How Ofsted inspects maintained schools and academies

A guide for schools about Ofsted inspections and grades.

This guidance is about schools that have been inspected. There is also guidance on how Ofsted will select new schools for inspection.

Timings of inspections

Inspections can take place at any point after the end of 5 working school days in the autumn term. For example, if pupils return to school on a Wednesday, inspection can take place as early as the following Wednesday.

A school can request to defer or cancel an inspection, but only in exceptional circumstances. If pupils are receiving education in the school, an inspection will usually go ahead.

How often Ofsted inspects a school depends on the findings of its previous inspection.

Schools judged ‘outstanding’

Some schools judged outstanding at their most recent inspection are exempt from routine inspection. However, Ofsted can inspect them if Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector or the Secretary of State for Education has concerns about their performance. Ofsted may also inspect these schools as part of Ofsted’s survey work.

This exemption doesn’t apply to maintained nursery schools, special schools or pupil referral units (PRUs).

Schools judged ‘good’

A school judged good at its most recent inspection will receive a one-day short inspection, approximately every 3 years, as long as the quality of education remains good. Good schools can have their short inspections converted to full inspections under section 5 if the school’s performance has improved or declined.

Schools judged ‘requires improvement’

Ofsted may monitor a school judged as requires improvement. The school will usually have a full re-inspection under section 5 after around 2 years.

Schools judged ‘inadequate’

When Ofsted judges a school inadequate, it places the school in a category of concern. This means Ofsted judges the school either to have serious weaknesses or to require special measures.

The Secretary of State will issue an academy order to a maintained school judged inadequate and placed in a category of concern. The school will then become a sponsored academy. Ofsted will not usually monitor the school unless there are concerns or there is a delay in the school becoming a sponsored academy.

Where an academy is judged inadequate and placed in a category of concern, Ofsted will carry out monitoring inspections. If the academy is judged inadequate and is rebrokered to a new sponsor trust to become a new sponsored academy, Ofsted will not usually carry out any monitoring inspections.

Where an academy is judged as having serious weaknesses, and is not rebrokered to a new sponsor trust, Ofsted will carry out monitoring inspections. Ofsted will re-inspect under section 5 within 18 months of the school’s last full inspection.

Where an academy is judged to require special measures, and is not rebrokered to a new sponsor trust, Ofsted will usually carry out a first monitoring inspection under section 8 within 3 to 6 months of its last full inspection under section 5. Ofsted will usually carry out a full inspection under section 5 within 2 years of the academy’s last full inspection.

Where a non-maintained special school that is subject to inspection under section 5 is judged inadequate, Ofsted will carry out monitoring inspections in the same way as an academy judged as inadequate that is not re-brokered to a new sponsor trust.

Who inspects schools?

School inspectors are:

  • Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) employed directly by Ofsted
  • Contracted Ofsted Inspectors

Notice of an inspection

Ofsted will notify the school of its inspection at around midday on the working day before the start of the inspection.

Ofsted can inspect any school without notice where judged appropriate. In such cases, the lead inspector will normally phone the school about 15 minutes before arriving.

Before the inspection begins

Ofsted provides schools with a letter to tell all parents of pupils at the school about the inspection and options for providing their views. Ofsted also asks schools to notify other relevant bodies, including those providing alternative provision for pupils, of the inspection.

Inspectors will look at Parent View to see the views of parents. Inspectors will also take into account the results of any past parent surveys, or other surveys, carried out by the school.

During the inspection

The inspection will normally last 2 full days.

Inspectors will spend most of their time observing lessons and gathering evidence to inform their judgements.

Inspectors will talk to a range of pupils and staff about important aspects of the school’s work. Inspectors will also take account of external views of the school’s performance. This may include any evaluation of the school’s performance by the local authority.

Inspectors will make their final judgements when all the evidence has been collected and considered.

The lead inspector will ensure that the headteacher and senior staff:

  • are kept up to date about the inspection
  • understand how the inspection team reaches its judgements
  • have opportunities to clarify how evidence is used to reach judgements
  • have the opportunity to present evidence

Inspectors will invite the school’s headteacher to:

  • take part in joint lesson observations, as agreed with the lead inspector
  • receive regular updates from the lead inspector

They will also normally:

  • attend the formal inspection team meetings at the end of each day of the inspection
  • comment on the inspectors’ recommendations to ensure that they understand them

Inspectors will give oral feedback to teachers and other staff about the work they see.


Before leaving the school, the lead inspector must make clear:

  • the grades awarded for each judgement
  • that these grades are provisional and may be subject to change following quality assurance procedures and should remain confidential
  • that the written report will mention the main points in the feedback
  • how the report will be published
  • the complaints procedure
  • where relevant, the implications of the school being judged as requires improvement
  • where relevant, the implications of the school being placed in special measures or deemed to have serious weaknesses

The inspection team will explain its judgements to the senior leadership team and those responsible for the governance of the school. The school should invite all of those responsible for the governance of the school to hear the feedback.

After the inspection visit

The lead inspector will write a report setting out the inspection findings.

Ofsted sends the draft report to the school for a factual accuracy check, usually within 10 working days of the end of the inspection. The school has 1 working day to comment on the draft.

If Ofsted places the school in a category of concern there will be 5 days for the school to comment on the draft. Ofsted publishes the final report on the Ofsted website within 19 working days of the end of the inspection.

If Ofsted judges the school inadequate, the report is usually published within 28 working days of the end of the inspection.

A copy of the report is sent to:

  • the school’s headteacher
  • the local authority
  • the appropriate authority or proprietor (for example, the governing body or the academy trust where the local authority is not the appropriate authority)
  • the person or body responsible for appointing foundation governors if the school has them (including diocesan or other appropriate authorities in the case of schools with a religious character)
  • other prescribed persons such as the Department for Education (DfE) or the Education Funding Agency (EFA)

The school must also supply a copy of the report to all parents of registered pupils at the school.

Complaints about an inspection

Any concerns or complaints about the inspection should be raised immediately with the lead inspector during the inspection.

For issues that can’t be resolved during the inspection, a formal complaint can be lodged.

Further guidance

You can read the full documents and guidance for inspections of maintained schools and academies.

Published 3 December 2014
Last updated 23 August 2016 + show all updates
  1. Updated to reflect changes in legislation.
  2. Updated to reflect guidance from September 2015.
  3. First published.