The latest update to the School Inspection Handbook was on 24 January 2024. We've updated the paragraph numbers in this article to reflect the changes and provided an overview of the updates here.
Stay up to date with the latest updates from Ofsted in our article.
Culture of safeguarding
Schools should have an open and positive culture around safeguarding, which puts pupils’ interests first. This is outlined in more detail in paragraph 378 to mean your school:
- Protects pupils from serious harm, both online and offline
- Is vigilant and maintains an attitude of ‘it could happen here’
- Is open and transparent, shares information with others and actively seeks expert advice when required
- Makes sure all those who work with pupils are trained well, so they understand their responsibilities and the systems and processes your school operates, and are empowered to ‘speak out’ where there may be concerns
- Actively seeks and listens to the views and experiences of pupils, staff and parents/carers, taking prompt but proportionate action to address any concerns, where needed
- Has appropriate child protection arrangements, which:
- Identify pupils who may need early help, and who are at risk of harm or have been harmed
- This can include, but is not limited to, neglect, abuse (including by their peers), grooming, exploitation, sexual abuse and online harm
- Secure the help pupils need and refer in a timely way to those who have the expertise to help (if required)
- Manage safe recruitment and allegations about adults who may be a risk to pupils
- Is receptive to challenge and reflective of the school's practices to ensure that safeguarding policies, systems and processes are kept under continuous review
Find out how you can develop a culture of inclusion and safety as part of your role.
Inspectors will evaluate the effectiveness of your whole-school approach to safeguarding
- Want to find out how well staff keep pupils safe
- Not make judgements about safeguarding based solely on the evidence that the school presents during the inspection
- To examine the safeguarding culture, inspectors will take into account a range of evidence so they are able to evaluate the effectiveness of safeguarding arrangements over time
- Look for evidence of effective safeguarding practice and the impact of this practice on all pupils
- Examine how your school is implementing its safeguarding policies and processes effectively, and how it keeps them under review
- Make sure your school has proper arrangements in place for sharing information appropriately with relevant parties, including forwarding information to schools and post-16 or post-18 providers and other agencies
- Determine whether there have been any safeguarding incidents or allegations since the last inspection, and whether your school has taken appropriate action to safeguard the pupils affected and/or to deal with allegations
- Take into account comments about safeguarding from staff, pupils and parents/carers
- Triangulate evidence gathered during the inspection to evaluate the effectiveness of the safeguarding culture that has been established in your school
- If inspectors can't corroborate this evidence because they're prevented from talking to pupils on inspection, then safeguarding will likely be judged ineffective
See paragraphs 379 to 389.
We were expecting this update after Ofsted outlined its reforms in June 2023.
Paragraphs 395 to 396 explain that:
- Ineffective safeguarding is when there are serious or widespread failures in the school’s safeguarding arrangements. The school’s arrangements for safeguarding pupils:
- Do not meet statutory requirements, or they
- Give serious cause for concern, or
- The school has taken insufficient action to remedy weaknesses following a serious incident
- Examples of ineffective safeguarding include:
- Insufficient action is being taken to remedy weaknesses following a serious failure of safeguarding arrangements
- Safeguarding allegations about staff members are not being handled appropriately
- Clear evidence of serious failures in safeguarding practice that lead pupils or particular groups of pupils not to be safe in school
- Statutory requirements, such as breaches of the requirements for Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, are not being met
- Pupils have little confidence that the school will address concerns about their safety, including risk of abuse, because leaders have not taken their views seriously and/or addressed relevant concerns
- Pupils, particularly vulnerable pupils, are not on the school site (whether long term, temporarily or for part of the school day) and the school is either not clear where those pupils are or not able to give reassurances as to the steps taken to safeguard them when off-site. This can include children absent from education and children attending inappropriate, unregistered or unmonitored alternative provision
Trust-level involvement in inspections
The updated handbook introduces some changes to the way academy trust leaders and trustees take part in inspections:
- The lead inspector will make arrangements for one meeting, as a minimum, with the chair of the board of trustees (or their delegate) and as many trustees as are available (paragraph 101)
- When talking about the curriculum with leaders, this will include talking to relevant trust leaders about their role. Where the trust has made decisions that affect the curriculum, inspectors will want to understand how and why the trust made those decisions, and the impact on pupils (paragraph 253)
- When evaluating leadership and management, the role of trusts will still be relevant, including how they assure and ensure that decision-making about implementation of trust policy is leading to a high-quality education for pupils (paragraph 352)
This was another expected change after Ofsted outlined its reforms in June 2023.
The handbook now confirms (paragraph 161) that your school leaders can share the inspection outcome with whoever they deem appropriate.
This includes sharing it (in confidence) with those not involved in the school (such as colleagues, family members, medical advisers and/or their wider support group), as long as the information isn't made public or shared with parents/carers.
New section - 'conduct during inspection'
Paragraphs 8 to 10 explain that:
- Inspectors are expected to follow Ofsted's code of conduct
- This was mentioned in the old handbook, but the link to the code of conduct is much clearer
- Inspectors will:
- Uphold the highest professional standards in their work
- Treat everyone fairly, and with respect and sensitivity
- Work constructively with leaders and staff
- Demonstrate professionalism, courtesy, empathy and respect at all times
- Providers should be open, honest and transparent, and not withhold or conceal evidence, or provide false, misleading, inaccurate or incomplete information
New section - 'schools raising concerns'
You should raise any concerns you have about an inspection, inspectors' conduct, or any potential or perceived conflicts of interest, at the earliest opportunity.
Concerns can be raised at any point during an inspection, including during:
- The inspection planning conversation
- Meetings between leaders and inspectors
- The final feedback meeting
Ofsted will take your concerns seriously, and the act of raising a concern won't impact the inspection findings or how Ofsted considers your school.
This is covered in paragraphs 11 and 12.
Ofsted already published this information in June 2023, but it's now folded into the handbook.
This includes that where a school is judged to have serious weaknesses solely due to safeguarding, inspectors will return within 3 months of the publication of the graded inspection report for an early monitoring inspection (paragraph 161).
See paragraph 40 of the School Inspection Handbook to get a sense of when your next inspection will be.
Inspectors will protect the anonymity of people they speak to
When inspectors gather evidence from pupils, parents or other stakeholders in person (for example, informal meetings at the start or end of the day), Ofsted will make every attempt to protect individuals' identity.
This is explained in paragraph 123.
Meetings with staff
Paragraph 118 explains that:
- Staff can have a colleague from the school or trust present with them in meetings with inspectors
- Every effort should be made to make sure staff can speak freely, especially if they are accompanied by senior leaders
Proportionate consideration of evidence from pupils, parents/carers and staff
This is peppered throughout the handbook, for example:
- When talking to pupils, inspectors will consider this evidence alongside other evidence (paragraph 261)
- A school's open and positive culture around safeguarding includes actively seeking and listening to the views and experiences of pupils, staff and parents/carers, and taking prompt but proportionate action to address any concerns (paragraphs 378 and 419)
New section - attendance
This is part of how Ofsted evaluates behaviour and attitudes (paragraphs 303 to 306):
- Inspectors expect your school to:
- Do all it reasonably can to achieve the highest possible attendance
- Analyse absence and persistent absence rates for all pupils, and different groups, compared to local and national averages. Inspectors want to see how this feeds into your school's approach
- Have attendance as a high priority where it's not consistently at, or above, where it reasonably should be
- Have a strong understanding of the causes of absence
- Have a clear strategy that takes into account the causes of absence
- Inspectors will judge your school favourably (even where attendance is not consistently high) where:
- It's aware of the issues affecting attendance
- It has a clear strategic plan in place
- There's a track record of improvement that demonstrates your school's capacity to improve attendance
Ofsted has made some tiny additions to how it inspects behaviour (paragraphs 309 and 310):
- Inspectors will recognise that the context in which your school operates regarding behaviour has changed since the pandemic
- Inspectors will judge your school favourably where they see evidence of poor behaviour if your school:
- Is aware of the issues affecting behaviour
- Has a clear strategic plan in place
- Has a track record of improvement that demonstrates its capacity to improve behaviour
Get to grips with the governing board's role in a whole-school approach to behaviour.
Capacity to improve
Ofsted has made it clearer what this means (paragraph 191).
To decide whether your school has the capacity to improve, inspectors will consider its potential and the extent to which your school:
- Is able to identify and prioritise the right issues
- Shown by accurately identifying issues and evaluating them to identify future issues
- Takes appropriate and timely action to address identified issues, including how it effectively uses internal and external support
- Has a track record of improvement, even if it hasn't achieved the desired outcome yet
- This will give inspectors confidence that improvements will be swift and sustainable
- Has done all it reasonably can in the time available and in the circumstances
Separation by sex
The handbook makes it clearer that (paragraphs 366 to 368):
- Your school has an obligation not to discriminate against pupils on the basis of protected characteristics
- Unless permitted by an exception under the Equality Act 2010 (such as positive action or in relation to competitive sport) it may be unlawful for schools to separate pupils on the basis of any protected characteristic such as sex, religion, belief or gender reassignment
If an inspector finds evidence of potentially less favourable treatment because of a protected characteristic, they must take legal advice.
- The issue is complex, and advice will take longer than anticipated, inspectors may pause the inspection until they receive advice
- Inspectors consider that there is sufficient evidence that a school is unlawfully discriminating against its pupils, inspectors will write about this in the inspection report and the separation may have an impact on the grade given
Relationships and sex education (RSE)
Secondary schools' requirement to teach RSE includes any sixth-form provision (paragraph 329).
Broader definition of 'off-rolling'
Ofsted's definition now includes where a school (paragraph 412):
- Encourages a sixth-form student not to continue with their course of study, or
- Retains a pupil on the school roll but does not allow them to attend school normally, without a formal exclusion or suspension
Clarity on terminology
Ofsted has added 5 more definitions to its section on terminology (paragraph 18):
- 'School' - this means a maintained school or an academy. Ofsted will specify 'maintained school' or 'academy' where applicable
- 'Leaders' - staff who are responsible for making key decisions about how the school operates, and will always include the headteacher
- 'Trust' - any academy trust, including single-academy trusts and multi-academy trusts
- 'Board of governors' - refers to the accountable authority for a maintained school
- 'Board of trustees' - refers to the accountable authority of a trust
Other minor clarifications and changes
There are a number of tweaks and changes throughout the handbook, including:
- The board of governors (maintained schools) or the board of trustees (academies) can request that the school they're responsible for be inspected. This will be a graded inspection (paragraph 53)
- Aligned inspections of boarding and residential special schools:
- The two inspection teams will share inspection evidence where appropriate, including pupils' attendance and if concerns are raised with inspectors about the welfare of the children in the school and/or boarding or residential provision (paragraph 76)
- Arrival and departure times of education and social care teams will differ throughout the inspection according to the requirements of each remit's framework (paragraph 77)
- Aligned inspections of schools that are registered as children's homes:
- The 2 inspection teams will share inspection evidence where appropriate, including pupils' attendance and if concerns are raised with inspectors about the welfare of the children in the school and/or children's home (paragraph 80)
- Concurrent inspections for linked provision (this applies when 1 or more schools have arrangements to share important aspects of their provision, such as sixth-form programmes or an inclusion unit):
- Inspectors can share key lines of enquiry that emerge during planning, where the issues are likely to affect both/all of the schools (paragraph 82)
- Inspectors can share findings with the inspectors in the other inspection team (paragraph 82)
- Inspectors won't rely solely on shared evidence to make their judgements (paragraph 83)
- When preparing for inspection, inspectors will also consider any other information about the school (including safeguarding) that is publicly available, including information reported in the press or online (paragraph 103)
- During the inspection planning conversation, inspectors will ask the headteacher to read Ofsted's code of conduct and tell them to raise any issues or concerns they have as soon as possible with the lead inspector (paragraph 96)
- Clarification that PRUs and alternative provision (AP) settings are not necessarily expected to deliver the National Curriculum (paragraph 225)
- The expectation that the school week be 32.5 hours long is now required by 1 September 2024 at the latest (previously, the deadline was September 2023) (paragraph 234)
- When looking at maths, inspectors will draw on information from the Year 4 multiplication check (paragraph 273)
- When evaluating behaviour and attitudes, inspectors will (paragraph 321):
- Analyse your school's own analysis and understanding of the absence, persistent absence and severe absence rates, and how this has fed into its prioritisation strategy
- Speak to trust leaders about the role the trust plays in the school's behaviour policies
- When evaluating a school's approach to safeguarding on an ungraded inspection, the handbook has updated its bullets in line with the culture of safeguarding (paragraph 419)
- Inspectors may identify minor improvements (such as admin errors or out-of-date policies) that need to be made to your school's safeguarding practices during the inspection (paragraphs 422 and 502):
- Inspectors will give schools the chance to rectify these issues
- Your school can still be judged effective for safeguarding, even where minor improvements can't be resolved before the end of inspection
- Sixth form: where a sixth form offers T-levels, inspectors will consider this provision as part of the 'quality of education' (paragraph 442)
What's been removed?
- The handbook no longer explains that reports will often contain a separate paragraph that addresses the governance of the school (paragraph 142)
- The school's approach to harmful sexual behaviour no longer mentions when this will be assessed during an inspection (it used to be considered as part of curriculum, behaviour, pastoral support and safeguarding) (paragraph 152)
- While the handbook no longer mentions that local authorities and trusts responsible for inadequate schools need to prepare a statement of action, you're still required to do this. This is still included in paragraph 35 of Ofsted's monitoring handbook
- The handbook no longer mentions circumstances when it's appropriate to judge a setting as requires improvement for leadership and management, rather than inadequate
- It now says that where safeguarding is ineffective, leadership and management is likely to be judged as inadequate (paragraph 417)
- Leadership and management grade descriptor:
- 'Safeguarding is effective' has replaced the old descriptor 'the school has a culture of safeguarding that supports effective arrangements [...]' (paragraph 460)
- Overall effectiveness grade descriptor:
- For 'requires improvement', the descriptor now says 'safeguarding is effective' (paragraph 470)
- Ofsted has removed the following sentence: 'If there are any weaknesses in safeguarding, they are easily rectified and there are no serious failings that leave pupils either being harmed or at risk of harm'