How does the inspection process work?
Each nation uses a combination of pre-prepared information and inspection visits to assess a school’s ability to safeguard their pupils.
Schools in England are evaluated using information provided by the school, feedback from questionnaires and an inspection visit. The inspection process is set out in Ofsted’s education inspection framework (EIF)1 and school inspection handbook.2
Schools judged by Ofsted as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ are inspected around every 4 years.
Most schools judged as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ are re-visited within 30 months of the previous inspection. However, schools that are found ‘good’ or ‘better’ in every other aspect but are found ‘inadequate’ due to ineffective safeguarding will be revisited within 3 months of the inspection report being published to carry out a monitoring inspection.3
Ofsted has set out further information for schools on when they can expect their next inspection.
Ofsted will normally contact a school the day before an inspection. The school will then have until 8am the next morning to put together the documentation the inspectors need to review. Requested safeguarding information includes:
- the single central record, summarising the checks and vetting of all staff working with pupils
- a list of concerns that have been shared with the designated safeguarding lead
- a list of pupils who have open cases with children’s services and for whom there is a multi-agency plan
- records and analysis of incidents such as exclusions, sexual harassment, and bullying or discriminatory behaviour.
During the evaluation, the inspectors will observe pupils to evaluate aspects of personal development and welfare. Inspectors will ask pupils about their experiences of behaviour in the school, including how the school deals with any form of harassment and violence.
Ofsted will also gather further feedback from pupils, parents, staff, and other stakeholders, through questionnaires and informal meetings during the inspection.
Schools in Northern Ireland self-evaluate their safeguarding practices using questions from the inspection and self-evaluation framework (ISEF).4 This self-evaluation is then reviewed alongside findings from the inspection visit, as set out in the Education and Training Inspectorate’s (ETI’s) overview of the inspection process.5
Educational settings are inspected at least once every 3 years. If an inspection identifies important areas for improvement, a follow-up inspection will take place within 1-2 years.
For full and follow-up inspections, the ETI notifies the school or education setting by telephone and email 2 weeks before the visit. Sustaining improvement or monitoring inspections are scheduled in between full inspections, with 2 days’ notice. Inspections can take anywhere from 1 to 4 days depending on the education setting.
In preparation for the visit, schools are required to provide the following safeguarding information:
- a questionnaire, known as the safeguarding proforma, reviewing the school’s safeguarding practice
- a safeguarding policy that reflects the guidance of the Department of Education
During the visit, inspectors will assess how well the content of the safeguarding proforma is understood and implemented.
Inspectors obtain information from pupils, parents, staff and governors, through conversations and questionnaires which take place before and during the inspection. Inspectors also examine lessons and examples of pupils’ work.
Schools in Scotland evaluate their own work through the quality indicators (QIs) set out in the How good is our school? framework.6 This self-evaluation provides the basis of inspections, which focus on a subset of the QIs. All inspections include a focus on safeguarding.
Education Scotland selects an annual sample of schools to evaluate. Each school is notified of an upcoming inspection by email, which is followed up with a phone call. Inspections can take up to a week to complete.
Before the inspection, schools in Scotland are asked to gather information including:
- a self-evaluation summary
- a pre-inspection questionnaire and survey for pupils, parents, staff, and partners
- a child protection and safeguarding self-evaluation form.
During the visit inspectors may visit classes, read key documents, look at pupil’s work and have discussions with groups of children and staff.
Inspectors evaluate the school’s safeguarding procedures and how they are linked to locally agreed multi-agency procedures. As part of this they will meet with the school’s child protection coordinator to sign off the completed child protection and safeguarding self-evaluation form.
Further information on the inspection process is set out in Education Scotland’s guidance on inspections for heads of education settings (PDF).7
Estyn uses target outcomes that focus on strengths and required improvements to inspect schools in Wales.
Safeguarding practices are evaluated using the school’s own assessment of their safeguarding policy and any actions taken to address inadequacies, alongside the inspector’s assessment of the school during their visit. The inspection process is set out in detail in Estyn’s How we inspect8 and What we inspect (PDF)9 guidance for inspectors.
Estyn visits schools at least once in an 8-year-period10 and will make more regular visits to schools that require additional support.
Schools will be notified 10 working days before the inspection. They will then receive a follow-up phone call and be given further information about pre-inspection questionnaires. The length of the inspection is determined by the size of the education setting.
The inspection team will gather evidence through a range of means including:
- the pre-inspection questionnaires
- discussions with pupils, parents, and staff
- observing lessons and the children’s behaviour during the school day.
Estyn assesses the culture of safety and wellbeing in a school by looking at:
- the culture of safety and wellbeing
- the effectiveness of the school’s own evaluation
- the record keeping processes
- the security of school buildings and site
- child protection arrangements.