Ofsted: Busting myths and misconceptions #OfstedMyths

13 Apr

By Sean Harford, National Director, Education, Ofsted for April 2017 issue of Your Voice

Sean_Harford_2A good education for all is the golden thread that runs through Ofsted’s work. To achieve our aim we must make sure everyone is clear about what inspectors look at on inspection.

I know that many myths and misconceptions circulate about what Ofsted expects to see. Sometimes inspectors are not consistent. This is confusing and I am addressing this. Sometimes information about what we look at is not shared in teaching establishments. Whatever the reasons, myths still abound and it serves us all to get rid of them.

Early years

When we inspect early years settings, we look at how leaders and managers check the quality of teaching and learning. There can be confusion over what we mean by ‘teaching’. Teaching in early years is not about a formal way of working, it is about how adults help young children learn. That may be through play and exploration, such as planned and child-initiated play and activities. Put simply, it is about the many different ways in which adults help children learn.

Those in early years often ask if they need to complete the Ofsted self-evaluation form. We don’t expect a written self-evaluation. We do check to see if leaders and managers have an accurate view of the quality of what they offer. Does the setting understand its strengths? Does it know what it needs to do to improve or to maintain its high standards? The chosen approach to self-evaluation is discussed during the inspection.


In colleges, there is a misconception that English, mathematics and work experience are limiting grades for those on study programmes. This is not the case at all. Nor does Ofsted need colleges to observe and grade teachers for self-assessment and staff training purposes. It is entirely up to college leaders what methods they use to improve the quality of teaching. And we expect teachers and trainers to decide what works best for their students. It is the progress that students are making that inspectors will be looking at.

Lesson plans and teaching styles

By eliminating myths we can improve the experience of inspection and also help to reduce the burden of teachers’ workloads. For instance, we do not expect to see lesson plans. Inspectors will judge the lesson planning, but they are not interested in the specific details. We also do not prescribe any particular style of teaching and this applies across all age groups.


An abiding myth that is proving harder to bust is that Ofsted has a preferred style of marking. I have advised inspectors that they must not give the impression that marking should follow any particular format, or that there needs to be any degree of sophistication or detail.

The first port of call for any clarifications are the inspection handbooks. I urge you all to look at our myth busting document and the playlist of short films about myths on our YouTube channel. These set out the most common myths. (See further information below.) They are not comprehensive. We remain vigilant to misconceptions and continue to demystify wherever we can.

Further information (Ofsted)

Early years inspection handbook

Further education and skills handbook

School inspection handbook

Ofsted inspections: myths

#OfstedMyths (YouTube):


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