Education secretary Gavin Williamson has said his department is working with Ofsted to consider how the watchdog can return "safely and sensitively" to inspect schools next year.
He told the Schools and Academies Show today that he wanted Ofsted to continue to play a vital role in education during the pandemic, adding that "we must start to plan for a time" when inspections can resume in 2021.
Mr Williamson said that an announcement on Ofsted's return to full inspections would be made within weeks to give schools time to prepare before the end of term.
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Ofsted inspections were suspended in March but are scheduled to return in January next year.
This date is under review and chief inspector Amanda Spielman said today that a final decision has still not been made.
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In a speech broadcast at the online Schools and Academies Show today, Mr Williamson said: "When we closed schools to all but a few children back in March, it was clear that we could not continue to put schools under the added pressure of an Ofsted inspection. But as we move on into 2021, we must start to plan for a time when they can restart.
"Ofsted is a vital feature of our educational landscape. Its experts give us a rounded view of how a school functions, from teaching and the quality of education as well as pupil behaviour and attendance.
"This, in turn, enables not just government but parents to see what is working well and, in some cases, what is not. Proper accountability is fundamental if we are to make sure that every child in the country gets the world-class education they deserve."
Mr Williamson said Ofsted took the role of a "critical friend" and a last line of defence against poor standards.
He added: "It acts as a champion for children who would otherwise go unheard, such as is in the case of the unacceptable practice of off-rolling.
"I fully intend Ofsted to continue to play its vital role as we come through the pandemic but in a way that ensures that any inspection results are fair, particularly in terms of comparisons that are made between schools over time.
"We are continuing to look very carefully at this and are considering this and considering with Ofsted and the sector what can be achieved safely and sensitively.
"It is an important thing for school inspections to start up again but at the right time and in the right way. I will make a full announcement within the next few weeks with sufficient time for all concerned to prepare before the end of the autumn term."
Education unions have consistently criticised the plan for Ofsted inspections to return next term.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has said that the inspectorate returning in January was now unthinkable, amid the disruption being caused by Covid.