The new Common Inspection Framework – key changes

Written by: Suzanne O'Connell | Published:
Photo: MA Education

This term has seen the introduction of Ofsted's new Common Inspection Framework. Suzanne O'Connell takes a more in-depth look at what primary school leaders should be aware of about the changes


The new Common Inspection Framework (CIF) came into effect on September 1. It has been introduced through the publication of three key documents:

  • School Inspection Handbook.
  • Common Inspection Framework: Education, skills and early years.
  • Inspecting Safeguarding in Early Years, Education and Skills Settings.

There are three significant structural changes to the new framework:

  • It is common to maintained schools, academies, non-association independent schools, further education and skills providers, and registered early years settings.
  • A different approach will be taken to the staffing of Ofsted with more inspectors being recent and serving heads.
  • "Good" schools will have a short, one-day inspection under Section 8 inspection arrangements.

Overall, these changes will be welcomed by schools. There have long been concerns about the consistency and integrity of inspectors. The move towards a more school-based inspection team, trained directly by Ofsted, should improve the view the profession has of inspection.

Launching the CIF, Sir Michael Wilshaw claimed it to be a "new era for Ofsted inspection", with the framework representing the "biggest changes to education inspection for more than two decades".

However, much of the framework sounds very similar to what has gone before. School leaders need to be clear as always about their self-evaluation, demonstrate high expectations and collect robust evidence.

We are told that the new framework includes greater emphasis on:

  • The impact of leaders' work in developing and sustaining an ambitious culture and vision in the school.
  • A broad and balanced curriculum.
  • Safeguarding.
  • Pupils' outcomes – inspectors will give most weight to the progress of pupils currently in the school rather than attainment and nationally published data.

In particular, school leaders should be aware of the importance of safeguarding in the CIF and the return to a more focused consideration of the curriculum. PSHE may still not be prescribed but inspectors will be looking at how you support your pupils and the programmes you offer as well as the range of enrichment activities available.

A new inclusion in the handbook is that of "clarification for schools". This "myth-busting" information had been published separately before. Inspectors are keen to make it clear that teachers don't have to hand in reams of planning or spend an excessive amount of time marking.

Teachers are told that neither they nor their students should have to complete additional work for the purpose of inspection. However, this advice may be hard for those at risk of a "requiring improvement" judgement or a category to implement.

The judgements

The judgement about overall effectiveness is supported by four additional judgements:

  • Effectiveness of leadership and management.
  • Quality of teaching, learning and assessment.
  • Personal development, behaviour and welfare.
  • Outcomes for children and learners.

Inspectors will first make judgements about the quality of teaching, personal development and outcomes. They will then judge the effectiveness of any early years provision and any 16 to 19 study programmes. This will lead into the judgement of leadership and management, including the arrangements for safeguarding. In making the final, overall effectiveness judgement, inspectors will also evaluate SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural development) and provision for SEN and disabled pupils.

The new judgement of "personal development, behaviour and welfare" indicates a broader consideration by inspectors of the overall offer that the school makes to its pupils. It includes consideration of:

  • Attendance and punctuality.
  • Attitude of learners such as confidence, pride in achievements and school and showing respect and valuing education.
  • Involvement in discussion and debate.
  • Careers guidance.
  • Conduct and self-discipline.
  • Prevention and dealing with bullying.
  • Pupils' safety and feeling safe.
  • Keeping healthy.
  • Staying safe online.
  • SMSC.

There will be a clear written judgement about behaviour and separate judgement about personal development and welfare in the report. The lower of the two will be the overall judgement.

In order to come to a decision, inspectors will use documentary evidence about behaviour, observations, records of exclusions and the views of parents, pupils, staff and others.

Case studies will be used to look at the experiences of different groups of pupils including the disabled, pupils with SEN, looked-after children and those with mental health needs.

Before the inspection

In most cases the period of notice for inspections is the same. Schools will normally receive notification around midday of the day prior to inspection.

No-notice inspections can be called where there are particular concerns such as in relation to safeguarding, rapidly declining standards or serious complaints from parents or staff.

A no-notice inspection can also take place if Ofsted has concerns about the breadth and balance of the curriculum and this includes where schools have not met the statutory requirement to publish information for parents.

The scrutiny of child protection documents is likely to increase. Before the inspection inspectors must now collect not only a list of referrals made to the designated person and those to the local authority, but also a list of all pupils who are open cases to children's services and for whom there is a multi-agency plan.

Among the records to give to inspectors is the use of internal isolation. If you have an isolation room of some kind then you need to make sure you are recording who uses it and how frequently and that you can demonstrate that it has a positive impact on behaviour.

Inspectors will look at your website and will want to see that your SEN information report is up there along with curriculum information, a statement on the use of the Pupil Premium, safeguarding guidance, and information about how you promote equality of opportunity.

During the inspection

Leadership and management has never been more important in the inspection framework. Leaders must "demonstrate an ambitious vision and have high expectations". There must be "rigorous performance management" and "robust self-assessment". Leaders must make sure that safeguarding arrangements protect children from the risks of radicalisation and extremism and that British values are actively promoted.

Consistency in performance is important. Trends, including improvement and decline of cohorts and groups, will be scrutinised. Schools are being encouraged to develop their own internal assessment arrangements but inspectors will want to see that these are accurate.

However, inspectors will take account of the different points that schools are at when it comes to adopting a system of assessment distinct from national curriculum levels.

Transition is becoming particularly important with a recognition of the slippage that tends to occur when pupils move from primary to secondary school. In the inspection of teaching and learning, inspectors will be looking for evidence of the information provided at transition points and how it is used.

Outcomes continue to be as important as ever. Inspectors will take account of current standards and progress as well as the school's own performance information. Inspectors will be particularly interested in the progress of disadvantaged pupils, the most able, the disabled and those with SEN.

After the inspection

If you receive a "good" for your inspection then you will heave a huge sigh of relief. You are one of the lucky schools that, hopefully, shouldn't need to go through this process in its entirety in three years time.

However, if you retain your requires improvement judgement or become a requiring improvement school then you can still expect to receive regular visits from an HMI who will be wanting to see that you are acting quickly on their recommendations.

There are positive changes within the CIF and the approach being taken to inspection. However, the "new era" does not bring with it any decrease in intensity and the pressure is still on in Ofsted's drive to make every school "good". 

  • Suzanne O'Connell is a freelance education writer and a former primary school headteacher.

Further information


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