ratings mean, what they can tell you and what they can’t tell you, what goes on at a school Ofsted inspection and what lies behind a school’s Ofsted rating.

What Does Ofsted stand for?

Ofsted stands for the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.

What is Ofsted?

Ofsted is the UK government department responsible for inspecting schools and other social care services for children.

Ofsted was introduced in 1992 as the Office for Standards in Education and in 2007 its brief was expanded to include children’s services work relating to social care and the courts.

It is part of the Department for Education (DfE) and is headed by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman (who has been Chief Inspector since 2017).

Ofsted is only responsible for inspecting schools in England; Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own inspecting bodies. 

What Ofsted’s main responsibilities?

The responsibilities of Ofsted fall into three areas:

  1. Ofsted inspects:
    • maintained schools and academies, some independent schools, and many other educational institutions and programmes outside of higher education
    • childcare, adoption and fostering agencies and initial teacher training
  2. Ofsted regulates:
    • a range of early years and children’s social care services, making sure they’re suitable for children and potentially vulnerable young people
  3. Ofsted reports:
    • publishing reports of their findings so they can be used to improve the overall quality of education and training
    • informing policymakers about the effectiveness of these services

Ofsted is a member of the National Preventive Mechanism which monitors and reports on places of detention.

Which schools and services are inspected by Ofsted?

All state schools (schools that receive government funding to stay open) in England are inspected by Ofsted. 

This is a very wide category, including: schools run by local authorities, free schools, academies, special schools, sixth-form and other further education colleges, and pupil referral units. 

Ofsted can also inspect some independent schools (schools that are privately funded, sometimes known as private schools), if they are not inspected by organisations like the ISEB, which only inspect independent schools. 

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What are the Ofsted ratings?

There are four possible Ofsted ratings that a school can receive. These Ofsted grades are based on inspectors judgements across four Ofsted categories – quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development of pupils, leadership and management as set out in their Education Inspection Framework last updated in 2019.

  1. Ofsted Grade 1: Outstanding
  2. Ofsted Grade 2: Good
  3. Ofsted Grade 3: Requires Improvement
  4. Ofsted Grade 4: Inadequate

Further detail on what these Ofsted ratings signify follows:

1. Ofsted Grade 1: Outstanding

An Outstanding school will receive Grade 1 for most if not all inspection categories, meaning they provide the highest quality education and care for their children. They will also not receive a Grade 3 or Grade 4 in any category.
 
Schools which receive an Outstanding rating are exempt from regular Ofsted inspections – they will not be inspected again unless concerns are raised or some very specific conditions are met. 

2. Ofsted Grade 2: Good

Good school will receive Grade 2 for most if not inspection categories, with one or two categories rated Grade 1 or Grade 3. Good schools will provide for all their pupils’ educational needs, and prepare them well for the next stage in their lives.
 
Good schools usually receive a short, one-day inspection from Ofsted once every four years. They will only be put through a full school inspection if there is a dramatic fall in performance. 

3. Ofsted Grade 3: Requires Improvement

A school rated Requires Improvement will receive a Grade 3 in most inspection categories. These schools still provide an acceptable quality of education and care for children, but will have areas where they could improve.
 
Schools rated Requires Improvement usually have another full Ofsted inspection within two years of their last inspection (the official government guidance says 30 months but it is almost always sooner). 

4. Ofsted Grade 4: Inadequate

If a school is rated Inadequate, it has received a Grade 4 in most inspection categories, and a Grade 3 for Leadership and Management. This means the school is failing to provide an acceptable quality of education and care for children and will need to make significant improvements immediately.

What happens next when a school is rated Inadequate by Ofsted?

Schools rated Inadequate usually have another full inspection within three years, to give them some time to make the necessary changes, but the exact dates are agreed between the school and Ofsted. If they are state-maintained schools they are also required to become academies, so that it is easier for officials to intervene if it becomes necessary. 

Special Measures Schools

There is one more ‘unofficial’ category: Special Measures. If a school receives a Grade 4 in most categories including Leadership and Management it receives a ‘Special Measures’ rating and requires direct intervention from Ofsted. 

Special Measures schools are given on Action Plan for how they must improve, and are regularly monitored to check that they are on track. So-called ‘super heads’, Ofsted-approved consultants from outside the school, are also brought in if needed. 

How many schools receive each Ofsted rating? 

Ofsted have inspected 15,465 primary schools since 2012. Of those:

  • 1597 received an Outstanding rating (10%)
  • 11,871 received a Good rating (77%)
  • 1540 received a Requires Improvement rating (10%)
  • 457 received an Inadequate rating (3%)
ofsted ratings all frameworks

However, since the introduction of the new Education Inspection Framework in 2019, 2102 primary schools have been inspected in England. Of these: 

  • 33 have been judged Outstanding (2% of the total)
  • 1657 have been judged Good (79% of the total)
  • 353 have been judged Requires Improvement (17% of the total)
  • 54 have been judged Inadequate or Special Measures (3% of the total)
Ofsted ratings for schools post-EIF
Overall ratings and ratings per category for schools since the introduction of the EIF in 2019

Even though the sample size is smaller, we can see that the new framework seems to have stricter guidelines for schools, as a smaller percentage of schools are rated Outstanding and more are rated either Good or Requires Improvement.

However the percentage of schools judged Inadequate has stayed almost exactly the same, reflecting how hard it is to receive this rating.

(Data taken from Watchsted)

What are the four Ofsted categories? 

The four categories covered in an Ofsted inspection are: 

  • Quality of education – how well the school provides the education pupils need at that stage of their learning.
  • Behaviour and attitudes – how pupils, staff, parents and governors feel about the school, and how pupils behave in and out of lessons.
  • Personal development of pupils – how well the schools provides services such as pastoral care, PSHE etc., preparing them for the future.
  • Leadership and management – how well the school’s Senior Leadership Team (Headteacher, Deputy Heads and other school leaders) manage the school.

Under the new Ofsted framework 2019, inspections focus less on academic and exam results, and instead look more closely at how well schools develop children as a whole – how they encourage them to build resilience, become better citizens etc. There is also a focus on how schools manage pupil behaviour, from smaller issues such as chatting in class (known as ‘low level disruption’ to more serious problems such as bullying. 

The 2019 Education Inspection Framework (EIF)

The EIF is the document that sets out Ofsted’s inspection principles. Questions such as ‘What do Ofsted look for?‘, ‘What should we expect from inspectors?’ and ‘What will inspectors expect from teachers?’ are covered here, as well as detailed information on each of the four categories.

In 2019 Ofsted published an updated version of the EIF that introduced several new aspects to inspections. The EIF was further revised following the May 2019 Ofsted Consultation.

One of the most important new ideas from the 2019 EIF were the Ofsted deep dives, in-depth looks at specific subjects that inspectors will decide on and inform schools of before the inspection begins.

Deep dives were introduced as part of Ofsted’s focus on inspecting schools for a curriculum that is both varied and rich – as high quality as it can be.

What can trigger an Ofsted inspection?

Ofsted carries out regular inspections of schools rated Good, Requires Improvement, and Inadequate – sometimes prearranged.

But for a school rated Outstanding to be inspected, or for a school to be inspected outside the ‘usual’ cycle, Ofsted must believe there are one or more causes for concern at the school.

The most well-known example is falling results. Even though academic results are less of a focus under the new inspection framework, a dramatic fall in results is usually a sign that something has changed for the worse in the school.

Ofsted will also inspect a school out of its cycle if they receive complaints about the school for other reasons e.g. a parent or teacher suggests that there is a serious safeguarding concern.

How much notice do schools get before an Ofsted inspection?

Schools are usually given one working day’s notice before an Ofsted inspection, regardless of their previous rating. 

However, Ofsted can begin an inspection without notice if it believes this is necessary e.g. because a parent or other external source has informed them of a specific and serious concern. 

What happens during an Ofsted inspection? 

Before an inspection formally begins, inspectors will read the previous Ofsted report (if there is one) and other important data e.g. number of pupils, academic performance, funding information, and any complaints made about the school.

Ofsted will also send parents a letter asking them to give their opinions on the school via their Parent View website. This helps inspectors get a better understanding of how the school is viewed by families on a long-term level.

Inspections will last anywhere between one day for a short inspection, and three to four days for a full inspection. Schools will be inspected by a different number of inspectors based on their size and type e.g. secondary schools are visited by more inspectors than primary schools. 

During an inspections, the inspectors will sit in and observe lessons, speak to pupils, staff, parents and governors, look at pupils’ books and work, and check school records against the information they already have. 

Inspectors speak to pupils not only to see if they understand the work they’re doing, but if they are enjoying it and engaged with it, and whether they have any concerns to raise about the school – for example bullying. 

What happens after an Ofsted inspection?

Once the inspection has been completed, the inspectors will write up an inspection report of their findings, including the overall rating the school will receive. 

Schools are usually sent a draft copy of the report so they can give feedback –  mostly about whether there are any factual errors (e.g. the wrong number of pupils). 

How long does it take for an Ofsted report to be published?

The full report will be published within 28 days of the inspection taking place for anyone to read. They can be found here: https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/

Looking for more information about Ofsted inspections or the primary school system in general?

Hopefully this post has given you a much better idea of how Ofsted inspections work and what to expect when you hear or read about a school’s Ofsted rating.

But if you’re looking for even more detailed information about the new inspection framework, how schools can prepare for inspections, or other parts of the primary school system, try these posts:

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Anantha Anilkumar
Anantha Anilkumar
Content Editor
As a member of the content team at Third Space Learning, Anantha helps to ensure that teachers everywhere can enjoy the blogs and resources created by the team. Before coming to TSL, Anantha worked as a teacher and a marketing analyst.
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