Ofsted inspection handbooks September 2022

Posted on July 25th, 2022

This summary gives the main changes to the Ofsted Schools Inspection Handbook, which are effective from 1 September 2022. It refers to the handbook for the inspection of schools. The layout of the handbook has been somewhat realigned so that it better follows and reflects the flow of an inspection from start to finish.

On 11 July 2022, Ofsted published updated inspection handbooks for all its education remits. Ofsted insists that the changes in the handbooks are mainly administrative and will not affect the actual process of inspection.

Impact of COVID-19

The handbooks state that COVID-19 continues to have an impact on most, if not all, education providers and is likely to affect the decisions they make for some time to come.

Relevant paragraphs regarding previously temporary COVID-19 measures have now been incorporated into the main sections of each of the handbooks, to make it clear that inspectors will continue to take account of issues that still face all types of educational setting.

For example, Ofsted states that there is a clear expectation that conversations between leaders and the lead inspector will continue to include a discussion on the impact of COVID-19.

Transitional arrangements

When the new education inspection framework (EIF) was first introduced in 2019, transitional arrangements for the judgment of ‘good’ were included. This was because it was felt settings should be given time to adjust their curriculum provision to meet the new requirements in the EIF. These arrangements were initially intended to last until September 2020. However, because of the impact of COVID-19, the arrangements were extended into the 2020/21 and 2021/22 academic years, because many settings were forced to re-prioritise their curriculum planning in response to the pandemic.

Under the transitional arrangements, inspectors could rate a setting as ‘good’ for curriculum intent even if the criteria in the 2019 EIF were not fully met but ‘that it was clear from leaders’ actions that they were in the process of bringing curriculum requirements about and were making the necessary amendments in response to the pandemic’.

New grade descriptor

These transitional arrangements have now been removed from the updated handbooks and replaced by a new grade descriptor that has been added to the ‘quality of education’ judgment. This is in acknowledgement that settings are no longer operating under emergency measures and are taking longer-term approaches to curricular provision.

This does not mean that, in order to retain a judgement of ‘good’, schools will be expected to meet every single handbook criterion. They will be evaluated based on their individual context, taking into account the specific needs of their pupils.

The actual wording of this grade descriptor for ‘good’ is as follows:

‘The curriculum may undergo necessary changes (for example following a review by senior leaders or to take account of COVID-19) and certain aspects may be more developed than others. Where this is the case, these changes do not prevent all pupils having access to an appropriately broad and ambitious curriculum. Where adaptations to curriculum breadth are made for particular pupils, there is a clear rationale for why this is in those pupils’ interests and, where appropriate, there is a clear plan for returning all pupils to studying the full curriculum’.

New definitions of types of inspection

The purpose of each inspection type and how they are carried out is unchanged. The changes in name are simply intended to promote a better understanding of the types of inspection conducted by Ofsted and why, especially among parents.

Graded inspections

Inspections previously known as ‘section 5 inspections’ will be called ‘graded inspections’.

  • In graded inspections, Ofsted uses the full EIF and grades the school for its overall effectiveness and against key judgment grade descriptors.

Ungraded inspections

Inspections previously known as ‘section 8 inspections of good and outstanding schools’ will in future be called ‘ungraded inspections’.

  • An ungraded inspection does not result in individual graded judgments, but instead focuses on determining whether the school remains the same grade as it was at its previous graded inspection.

Urgent inspections

Inspections previously defined as having ‘no fixed designation’ and those known as ‘unannounced behaviour inspections’ will now be known as ‘urgent inspections’.

Monitoring inspections

Under section 118(2) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, Ofsted may still carry out inspections in response to a request from the Education Secretary for information and advice about maintained schools and academies – these are still known as ‘monitoring inspections’.


Ofsted may also carry out research during inspections. Where this happens, the research will have no impact on inspection judgments.

Switching inspection types

Ofsted’s regional directors can change the type of inspection a ‘good’ school receives if the school itself no longer believes it is likely to improve to achieve an ‘outstanding’ grade. The regional director can decide to cancel a graded inspection of the school and hold an ungraded inspection instead.

Predecessor schools’ inspection judgments

There is an amended section on ‘new schools’ which says that if a school changes its URN number (as can happen if a maintained school becomes an academy either voluntarily or because of an ‘inadequate’ judgment) it legally becomes a new school and judgments of the predecessor school are no longer valid.

The handbook says:

‘Judgments made about a predecessor school with a different URN are not judgments about the new school, even if the new school is, or seems to be, substantially the same provision. Inspectors may look at the performance of any predecessor school as part of pre-inspection planning. They can look at this data to consider whether the new academy has improved on, or declined from, its predecessor’s performance and whether it has tackled any areas of weakness or built on strengths from the predecessor school’.

Structural changes to the Early Years Inspection Handbook

A new part has been added to the Early Years Inspection Handbook, which includes guidance for inspectors on how to apply the EIF in specific contexts such as childminders and out-of-school settings.

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