Inspections of maintained schools and colleges are carried out by Ofsted in England, HM Inspectorate of Education in Scotland, the Education and Training Inspectorate in Northern Ireland and Estyn in Wales.
These bodies also inspect some independent schools and colleges, further education facilities and universities.
General advice for schools
It is good practice for schools to continually evaluate themselves. External inspection should confirm the outcomes of a good self-evaluation.
Inspectors may look at:
overall effectiveness of the school and what the school should do to improve further
standards and achievement, including personal development and well-being
quality of provision in teaching and learning, in curriculum and other activities, and in care, guidance and support
leadership and management
the extent to which schools enable learners to be healthy
the extent to which providers ensure that they stay safe
how well learners enjoy their education
the extent to which learners make a positive contribution
how well learners develop workplace and other skills that will contribute to their future economic well-being.
Inspections in England - Ofsted
The Ofsted website provides detailed information about inspection in England.
Ofsted says that its inspectors aim to find out whether senior managers in the school know how well the school is meeting the children's needs and helping them to succeed.
It says senior managers should be able to demonstrate to inspectors how well strengths are built on and how well weaknesses are remedied. Inspectors get a feel for this by examining what the school says in its self-assessment, and then seek evidence to see if they agree with what has been said.
They do this by observing the way the school helps all pupils to learn, no matter what their needs. They also talk to the headteacher, staff governors and pupils to find out about life in the school and its plans for the future.
The inspection report includes judgements on:
the school's effectiveness
the pupils' standards and achievement
the quality of the provision the school makes for pupils
the quality of the school's leadership and management.
The report also includes a list of the judgements inspectors have made and a letter to pupils about the inspection.
The Education and Training Inspectorate (Etini) website provides detailed information about inspection in Northern Ireland.
Inspections in post primary focus on the quality of:
leadership and management at all levels
the provision for pastoral care and child protection
the overall educational provision, particularly in identified subjects or areas
the school's self evaluation process.
Etini inspects the full range of education establishments in Northern Ireland, including primary, post primary and special schools in both the maintained and independent sectors, and further and higher education institutions.
The HM Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) website provides detailed information about inspection in Scotland.
HMIE inspects 'a broad range of schools' each year, both maintained by Education Authorities (EAs) and independent. The inspection programme includes schools in rural and urban areas; schools that are small, medium and large; EA schools that have high, medium and low percentage of the roll receiving free meals allowance; and schools that are located across all 32 local authority areas in Scotland. It also takes into account when schools were last inspected.
Schools are usually given three weeks' notice of inspections so that they have time to prepare briefing material for inspectors prior to their visit to the school. In the case of some care and welfare inspections, no notification is given.
Inspections focus on English and Mathematics teaching, and on literacy and numeracy across the school. Inspectors:
evaluate learning, teaching and attainment
talk to pupils and examine their work
meet senior school manager and departmental heads to discuss the school's approach to the improvement of learning and teaching and pupils attainment and achievement.
Colleges in Scotland are externally reviewed by HMIE on behalf of the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council (SFC) on a four-year cycle. The colleges to be reviewed each year are published in the annual service level agreement. Additional follow-up reviews are specified by the SFC for any college with weaknesses that have resulted in a statement of no confidence included by HMIE in the published review report.
The term "review" is used to indicate that evaluative activities conducted by HMIE in a college include substantial elements of peer review, carried out by 'associate assessors' who are normally managers in other colleges. It also refers to collaborative activities between HMIE and the college to identify sector leading and innovative practice and to explore together how any significant weaknesses can be addressed.
Estyn, the office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales, has a bilingual website that provides detailed information about inspection in the country.
All secondary schools in Wales are inspected at least once every six years. These inspections cover all aspects of a school's provision, apart from denominational education and the content of collective worship in certain voluntary schools. The function of an inspection is to report on:
the educational standards achieved in the school
the quality of education provided by the school
the quality of leadership in and management of the school, including whether the financial resources made available to the school are managed efficiently
the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at the school.
Estyn also carries out inspections of further education institutions funded by the National Council for Education and Training for Wales.
HM inspectors for education and training in Wales and/or additional inspectors conduct inspections of institutions of further education. They work closely with peer assessors from other further education institutions in Wales, who take a full part in the inspection process. A nominee from the institution is also a member of the inspection team.
Since the incorporation of further education institutions in 1992, there have been three inspection cycles. During the current, 2004-2010 cycle, all colleges of further education in Wales will undergo an institutional inspection.
Each inspection is customised to each institution's particular circumstances, with an emphasis on identifying good practice and taking into account the level of risk presented by each institution.
Making a complaint
During an inspection, those with concerns should raise issues with the lead inspector as soon as they arise so that they can be resolved as quickly as possible while the inspection is taking place.
If resolution of the concerns is not possible by this means, or the person expressing the concern does not feel that due weight is being given to the concerns, or an independent view is sought, then the person raising the concern, or someone acting on his or her behalf, should contact the appropriate inspection body - contact details can be found on the websites listed to the right.
If it has not been possible to resolve concerns raised then individuals or providers may decide to lodge a formal complaint. Normally, a complaint can be made at any stage during an inspection or up to 30 calendar days from the date of publication of any report, or the end of the inspection where there is no report.
Need further advice?
Your first point of contact is your ATL rep in your school or college. Your local ATL branch is also available to help with queries, or you can contact ATL's member advisors on tel: 020 7930 6441 or email us. Please have your membership number to hand when telephoning and include it with any correspondence - this will help us to answer your query more quickly.