School inspections in England

There has been school inspection in England since 1833 and Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education), the current inspectorate in England, was formed under the Schools Act of 1992. Ofsted is now the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, and as well as school inspections, it is responsible for inspecting and regulating other services which care for children and young people, including further education colleges, adoption services, probation services and children’s services in local authorities.

Purpose of school inspections

Ofsted’s inspections of schools perform three essential functions. They:

  • “provide parents/carers with an expert and independent assessment of how well a school is performing, and help inform those who are choosing a school for their child
  • provide information to the Secretary of State for Education and to Parliament about the work of schools and the extent to which an acceptable standard of education is being provided. This provides assurance that minimum standards are being met, provides confidence in the use of public money and assists accountability, as well as indicating where improvements are needed
  • promote the improvement of individual schools and the education system as a whole.”

From: The Framework for School Inspection, Ofsted, 2013

Types and grades of school inspections

The main school inspections in England are called Section 5 inspections, named after the section in the Act of Parliament that made it mandatory for all maintained schools in England to be inspected. In addition to Section 5 inspections, Section 8 of the Act gave the inspectorate the power to perform further inspections at the discretion of the inspector. These inspections are known as Section 8 inspections or monitoring inspections. Following a Section 5 inspection schools are given a judgment of overall effectiveness: either grade 1 (outstanding), grade 2 (good), grade 3 (requires improvement) or grade 4 (inadequate). (Note the schools in this research project were inspected in 2009/2010 when grade 3 had the descriptor satisfactory, rather than requires improvement.) Schools receiving a grade 4 and a portion of those receiving a grade 3 receive further Section 8 monitoring inspections.

Inspection framework

The Framework for School Inspection sets out an overview of Section 5 inspections and the standards that are set and specific details are presented in the Evaluation Schedule in the School Inspection Handbook. The framework is subject to change and the new simplified framework in place at the moment focusses on the achievement of pupils, the quality of teaching, the behavior and safety of pupils and the quality of leadership in, and management of, the school. Schools in this study were subject to a different framework that gave up to 23 separate judgments on a number of aspects of the schools, alongside the judgment of overall effectiveness.


Acts of parliament specify that where schools were found lacking (i.e. schools causing concern) in the Section 5 inspections they should be categorised as being in either “special measures” if the school is failing and does not have the capacity to improve (as judged by Ofsted) or given a “notice to improve” where schools are required to improve as they are performing “less well than expected”. Schools in special measures are required to work with the local authority and if no improvement is seen they (a very small minority) are under threat of closure by the Secretary of State.

More information on school inspections in England can be found here.

Studying school inspections in England

The project runs for a total of three and a half years (January 2011-June 2014); each year from September to November, principals and teachers in 211 state maintained primary schools and 209 secondary schools are asked to participate in an online survey. These schools have been selected from schools that received a “satisfactory” grade in their 2009/10 inspection. Around 40% of these schools receive a section 8 monitoring visit, while the rest are not scheduled for such a visit. We will use a regression discontinuity design to compare changes in these schools as a result from being assigned to a monitoring visit.