Free article: How do inspectors make the judgement about overall effectiveness? The Ofsted model

Published: Wednesday, 14 September 2016

This article outlines the Ofsted methodology for determining whether a school is ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.


  • The aim of the Common Inspection Framework (CIF) is to ensure consistency across all providers in the inspection process and outcomes, so that schools achieving an ‘outstanding’ rating will be comparable to other providers.
  • Ofsted will rate the three key areas: personal development, behaviour and welfare; teaching, learning and assessment, and outcomes for learners.
  • If safeguarding is ineffective, overall effectiveness will be graded as inadequate and, depending on the severity of the weakness, the school will be identified as having ‘serious weaknesses’ or be placed in ‘special measures’.


Given the level of criticism of Ofsted, the number of formal complaints is low. Nevertheless, Ofsted investigates and takes each one seriously. Lead inspectors know this and also know that the real sin for an inspector is failing to follow the handbook. It is only really in such circumstances that a complaint will be upheld. As they prepare for each inspection, therefore, lead inspectors will make sure they have the latest guidance and instructions. At the same time, they are expected to use their professional experience and knowledge to reach a ‘best fit’ judgement, particularly with the final judgement on overall effectiveness.

As the lead inspector gathers and weighs evidence, she or he will refer constantly to the grade descriptors, but should also have in mind the simple question: What is it like to be a child in this school?

The Common Inspection Framework (CIF)

The aim of the CIF is to ensure consistency across all providers in the inspection process and outcomes. So, an ‘outstanding’ FE provider should be comparable to an ‘outstanding’ school. In order to achieve this, the CIF instructs inspectors to focus on:

  • evidence of impact across all key judgements
  • impact of the culture of the school
  • safeguarding as a golden thread running through all judgements
  • importance of a broad and balanced curriculum
  • personal development, behaviour and welfare as a new judgement
  • alignment of judgements on early years and sixth forms.

For example, when considering whether to grade teaching as good or outstanding, an inspector will consider whether the quality of teaching has a good or outstanding impact on personal development, behaviour and welfare, academic outcomes and SMSC. Similarly, the breadth and balance of the curriculum will be measured by the extent to which it enables all pupils to thrive in all aspects of their development.

The sequence for key inspection judgements

1. Safeguarding

Safeguarding, the ‘golden thread’, is always the starting point. If safeguarding is ineffective, overall effectiveness will be graded as inadequate and, depending on the severity of the weakness, the school will be identified as having ‘serious weaknesses’ or be placed in ‘special measures’. There will always be a written judgement on safeguarding but not a grade. Inspectors have been issued with separate guidance on evaluating safeguarding: Inspecting safeguarding in early years, education and skills settings (

In short inspections of ‘good’ schools, inspectors must establish only two judgements:

  • whether provision remains good and
  • whether safeguarding is effective.

Following this judgement on safeguarding, the grade for overall effectiveness will be determined by the following process. Note that although the grades are determined in a set order, this does not mean that each aspect of the school’s work is considered separately. In practice, inspectors will draw upon all the evidence they have gathered.

2. Grade three key areas

Each of the following key areas will be graded on the four-point scale and in this order:

a) Teaching, learning and assessment

The quality of teaching is graded first because it governs the grade for overall effectiveness in that, unless teaching is graded as ‘outstanding’, overall effectiveness cannot be ‘outstanding’. Inspectors will evaluate teaching over time using a range of evidence, including the school’s own self-evaluation. The guidance and grade descriptors make it clear that they will still be looking for criteria such as good planning, subject knowledge and pedagogical skills.

b) Personal development, behaviour and welfare

Each of the three strands is important in reaching the overall grade. Within the report there will be two separate judgements on behaviour and personal development and welfare. The overall grade will be limited by the lowest judgement and the overall grade for the key area will feed into the grade for overall effectiveness.

c) Outcomes for learners

In judging outcomes, inspectors will focus on progress and, within this, greatest weight will be given to the progress of all groups of pupils currently in the school across the curriculum.

3. Factor in early years and/or sixth form provision

When deciding on the most appropriate grade for each of the key areas, inspectors will factor in evidence from inspection of any early years provision or from the 16 to 19 study programmes (the sixth form provision) and consider its impact in the wider context of the school. For example, if a primary school has nursery and reception provision this will have a greater weighting than if it only had reception provision.

4. Grade early years and/or sixth form provision

Inspectors will then separately judge the effectiveness of any early years provision and/or the 16 to 19 study programmes. For either case or both, inspectors must provide a grade and write sections in the report that summarise the key findings and explain the effectiveness grading for early years and sixth form.

5. Effectiveness of leadership and management

Inspectors will then make the key judgement on the effectiveness of leadership and management. Inspectors must take into proportionate account any significant issues in the quality of early years provision and/or 16 to 19 study programmes that may have an impact on the effectiveness of the leadership and management of the school as a whole.
The section on leadership and management will contain the judgement on the effectiveness of safeguarding arrangements.

6. Overall effectiveness

Before the final judgement on overall effectiveness, inspectors must evaluate but will not grade:

  • the effectiveness and impact of the provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development
  • the extent to which the education provided by the school meets the needs of the range of pupils at the school including:
    • disabled pupils
    • pupils who have special educational needs.

Obviously, the easiest judgement is when all aspects of the school’s work are outstanding or good. If this is not the case, the report will explain the improvements needed to move to the next grade.


Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Tony Powell is an experienced Additional Inspector and LA adviser. He writes extensively on education management, but his main work is in supporting schools to develop systems for self-evaluation, school improvement and continuing professional development. Tony can be contacted at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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