Ofsted inspections for new free schools

Last month, New Schools Network (NSN) spoke with Lee Owston, Deputy Director at Ofsted, on the topic of inspections and the Education Inspection Framework (EIF). He outlined how the pandemic has affected the timelines of new school inspections and what free schools can expect from their first Ofsted visit when it comes.

Inspection timelines*

Ofsted have resumed their routine inspection cycles from September 2021 and recently announced that they’ve received extra funding by the Government to expedite inspections which were delayed by the pandemic, to help reassure parents that children’s learning is getting back on track.

Understandably, schools want to know how they’ll be affected.

There are two things worth noting that should provide reassurance for school leaders. Firstly, this announcement won’t impact inspections this academic year, which are already planned. Secondly, these changes have been made to ensure inspection timescales are back on track after the disruption of COVID-19; individual schools won’t be inspected more frequently than before COVID-19 hit.

For new schools awaiting their first inspection, schools that opened before September 2021 can expect up-to an additional 18 months on top of the usual 3 years before their first inspection. Schools that opened after September 2021 will receive their first inspection in the third year the school is open.

What to expect

Ofsted recognise the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the education sector. Inspectors will discuss the impact of the pandemic during the inspection, especially what this means in terms of the decisions leaders have made regarding, for example, curriculum, pupils’ behaviour and attitudes and the opportunities available to develop pupils’ personal development.

During the inspection, inspectors will:

  • have a conversation about why you are teaching what you are teaching;
  • seek to understand how the school has adapted and prioritised the curriculum during the pandemic;
  • seek to understand how the pandemic has affected the school and how the school secured the best possible attendance. Attendance between March 2020 and March 2021 will not impact on the judgement of the school;
  • not expect any specific strategic planning or evaluation documents to be shared with them. However, they will seek to understand the short, medium and long-term vision for the school;
  • consider how the school handles allegations and instances of sexual harassment, assault and violence. They will look at the whole-school approach and inspectors will expect schools to be alert to factors that increase vulnerability.

Key considerations for free schools  

Inspectors are aware of the challenges that new and growing free schools face. As such, it is important to consider that:

  • The curriculum, not exam outcomes, is at the heart of the EIF. For free schools that do not yet have a set of formal results, inspectors will explore the curriculum that you have laid out and how your pupils are making progress against these goals;
  • School leaders should not be afraid to grade their school ‘Outstanding’ in their self-evaluation. This process is about inspecting together;
  • When preparing for subject deep dives, it is important that different layers of leadership can confidently articulate the school’s vision and approach to subjects. Inspectors will ask why schools have sequenced topics, themes and units of work in subject’s in the way that they have;
  • Regarding the use of catch-up funding and the National Tutoring Programme, inspectors will engage in a conversation about the school’s plans for using the funding. Schools could consider: how do these plans dovetail with the curriculum? How will you ensure that the sessions are leaving a positive impact on pupils?

For more information on this topic, you can watch Ofsted’s YouTube videos or read the subject reports that have been published.

NSN’s support

If you have any queries or questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with NSN at helpdesk@newschoolsnetwork.org. All our support for open free schools is free and includes specialist meetings, media training, Spotlight visits, events and much more. For more information, please see our website.

*This information is accurate at the time of publishing, but timelines referenced are subject to change.

Blog Topic