An operational note for Her Majesty’s Inspectors carrying out inspections in state-funded schools from January 2021.


On 17 March 2020, all routine inspections were suspended due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Since then, teachers, headteachers and support staff have been stepping up to support pupils, families and the communities they serve. We know that this work continues.

We carried out interim visits to schools in autumn 2020. These enabled us to work with school leaders to fully understand the impact of COVID-19 and report on this as part of our national research programme. School leaders told us that they found these visits supportive, saying that the discussion with Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) helped them to reflect on their priorities during this difficult time.

Building on this work, from January 2021, we will carry out additional monitoring inspections of schools judged as requires improvement or inadequate. These are not part of our normal programme of monitoring in these schools. They are additional inspections to ensure that leaders and managers are taking effective action to provide education in the current circumstances.

Initially, the majority of these visits will be carried out remotely in response to the latest government guidance and current COVID-19 restrictions. As soon as COVID-19 conditions allow, we will return to all inspections taking place on site. We will continue to carry out on-site visits, or to move remote visits to on-site visits, where inspectors have specific or significant concerns, such as safeguarding or a breakdown in leadership and management.

We will continue to carry out section 8 ‘no formal designation’ (NFD) inspections if we have significant concerns about any school not scheduled to receive a monitoring inspection. These will usually be on site.

This guidance sets out how both of these inspections will work.

The legal context

Both monitoring inspections and NFD inspections will take place at the discretion of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, using her powers under section 8(2) of the Education Act 2005.

Inspectors’ legal rights of entry and rights to consider and copy information under section 10 of that Act will apply.

As section 5 of the Act remains suspended, the power (under section 9 of the Act) to treat the monitoring inspections and NFD inspections as full inspections will only be used in exceptional circumstances.

How we will select schools

We will select schools for monitoring inspections in the normal way. This means inspecting schools:

  • that were judged as requires improvement at (at least) their last 2 consecutive section 5 inspections; those that have converted to an academy, or have re-brokered since their last section 5 inspection and received a new URN (unique reference number), will not receive a monitoring visit
  • judged as inadequate, including those that are subject to a live directive academy order; new schools whose predecessor was inadequate will not receive a monitoring visit

We may also carry out some monitoring inspections of other schools judged as requires improvement, at regional directors’ discretion and based on our risk assessment.

Section 8 NFD inspections will take place to follow up concerns about schools that are not necessarily in a category of concern but that have been brought to our attention through, for example, a qualifying complaint made to Ofsted about the school under section 11A of the Education Act 2005.

Length and timing of inspections

Before February 2021 half term, remote monitoring inspections will usually last for 2 days and involve 2 HMI. After February half term, remote monitoring inspections will normally last for 1 day and involve 2 HMI.

The lead inspector will discuss the start and end times of each day, including the logistics of working remotely, with the headteacher during the notification call.

Before the inspection

Notifying the school of an inspection

We will give up to 48 hours’ notice of all monitoring inspections.

Requests for deferral

Inspections will take place remotely, in most cases, while schools remain closed to most pupils.

Leaders may ask for the deferral of an inspection by making a request to the lead inspector on the day of notification; we will not normally consider deferral requests if we receive them after 4.30pm.

On receipt of a request, the lead inspector must immediately contact the relevant regional duty desk. The regional director or their delegate will decide whether a deferral should be granted in accordance with our deferral policy.

Monitoring inspections


The lead inspector will prepare for the monitoring inspection by reviewing the inspection history of the school and other relevant information in order to build a picture of what has been happening over time. This information includes:

  • the most recent section 5 inspection report of the school
  • any previous section 8 monitoring inspection reports of the school
  • contextual information from the school’s inspection data summary report
  • information about the school from our provider information portal, which provides a high-level view for Ofsted inspectors of information about the providers that Ofsted inspects and regulates
  • the school’s website, especially any information communicated to parents about remote education
  • information from Ofsted Parent View

Inspectors will take into account the school’s context, including the impact of COVID-19, when deciding where to focus inspection activities. Inspectors will focus on what leaders are doing to provide education to all pupils in the current circumstances, whether this be for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers in school or those pupils being educated remotely at home.

Inspectors will not expect schools to have updated their self-evaluation or improvement/action plans.


Monitoring inspections are about giving assurance to parents and being supportive of a school as it improves.

A monitoring inspection does not cover the whole section 5 evaluation schedule. They do not result in an inspection grade or a change to an existing inspection grade. A monitoring inspection is therefore different to a routine section 5 inspection or a section 8 inspection of a good or outstanding school. Monitoring inspections are about HMI working with leaders and staff to identify the most pressing issues facing the school, especially in terms of the education being provided to pupils in the current circumstances.

Inspectors will work with leaders during the inspection, providing the right level of challenge, at the right time, to support the school’s work.

All monitoring inspections will focus on:

  • discussing with school leaders and those responsible for governance the actions being taken to provide education in the current circumstances
  • how effectively leaders are adapting the existing curriculum to meet current challenges; inspectors will discuss with leaders what they had achieved by the start of the pandemic, where they are currently with curriculum planning and how they are getting back on track; this includes discussing whether any actions have been reasonably delayed or altered by COVID-19 restrictions
  • how effectively leaders are providing education remotely
  • how effectively leaders are providing education for vulnerable pupils and for other pupils attending school on site
  • leaders’ plans to support pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities, whether they are in school or being educated at home
  • examining whether those responsible for governance are making an effective contribution to leaders’ actions in providing the best possible education for all pupils in the current circumstances; this includes examining the decisions leaders have taken about the curriculum
  • considering the impact of the support and challenge provided to the school around their curriculum and current education provision, including from any external partners


During the notification call with the headteacher, the lead inspector will discuss the type of inspection activities needed to gather evidence for the monitoring inspection.

During the monitoring inspection, inspectors will:

  • meet (remotely or in person, as appropriate) the headteacher and other senior leaders (including, where appropriate, the CEO of the MAT/their delegate or equivalent) to establish a purposeful and productive working relationship and discuss the action being taken to provide education in the current circumstances
  • hold meetings (remotely or in person, as appropriate) with representatives of the local authority/proprietor/trust, the chair and members of the governing board, or, where appropriate, the chair of the board of trustees to establish what action is being taken to provide education in the current circumstances
  • gather any other evidence needed. It will usually be necessary for inspectors to ‘visit’ (by, for example, joining an online lesson) and/or review some remote learning in order to understand how education is being provided by the school. Inspectors may also, where they consider it necessary for the inspection, have discussions with staff and pupils (remotely or in person) about their work and their experiences. They may also review minutes of governing body meetings
  • consider the views expressed through the Ofsted staff questionnaire
  • consider the views expressed on Ofsted Parent View
  • feed back (remotely or in person) to the headteacher and discuss the next steps

Cameras will normally be used in remote meetings. When observing remote education, inspectors will ask the school whether cameras should be used. Inspectors will not record calls and will ask that the school, and individual staff and pupils, do not do so either.

Where inspection takes place on site, we have taken advice from Public Health England about how to carry out our inspection activities safely. It will still be appropriate to carry out most inspection activity because inspectors will continue to take appropriate precautions. The precautions that are needed will vary from school to school and activity to activity, but inspectors will always ensure that they are acting safely and within the clear guidance given. As is usual with monitoring inspections, we will not be carrying out our deep-dive methodology.

Inspectors will ensure that all activities are carried out within the COVID-19 guidelines. The lead inspector’s initial call with the school will include a discussion of the relevant COVID-19 restrictions, how inspectors can work effectively within the protective measures leaders have in place and what impact the restrictions have had on the school and its work.

Considering leaders’ actions

Monitoring inspections are not full inspections. Inspectors will not apply the whole education inspection framework or come to any graded judgements.

Inspectors will look at whether leaders’ actions are effective in providing education during the current circumstances. To do this, they will need to understand the school’s existing curriculum and how this is being reviewed or amended to provide education both in school and remotely.

Inspectors should understand the barriers leaders face in being able to provide education in the current circumstances. Inspectors will not evaluate leaders’ actions during the spring and summer terms 2020. They will be interested, however, in how the pandemic has affected the school, especially in terms of leaders’ curriculum thinking.

By getting a clear enough view of the school’s existing curriculum, inspectors can support the school to reflect on what they are teaching pupils currently, including through remote education. Pointing out weak intent or ill-focused actions will help leaders to provide the best possible learning at the current time, and how they can, in time, return successfully to the full curriculum. Inspectors will be sensitive to the school’s context, especially the challenges presented by managing COVID-19. They will support schools to prioritise the right actions.

In looking at the curriculum for early years provision, inspectors should consider the limitations the pandemic may have caused and whether the school has relied on any disapplication of requirements, in line with the DfE’s disapplication guidance.

Arriving at final judgements

In arriving at a final judgement, inspectors will consider the extent to which leaders’ actions are helping or hindering the provision of education to all pupils at the current time.

The lead inspector will make a single overarching judgement. This will be either of the following:

  • Leaders and those responsible for governance are taking effective action to provide education in the current circumstances.
  • Leaders and those responsible for governance are not taking effective action to provide education in the current circumstances.

This is not a graded judgement and will not change a school’s current grade.

Inspectors will not judge whether local authority action plans or school improvement plans are fit for purpose or, in the case of schools that require special measures, whether newly qualified teachers (NQTs) can be appointed. Schools must seek approval in writing from the relevant Ofsted regional director if they wish to appoint NQTs during this period, stating the reasons for the request.


Where inspectors have concerns about safeguarding arrangements, it is highly likely that the inspection will move on site or that the inspection may be declared incomplete and completed at a later date when on-site inspection is possible. In these cases, inspectors will make a judgement about the effectiveness of safeguarding in the school when on site. If part or all of the monitoring inspection is carried out on site for other reasons, inspectors may still make a judgement about the effectiveness of safeguarding in the school, at the regional director’s discretion.


During the inspection, the lead inspector will provide feedback to leaders about what they are finding. At the end of the inspection, they will give more detailed feedback. The policies on final feedback are set out in the section 8 inspection handbook. Feedback will always be completed remotely for remote inspections. For on-site inspections, attendance at the final feedback meeting may need to be limited or carried out remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Inspections with no formal designation

The policies for NFD inspections are set out in the section 8 inspection handbook.

After the inspection

Reporting on monitoring inspections

Reporting will largely follow the policies set out in the section 8 inspection handbook, except as set out below.

Arrangements for publishing the report

Within 18 working days of the end of the inspection, we will write to the school, setting out in a draft report what inspectors found. This will have been quality assured. We may share the draft report or findings with other public bodies.

The school will have 5 working days to comment on the draft report, process and findings. We will consider all comments and we will respond to the comments when we share the final report with the school within a maximum of 30 working days after the visit, although it will likely be much sooner.

If the school wishes to submit a formal complaint, it will have until the end of the fifth working day after receiving the final report to do so.

We will normally publish the report on our reports website within 38 working days of the end of the visit. We may delay the publication of the letter if a complaint is being investigated.

Post-inspection surveys

Following the inspection, we will ask schools for feedback about the process through a survey. We provide details about how schools can share their views when we send the final report. 

Quality assurance

We will monitor the quality of the inspection through a range of formal processes. We may visit some schools or remotely monitor evidence to quality assure the inspection. We will quality assure evidence bases and report.

The evidence base

The evidence base for the inspection will be retained in line with Ofsted’s retention and disposal policy. This is normally for 6 years from when the report is published. We may decide that retaining it for longer is warranted for research purposes.

Conduct and complaints

Inspectors must uphold the highest professional standards in their work and treat everyone they encounter during inspection fairly and with respect and sensitivity.

Inspectors must at all times adhere to the code of conduct for inspections. Any concerns and complaints during the visit will be handled in line with Ofsted’s complaints policy.

Incomplete inspections

We will apply our policy on incomplete inspections where appropriate.

Privacy notice

During an inspection, inspectors may collect information about staff and pupils by talking to them, by visiting lessons (whether in person or remotely) and by looking at documents and other recorded information. In some circumstances, inspectors may consider it necessary to speak to groups of pupils who are not physically in school (either during remote lessons or separately) on monitoring inspections that are carried out remotely.

In these instances, we recommend inspectors ask schools to set up these arrangements (in the same way we recommend that schools set up the other meetings in the inspection) and that schools secure parents’/carers’ agreement to inspectors speaking to pupils in this way.

We will use this information to prepare the letter and as set out in our schools privacy notice.

Published 7 December 2020
Last updated 12 February 2021 + show all updates

  1. Updated the ‘Length and timing of inspection’ section to reflect that the length of inspections will change after February half term from 2 days to 1 day.

  2. Updated the ‘Privacy notice’ section to clarify how inspectors may collect information.

  3. Updated to confirm that some monitoring visits will take place remotely and to clarify that monitoring visits will have a slightly different focus (from focusing on improvement to focusing on the provision of education in the current circumstances).

  4. First published.