Ofsted inspections – What to do (and not do) on day 1

Adrian Lyons offers advice on what heads of department and headteachers can do ahead of time to make the first hours of an Ofsted inspection less frantic for all concerned…

Adrian Lyons
by Adrian Lyons

I’m often asked to support schools in preparing for an Ofsted inspection. One piece of advice I regularly give is that interactions with Ofsted during an inspection will vary enormously between members of staff – particularly in secondary schools. 

A key feature of the current Ofsted inspection framework is that day one of an inspection is spent focusing largely on a small number of subject leads. Headteachers often find this difficult to handle, feeling cut out of the loop for large parts of an inspection’s early stages. 

Just enough 

After all, the headteacher is clearly the key player in the school, and in its Ofsted preparations – so my first ‘do’ is produce a self-evaluation form (SEF). There’s no requirement to have one, but if you don’t, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. 

My first ‘don’t’, however, is to avoid writing an excessively long SEF. Say just enough to explain why your school is Good or better, using the Ofsted handbook’s evaluation criteria as guidance. 

My second ‘don’t’ is don’t lie. Putting something in the SEF which isn’t true, or which may have been the case three years ago, is counterproductive. Inspectors will find out; it’s what they’re good at. 

No delay 

The day before an inspection, the initial contact will be made by an administrator who will ask if there’s a convenient time for the lead inspector to contact the headteacher. As a lead inspector, I’d be impatiently waiting to get on with the task at hand, so my advice would be to not delay this too long. 

After the lead inspector and headteacher have spoken – in a conversation that should last for around 90 minutes – the lead inspector will need to distribute information concerning the school to their team. During the call, they’ll have asked if you have a SEF you’d like to share, to which headteachers invariably say ‘yes’, followed by a promise to send it as soon as the call is over. 

My next ‘do’ would therefore be to keep your SEF regularly updated. Because in my experience, two things could happen at this point to make me very annoyed. One would be receiving a 100-page+ SEF packed with so much detail that key messages are lost, but which I’m still expected to read. The other was being promised an SEF at midday, only to receive it some time that evening. 

Forward planning 

When the inspection itself begins, those four to six subject leaders will then become the focus of day one. The questions they’ll field are usually quite predictable, but with the fate of the school resting on their (possibly quite junior) shoulders, it can be easy to forget what one has planned to say. 

Heads of department shouldn’t wait until their subject has been selected for a ‘deep dive’ before preparing what they’re going to present. Instead, prepare for this well in advance, on the assumption that your subject will be chosen. 

When the time comes, don’t produce huge files of printouts. Instead, bring one side of A4 prompts detailing what you want pupils to get from studying your subject in KS3 and KS4, how you go about selecting the knowledge you want pupils to acquire, and how you’ve chosen the order in which to teach it. 

Inspectors will also want you to explain how you know that pupils have learnt said knowledge, how you can be sure that your subject teachers are delivering the curriculum consistently, and what you’ve done to develop and hone your colleagues’ subject knowledge and awareness of subject-specific research. 

My final ‘do’ would therefore be to familiarise your subject team with these prompts and answers, so that you have a consistent story to tell. My final ‘don’t’ would be don’t try and ‘wing it’ by meeting with inspectors without a prompt sheet. 

Adrian Lyons was one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors between 2005 and 2021. and now works with MATs, teacher training providers and LAs to support education; find out more at

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