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9 months ago by Adam Haggag

What is Ofsted? Everything you need to know

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Ofsted is one of the most frequently mentioned words when it comes to education. As a teacher, parent or person interested in the world of education, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what Oftsed is and the impact it has on schools.


This guide will break down everything you need to know about Ofsted, including:


  • What it is

  • What the word Ofsted stands for

  • Ofsted Ratings

  • What is meant by ‘special measures’

  • How often inspections take place and how much notice is given

  • What happens before, during and after an inspection


What it is


Ofsted, an acronym for the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills is a government organization whose primary role is to evaluate and inspect the quality of education and care provided by education providers (schools, colleges…).


They play a crucial role in ensuring that institutions provide a high-quality learning experience and meet the required standards for students.


Their main responsibilities include:


  • Inspecting: Ofsted inspects maintained schools and other educational institutions (special schools, pupil referral units, etc..…).

  • Regulating: Ofsted regulates a range of early years and social care services to ensure they’re suitable for children and vulnerable young people

  • Reporting: Ofsted publishes reports to help improve the standard of education across the UK.


Ofsted ratings are often a deciding factor for parents when choosing a school for their child.


Ofsted ratings


Schools can receive 4 possible Ofsted ratings. These ratings are based on graded judgements in the following areas:


  • Personal Development

  • Leadership and Management

  • Behaviour and Attitudes

  • Quality of Education


As of September 2023. Oftsed has committed to making several changes in the way they inspect and report, notably around safeguarding.


The 4 potential grades schools can receive are:


  • Grade 1: Outstanding

  • Grade 2: Good

  • Grade 3: Requires Improvement

  • Grade 4: Inadequate


We will go into more detail for each grade below.


Grade 1: Outstanding


An Outstanding school provides exceptionally well for the needs of its pupils and prepares them for the next stage of their education or employment at the highest level. To achieve an Outstanding rating, schools need to meet the criteria in all 4 judgements. 


Grade 2: Good


For schools to achieve a Good rating, their quality of education must be at least good. They are likely to be good or outstanding in all other judgements. In some cases, one judgement will require improvement, however, as long as there is evidence of improvement in this area, they will be rated Good.


Grade 3: Requires Improvement


When a school is rated Requires Improvement, it is likely the case that the judgements all require some form of improvement. Their overall effectiveness would also require improvement. Safeguarding is effective and if there are any weaknesses, they are easily corrected.


Grade 4: Inadequate


When any of the key judgements are inadequate, the overall effectiveness of the school and therefore the rating given will be considered Inadequate. 


What are ‘special measures’?


If a school receives a grade 4 in nearly all categories including leadership and management, they are identified as requiring ‘special measures’.


Following this, Ofsted will provide an action plan with steps schools must take to improve their grade. In some cases, they will also send a consultant to support the school.


How often are schools inspected?


The frequency of inspection is dependent on the grade the school has been given by Ofsted.


A school judged Outstanding or Good will normally be inspected within 4 academic years following their last inspection.


A school judged Requires Improvement or Inadequate will normally be inspected within two and a half years.


This has however become more complicated to uphold in recent years, due to:


  • The pause to inspections during the pandemic, which extended the period for many schools

  • The government lifting the inspection exemption for outstanding schools, adding 3,000 schools to the schedule

  • The government asking Ofsted to inspect every school at least once by August 2025


How much notice is given to schools before inspection?


The Gov website states that Ofsted will normally notify a school of its inspection ‘between 10:30 am and 2 pm on the school day before the start of the inspection.’


If judged appropriately, Ofsted can inspect a school without providing any notice. In this instance, the lead inspector will telephone the school roughly 15 minutes before arriving.


What happens before an inspection?


As stated, Ofsted will notify the school on the school day before the inspection. 


Once informed, the lead inspector will contact the headteacher for a preparatory telephone conversation, discussing:


  • Inspection planning focusing on practical arrangements

  • The school’s progress since the last inspection


Schools are also provided with a letter setting out information that must be made available to the inspector by 8 a.m. For the full list, click here


Additionally, schools will be provided with a letter to pass on to parents, notifying them of the inspection. The letter will also explain how parents can use Oftsed Parent Pay to give their views.


What happens during an inspection?


Inspections usually last 2 days. The duration of the inspection as well as the size of the inspection team will vary according to the size of the school.


Inspectors will meet with school leaders, staff and sometimes even students and parents. They will observe lessons, review documents and assess the learning environment.


At the end of the final day, they will evaluate the evidence acquired. The inspection will end with a feedback meeting with the school. Those who may attend this meeting include:


  • Headteachers

  • The Chair of the school’s governing body

  • Trustees

  • CEO’s

  • Local authority representatives


They will ensure that those responsible for governance are clear about the findings from the inspection, providing sufficient detail. This allows attendees to understand how judgements have been reached.


What happens after an inspection?


Following an inspection, the lead inspector will write an inspection report and submit evidence to Ofsted shortly after. The report will include the rating given as well as detailed feedback on the school and the quality of the learning environment. 


This is also sent to the school to receive feedback.




Understanding Ofsted is fundamental for anyone in education, whether it be teachers, parents or education professionals. Knowing what it is, how it works and what ratings mean helps us ensure children are receiving the high-quality education they deserve.