Getting the inside track on Ofsted requirements

Written by: HTU | Published:

The School Inspection Handbook, subsidiary guidance, and a growing number of Ofsted briefings – where would we be without the wealth of inspectors’ guidelines issued by Ofsted HQ? As yet another batch is released, we look at some of the key messages

Ofsted has released yet another mini-library of guidance documents for its school inspectors.

But, they are not only for the inspectors – the documents are clearly meant for sharing, and their accessibility on Ofsted’s website and through Ofsted newsletters means that schools should pay them as much attention as the inspectors themselves (if not more).

It is a little like being privy to the questions and answers on a test paper before you take it. They tell you what inspectors will be looking for and what they expect to see.

In the face of the growing autonomy of schools, it is one way of ensuring that there is still control over what is done there. Put it in a briefing and who can risk ignoring it? Given which, here is our summary of some of the notable changes and key advice from the latest batch of documentation.

The handbook 

Perhaps the most important of the guidance documents, the April 2014 School Inspection Handbook emphasises that the feedback from inspectors and the draft Ofsted report are confidential. 

Feedback must be restricted to the relevant senior personnel and the provisional grades given, “must not be shared under any circumstances”. 

Of course, this takes no account of the fact that you will want to share with your staff as soon as possible the outcomes of the inspection and most school leaders will want to find some way of conveying the main messages and likely grade from the inspection process.

Subsidiary guidance

The main changes here include those to floor standards and measures of accountability. There is also an interesting addition about the virtual school headteacher. This post has now become mandatory following the Children and Families Act. It is emphasised that it is the virtual headteacher for looked-after children who will have the final say on how money for them is spent. The virtual head will pass the money on to individual schools and some of the money may be kept centrally.

The briefings 

Seventeen additional briefings were published in this batch and they provide a mixture of useful summaries of current legislation (such as inspecting equalities), background and explanations to provision (such as inspecting children’s centres), and practical guidance for schools (such as  preparing a school self-evaluation). 

The briefings do set out clearly what inspectors should expect to see and, as such, what schools must have in place. In some cases, such as Preparing a School Self-Evaluation, it is stressed that other formats are acceptable. 

However, most schools will want to at least ensure that they have transferred the principles from this template into their own documentation. Not all the briefing papers will apply to every setting. This outline should help you identify those that are essential reading for your school. 

Essential for all

It is likely that on your agenda at the moment is the new duty to support pupils with medical needs. The briefing Pupils with Medical Needs is useful for indicating what inspectors will expect to see in schools and this should be shared with your governing body. 

The briefing Inspecting e-Safety in Schools should be given careful consideration and used to help audit your current policy and practice. It includes a useful list of good and outstanding practice as well as sample questions for pupils and staff. 

Some schools have been surprised that their pupils have been questioned by inspectors about homophobic bullying. The briefing Exploring the School’s Actions to Prevent and Tackle Homophobic and Transphobic Bullying includes the questions that inspectors might ask your pupils as well as what they will expect to see from policies, staff training and governors.

It can be difficult to be clear about exactly what you should have in place to demonstrate that you fulfil equalities legislation. This is also true for those inspecting it. 

The briefing Inspecting Equalities goes into some depth in exploring responsibilities and is a useful check for schools that they do have everything in place.

Essential for some

If your school has a nurture room or other form of “time-out” provision then you should make sure that you read through the briefing Additional Provision to Manage Behaviour and the Use of Exclusion in some depth.

The main message is that where pupils are outside the classroom their academic progress must continue to be supported alongside their social, emotional and behavioural needs. 

Any form of “time-out” provision should be part of an overall behaviour strategy and used sparingly. Inspectors must find out more about the provision made after day six of a fixed-term exclusion and investigate exclusions from nursery or reception.

For schools with EAL learners, the briefing English as an Additional Language is a useful checklist with examples of good practice and information about the kind of support that inspectors might expect to see for new arrivals and more advanced learners too. Links are provided to other materials, including Department for Education guidance.

Most primary schools seem to have tackled and adopted additional sports funding with ease. If you still have concerns or are lacking ideas, the briefing Inspecting Primary School PE and School Sport: New Funding provide examples of effective use that you might like to sample from. 


There is a thread running through the briefings to do with partnership working. As schools are increasingly linked with one another in a range of different ways, Ofsted is looking for the balance between inspecting the individual setting and its wider family. In the subsidiary guidance, it is pointed out that inspectors must be sure they understand the governance arrangements of the school and “identify and engage with the right people”. The overall message is that the wider family are not part of the inspection as such, only in respect of the value they add to the school that is being inspected. 

The briefing Coordinated Inspections of Hard Federations and Shared Sixth Forms reminds inspectors that they, “are not inspecting the federation but rather, the impact and effectiveness of the partnership arrangements”.

Those engaged in or contemplating partnership work should also look at Inspecting the Effectiveness of Partnerships. 

It might also be interesting to read Inspecting Faith Schools to see the advice given to inspectors about etiquette when visiting.

Take a look if you can 

The DfE has been very quiet generally about extended provision in recent years. However, it is interesting to see that it makes a slight comeback in the briefing Inspecting Extended School Provision. This briefing will be useful to you if you have extended provision but it also acts as a reminder that schools shouldn’t be discounting the importance of extended services. 

Arrangements with other settings and types of provision are covered in Registered Early Years Provision Managed by the Governing Body and Inspecting Children’s Centres. You might also be interested to read about inspection of the 16 to 19 study programme. 


Whatever you feel about the timing of the release of these documents, we should perhaps be grateful that Ofsted provides an insight into what they expect from us before they come to call.  

Ofsted documents:

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