Ofsted has announced that it will inspect schools and colleges on site next term “to provide reassurance about how well children and learners are catching up”.
But the inspections will be “lighter touch” with a full programme of graded inspections not beginning until September.
The exception, under a plan Tes revealed earlier this month, will be “where the evidence strongly suggests that a school’s current grade is no longer a fair reflection of its work”.
Exclusive: Ofsted may grade some schools next term
So for schools with "inadequate" or "requires improvement" ratings that have “clearly improved”, Ofsted says “inspectors will be able to convert to a full, graded inspection either immediately or later in the term”.
And, other than where significant concerns are raised, Ofsted will not inspect secondary schools during the first half of the summer term, to allow them to focus on teacher-assessed grades.
Ofsted to return to on-site school inspections
“As always", the inspectorate adds, “Ofsted will do the same if a visit to a higher-graded school highlights a significant cause for concern.”
The watchdog says it is currently piloting “some limited changes to inspection methods to take account of the challenges raised by Covid-19”.
Updated inspection handbooks including these changes will be published after the Easter holiday.
Ofsted also says it is working closely with the government’s catch-up commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, on how its work can support the longer-term education recovery.
Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: “Inspections play an important role. They look at the quality of education received by children, they provide information to parents and the government, and they help headteachers identify areas for improvement.
“Our inspections this summer will recognise the current challenges facing schools and help support the catch-up of all pupils.
“We will not grade schools before the autumn – unless we see significant improvement or we identify significant concerns. This continues our step-by-step approach towards a full programme of graded inspections in the autumn.”
Ofsted had been due to resume a full inspection programme after Easter but it had already pushed the return forward.
That was the second time the watchdog had delayed the resumption of full inspections during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ofsted inspections were suspended in March last year at the onset of the crisis.
It was originally set to return to full inspection in January of this year but this plan was postponed in December 2020.
Instead, Ofsted has been carrying out monitoring inspections since January of some schools in its lower two inspection categories: "requires improvement" and "inadequate".
The watchdog had originally planned to send inspectors into schools for these visits despite the country starting a new lockdown that month.
However, it then changed its plan and has been carrying out these visits remotely throughout this term.
Responding to the plans announced today, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, said: “Schools have recently returned to onsite education and are fully focused on supporting their pupils as we emerge from lockdown. It is critical that any activity by Ofsted helps, not hinders, those recovery efforts.
“Not visiting secondaries while they undertake the challenging task of grading GCSE and A Level students, is the right thing to do.
“On its plans for monitoring inspections, the most important thing is for the inspectorate to engage properly with the profession in shaping the amendments to inspection methodology and handbooks, to ensure that monitoring inspections take full account of the extraordinary situation in which schools are operating.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "This seems a proportionate approach to school inspection during the summer term. It gives struggling schools which are improving the chance to be regraded to reflect their improvement.
"It also recognises that secondary schools will have their hands full assessing students for GCSEs, A-levels and other qualifications during the first half of the summer term, and proposes no routine inspections during this time.
"We are pleased that Ofsted has listened to feedback from education leaders who are dealing with the extraordinary challenges of managing Covid safety processes, supporting pupils after the lockdown, and assessing students following the cancellation of exams.”