Short inspections: 10 things you need to know


Last month’s blog mentioned our survey on how well school teachers were informed about the September inspection arrangements. There’s still a fair bit of speculation on the short (section 8) inspections for good schools/providers.


At events I attend, and also on Twitter, a few themes keep cropping up, so, I’ve put together 10 points below outlining what these new inspections are about.

1.    They will be roughly every three years so we can identify decline or improvement earlier. (Practically, because of scheduling constraints, good schools and further education and skills (FES) providers are likely to be inspected in the period between 33 and 47 months after their previous short inspection.)

2.    We give schools half a day’s notice and FES providers two days’ notice (though Ofsted has the power to inspect without notice where we have concerns).

3.    Short inspections of schools are for one day and are led by one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI); a team inspector will accompany the lead HMI in secondary schools and large primaries. In FES, inspections may take two days and need a larger team depending on the size and type of provider being inspected.

4.    Inspectors start with the presumption that the school/provider is still good. This allows honest, challenging, professional dialogue between inspectors and senior leaders, rather than a ‘cliff-edge’ experience.

Inspectors check:

  • whether leaders have a sound grasp of relative strengths and weaknesses in their school/provider
  • if there’s a credible plan to address the areas for concern and maintain the strengths
  • if the safeguarding is effective and the culture is sufficiently aspirational

5.    During the short inspection, inspectors look to validate the leaders’ assessment and test it against observation, discussion with staff and students, and data. They share emerging findings with senior leaders.

6.    At the end of the inspection, if the school/provider remains good, inspectors give clear, helpful feedback to leaders. If there are other things that can be done to offer a better experience for children and learners, they say so.

Rather than a new set of judgements, the principal judgements that inspectors make are whether the school/provider remains good, and whether safeguarding is effective. Although HMI might conclude that particular areas are weaker than they were before, they will give credit if this has been identified and if effective leadership is moving the institution forward.

For example, let’s say results in a school/provider have suffered a dip because of problems in the maths department while everything else looks stable. If inspectors assess that the leadership is clear about the reasons behind this and there is a credible plan for addressing the situation, in that instance, the ‘good’ judgement would be confirmed, and it’ll have a clear mandate to improve the areas identified over the next few years.

7.    After the inspection, HMI report their findings in a letter to the head/principal/CEO confirming that the school/provider remains good, explaining what inspectors saw, and highlighting areas for improvement. The school/provider returns to the short inspection cycle unless concerns are raised in the meantime.

8.    In some cases, if an inspector believes that standards may have declined or improved from good, they will tell senior leaders and convert the inspection into a full inspection to gather sufficient evidence. They will call in a full inspection team to support them, usually within 24-48 hours in a school and within 15 days in an FES provider.

A decision to convert does not mean the outcome of the full inspection is pre-determined – the overall effectiveness judgement may go up or down or may confirm that the provider remains good.

9.    After a full inspection, inspectors will give clear, professional feedback to leaders on why they believe the school/provider has declined, remains good, or improved to outstanding. The findings are published as a standard inspection report.

10. If the school/provider is judged:

  • Requires Improvement or Inadequate – Ofsted’s monitoring processes kick in to provide support and challenge.
  • Good – it returns to the short inspection cycle (approximately every three years).
  • Outstanding – it is exempt from routine inspection and will only undergo full inspection if performance drops.

I hope this helps to an extent to demystify the short inspection process a little. There are five videos on our website where you can listen to headteachers, a principal and a childminder who took part in short inspection pilots last summer. Here, head teacher Simon Eardley talks about his experience of short inspections:

We have already had a lot of useful feedback about how these inspections are working, but I would be grateful for ongoing feedback from those of you who have a short inspection; please use the post-inspection questionnaire and contact me or your Regional Director to tell us how you found it.

Meanwhile, I hope you all manage to get some rest and enjoyment over the festive break.


  1. Comment by S. Veasey-Smith posted on

    My child's special school was previously at good. Notice was given to say inspectors were in one day. The next day a message was sent out to say they were in again. So 2 consecutive days and have been judged from good previously to outstanding. I thought they would have to have a longer inspection for that to happen? Also parent view only appeared to have got views from approximately 20% of parents yet in the report it frequently refers to most parents. How can it be most if most is only of 20%?
    Do inspectors have to have qualifications /SEN teaching experience in order to inspect a special needs school?

    • Replies to S. Veasey-Smith>

      Comment by michelenevard posted on

      Hi, Ofsted conduct short inspections of schools that were judged good at their most recent section 5 inspection. These inspections last for one day and take place approximately every three years. When the outcome of a short inspection is that the school remains good and there is sufficient evidence of improved performance to suggest that the school may be judged outstanding, the short inspection will be converted to a section 5 inspection, usually within 48 hours. More inspectors may join the HMI lead inspector on site. This may include HMI and/or Ofsted Inspectors as team inspectors and they will gather and evaluate evidence in order to make a full set of graded judgements. Similarly, where it appears that the school might no longer be good, inspectors will return for a second day.

      Although Parent View is one of the main methods for gathering the views of parents and carers, inspectors will also use other approaches to gather evidence of parents’ views about the school. This includes talking to some parents formally or informally. Parents can also ask to speak directly with an inspector or pass on messages to the inspection team through the inspection administrators. The report should make clear when referring to parents’ views that this is based on the responses received rather than reflecting the views of all parents. The factual section of the report will normally indicate the level of response.

      The staffing of these inspections is based on inspectors’ knowledge and experience. For pupil referral units and special schools (including maintained residential special schools and non-maintained special schools with residential provision), the inspection will be led by an HMI accompanied by one or more team inspectors. I can confirm that the team selected for a special school inspection consists of inspectors with past experience in this background and SEN training.

  2. Comment by Deb posted on

    Can anyone answer this question for me - I was told that if you are a recently appointed headteacher of a good school, Ofsted will leave you for a year before inspecting?

    • Replies to Deb>

      Comment by michelenevard posted on

      Hi, Good schools do not qualify for improvement periods for new headteachers. This is only for schools judged to ‘require improvement’, where a new headteacher joins the school after the section 5 judgement. In this case, the headteacher can write to the Ofsted regional director to ask for the timing of the next inspection to take place later than the normal 24 months from publication of the previous inspection report. If the regional director decides to delay, the school will be re-inspected no later than 30 months after the publication of the previous report.

  3. Comment by Margaret posted on

    Can I ask how long do I wait for a draft report (letter) after a one day inspection? Thanks

    • Replies to Margaret>

      Comment by michelenevard posted on

      Hi, Following a short inspection, the draft report will normally be sent to a school within 3-5 days.

  4. Comment by Bex posted on

    Hello. I have been told by a colleague that if there have been a rapid succession of headteachers within a few years (in our case 3 headteachers in 4 years at a good rated school) this will trigger an early Ofsted inspection. Is this true?

    • Replies to Bex>

      Comment by michelenevard posted on

      Hi, A new headteacher does not necessarily trigger an inspection, nor delay it. A succession of short stay appointments could, however, be an indicator of other concerns about a school. Were that to be the case, this might inform the timing on an inspection of a school.

  5. Comment by Sandy posted on

    My school was due an inspection any time from December 2011, yet a new head joined the school and so we thought it would be delayed a year to allow her to settle in. It's now 2017 and still no ofsted. We were judged as outstanding back in 2008 but this was 9 years ago! Is this unusual to be left alone for so long?!

    • Replies to Sandy>

      Comment by michelenevard posted on

      Hi, Ofsted is required to inspect all schools to which section 5 of the Education Act applies ‘within five school years’ of the last inspection. However, some schools are exempt from this requirement if they were judged to be outstanding in their overall effectiveness at their most recent section 5 inspection. Exempt schools are subject to risk assessment. If the risk assessment process raises concerns about the performance of an exempt school, it may be inspected at any time after the completion of the risk assessment under section 8. For further information please see paragraphs 13 – 19 of the School inspection handbook.

  6. Comment by Janine Cobbe posted on

    My school was previously good but told on Monday we would be having a 2 day inspection before they even came in. Is this common?

    • Replies to Janine Cobbe>

      Comment by michelenevard posted on

      Hi, Schools judged to be good at their previous section 5 inspection will normally receive a one-day short inspection, carried out under section 8 of the Education Act 2005, approximately every three years, as long as the quality of education remains good at each short inspection. However, some good schools will automatically receive a full section 5 inspection instead of a section 8 short inspection, and this will occur when Ofsted’s risk assessment process indicates that the quality of provision may have deteriorated significantly. Schools may also receive a full section 5 inspection where there has been a significant change in the school, for example, through the merger with another school that closes or by the addition of a new phase or key stage.


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