Staying Ofsted-ready as a governor

Use our checklists to be confident that when Ofsted arrives, you've got everything under control. Download our list of questions that inspectors might ask governors, and follow our links to brush up on any areas you're not sure of.

Last reviewed on 28 September 2023
School types: All · School phases: All
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  1. What to do throughout the year
  2. Questions inspectors might ask governors
  3. What to do after you get the call
  4. How you're involved during the inspection

What to do throughout the year

Download the checklist below to see what key things you should check and do regularly.

The tasks in this list relate to your core functions, so you're probably already doing a lot of these things.

Questions to consider as a board

Consider these questions regularly to make sure you understand these key areas of school life and what your board and leaders are doing to drive improvement.
  • School vision:
    • What is our vision for the school over the next 2 years?
    • How will we achieve this?
  • Behaviour:
    • What's pupil behaviour like in our school?
    • What are we doing to encourage good/address bad behaviour?
  • School improvement:
    • How have we deployed ways to contribute to teaching and learning improvements?
    • What are the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the school?
    • How will we further develop the senior leadership team (SLT)?
  • Pupils:
    • What are our expectations of pupils?
    • How does this relate to the school’s results?
    • What are the main barriers to pupils’ learning?
  • Staff:
    • What are our expectations of staff?
    • How have we supported and challenged senior leaders?
  • Parents:
    • How do we make sure that we listen to parents?
  • Governing board:
    • How confident are we that our board is carrying out statutory duties around health and safety, and safeguarding? How do we know?
    • What about governor training - are we confident that we're supporting governors where they lack skills/knowledge? 

Paragraphs 34 to 62 of the School Inspection Handbook will help you and your school leaders predict the likely timeframe for your next inspection (though Ofsted can inspect your school at any time if it has concerns).

If you know your school is due an inspection, consider fortnightly meetings. You could have 2 governors attend a 1-hour meeting with staff every fortnight on topics such as safeguarding, pupil progress, teaching and learning, and curriculum development to help develop their knowledge.

Questions inspectors might ask governors

Use our list of questions to prepare for inspection and see suggestions of evidence you can provide to support your answers.

Tip: delegate the questions to the relevant governors and then combine your answers into a master document covering all the questions. Review it regularly (e.g. once every half term) to see if it needs any updates. 

We developed our list based on:

  • The inspection experiences of 3 governing boards under the 2019 framework
  • Recommendations from our associate education experts
  • A blog post by Sean Harford, Ofsted's national director of education

Our list covers:

Quality of education

The 'quality of education' judgement focuses on your school's curriculum.

Inspectors will look at your curriculum's:

  • Intent: the knowledge and skills pupils will gain at each stage
  • Implementation: the way your school staff teach and assess the curriculum, to support pupils to build their knowledge and to apply that knowledge as skills
  • Impact: the outcomes pupils achieve as a result of the education they’ve received

You don't need to know the granular details about how your school delivers the curriculum. For governors, questions will be general and focus on policy and results. 


The role of data in an inspection

Even though data is not a key factor in grading schools, it still plays a role in inspection. You should have an understanding of your school's performance and know:

  • How pupils’ attainment and progress compares to other schools nationally, especially if your school is in the top or bottom 20% in the country
  • Trends in your school’s performance over time
  • The performance of pupils eligible for pupil premium funding compared with their peers

You should also be aware of the data in the Analyse School Performance (ASP) report. See how to analyse your school's performance data.

Behaviour and attitudes

This focuses on the school environment. For example, be prepared to describe your school's strategies for:

  • Creating a safe, calm, orderly and positive environment
  • Behaviour management
  • Attendance
  • Bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment
Read more about how Ofsted inspects 'behaviour and attitudes'.

Personal development

Inspectors want to know how effectively your school develops pupils' characters and confidence, and guides their development into responsible, respectful and active citizens. They might ask you how your school:

  • Promotes British values, such as mutual tolerance and respect, and the value of democracy
  • Creates an inclusive environment that meets the needs of all pupils 
  • Enables pupils to maintain their wellbeing, online and offline
  • Develops pupils' understanding of healthy relationships 
  • Uses curriculum subjects such as citizenship, religious education and relationships and sex education (RSE) to contribute to pupils' personal development 

We have an article on how Ofsted inspects 'personal development' that goes into further detail.

Leadership and management

As part of the 'leadership and management' judgement, Ofsted will focus on:

  1. Leadership and management (i.e. the effectiveness of the headteacher, senior leadership team and, where relevant, trust leaders)
  2. Governance
  3. Safeguarding

1. Leadership and management

You might be asked how you verify the accuracy of what the headteacher tells you.

Make sure governors' questions in holding senior leaders to account are accurately recorded in the minutes of governing board meetings. The responses should also be reflected in the school improvement plan (SIP), as they're likely to be the school's priorities for improvement.

The SIP should be further evidence of the governing board's response to challenges and how you're using success criteria to monitor progress and impact.

Financial oversight is one of the governing board's key duties. Even if you aren't on the finance committee, you should have a basic understanding of:

  • How finances are managed (scheme of delegation)
  • How pupil premium and SEN funding are monitored
  • The impact of targeted funding such as the PE and sport premium
  • How the governing board has held the school to account for its spending

If you're unsure about your role in finance, our overview of monitoring school finance is a good place to start.

2. Governance

Inspectors want to make sure you understand your role as a governor and your statutory duties (you can find out more about those in our articles for maintained schools and academies)

Specifically, they want to know how well you fulfil your role and how well you know your school. They'll likely ask you about:

  • Your vision for the school
  • Your school's culture
  • What issues your school faces
  • Its strengths and weaknesses
  • How the governing board responds to challenges

If certain statutory requirements aren't being met, they'll want to know why. For example, they might ask if you're aware that the school website doesn't meet requirements. 


'Strengths' and 'weaknesses' of your school

Even ‘outstanding’ schools will have areas for improvement.

You should be familiar with your school's last Ofsted report and Ofsted's inspection data summary report. These will tell you:

  • Which areas Ofsted has flagged for investigation
  • Whether there are particular subjects that aren't performing as strongly as others
  • Whether there are particular pupil groups that aren't performing as strongly as others
  • Where Ofsted was critical of your school in the past, and where they'll be looking to see improvement this time

You should be aware of your school's strategies to address any issues, as they should be included in your school's self-evaluation form (SEF) or school improvement plan (SIP). 

If attendance is an issue, for example, you should be able to say whether this affects a particular pupil group (e.g. boys, girls, disadvantaged pupils), and explain how your school is handling it.  

Inspectors will check you're monitoring issues by looking for evidence in the governing board's minutes or other documentation.

3. Safeguarding

You're expected to be familiar with all the statutory requirements related to safeguarding and know how to show you're compliant. Inspectors will likely ask: 

  • How you keep policies up to date and compliant
  • How you make sure policies are implemented
  • How effectively your school addresses general risks to children and risks that might be specific to the communities you serve (e.g. risk of female genital mutilation or radicalisation)
  • How safe the children feel and how you know

SEND provision

Ofsted won't give your school a separate graded judgement on its special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision. Instead, inspectors use evidence related to SEND provision to inform other judgements. 

Inspectors will take into account specific factors regarding your school’s SEND provision. You can read more about how Ofsted inspects SEND in our other article.

We have a separate list of questions Ofsted might ask governors about SEND.

Talk to your headteacher and school improvement adviser

They'll be able to offer guidance as to what Ofsted's key lines of enquiry might be, based on your school's:

  • End-of-Key Stage data
  • Historical performance
  • Last inspection report
  • Initial inspection phone call with the lead inspector

Remember: each inspection is unique. Inspectors don't have a single list of questions they must work through each time, and they'll adapt their questions to your school's circumstances.

What to do after you get the call

If you're the chair and you've just got the call from your headteacher that you're going to be inspected, here's what to do:

How you're involved during the inspection

Read about governors' role in inspection in our article about how Ofsted inspects governance. This will explain what you can expect on the day so you're ready for the governors' meeting with inspectors.

If you're a clerk, read our article about how to clerk an Ofsted feedback meeting.

Next steps:

Subscribe to our article on the latest updates from Ofsted to make sure you don't miss any new information.

Find out more about your role in the post-Ofsted action plan in our other article.


Jeremy Bird has extensive experience of primary headship. He has also worked with local authorities and published guidance for new and aspiring headteachers and senior leaders.

David Driscoll is an independent consultant and a senior partner with an education consultancy. He has considerable experience of supporting schools to analyse their data to improve achievement, teaching and leadership.

John Dunne has extensive experience of school leadership in secondary schools. He is also a former inspector.

Alvin Jeffs has worked in special education for more than 40 years. His experience includes class teaching, assessment work, and developing and implementing programmes of work for students. He is also a former school inspector.

Gulshan Kayembe is an independent consultant who has experience of inspecting schools. As a consultant, she provides mentoring for senior leaders and has worked as an external adviser on headteachers’ performance management.

Marilyn Nathan is an education consultant who specialises in leadership and management development. She has experience of inspecting both primary and secondary schools, and has acted as an external adviser for headteacher reviews.

David New, an education consultant, was the headteacher of a large secondary school for 9 years. He has particular expertise in lettings, staffing, academy conversion and the secondary curriculum.

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