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What are the key messages from the Ofsted School Inspection Handbook changes in January 2024?

If you don't have the time or inclination to read all the changes, here are the key takeaways:

  • The vast majority of the changes and measures focus on supporting the headteacher's wellbeing throughout the process, including during the phone call, the inspection itself and during the feedback and follow up process.
  • Clarification is given on who can be involved in the meetings held between inspectors and staff throughout the inspection as well as the purpose of these different meetings.
  • Further details are given around requesting deferrals and pausing inspections.
  • Measures are added to support headteachers during the Ofsted phone call.
  • The section on how Ofsted handles concerns and complaints has been massively amended.
  • Other unlinked changes are identified.


We'll break these key messages down further in the blog but if you're looking for a specific section, this table of contents will help:


Meetings held between inspectors and staff

Underpinning many of the changes are the amendments to paragraph 9:

Inspectors will uphold the highest professional standards in their work. They will treat everyone they meet during inspections fairly and with the respect and sensitivity they deserve. Inspectors will work constructively with leaders and staff, demonstrating professionalism, courtesy, empathy and respect at all times.
The emphasis on the way inspectors operate is key across many of the changes. This is also reflected in some of the minor wording changes, e.g. the removal in some places to references of a "final judgement."

End-of-day meetings

Clarification has been given in paragraphs 22-24 (as well as further mentions in other paragraphs) about who can attend end-of-day meetings with the inspector(s). These state:

  • The headteacher and CEO of the trust (or their delegate) will be invited to observe the inspectors' end of day meetings.
  • At least one other member of staff may attend the meeting to support the headteacher. This should be someone who typically deputises for them and can understand the educational content of the meeting.
  • The purpose of this meeting is to observe inspectors bringing the evidence together.

    • On day 1, this will help leaders to decide what they want to draw inspectors’ attention to, clarify any matters of fact and contribute to the construction of the day 2 timetable.
    • On day 2, it will help leaders to understand the evidence on which the judgements are based.
  • Attendance by the headteacher or other attendees at these meetings is optional and they may leave this meeting at any time (paragraph 97). For the final feedback meeting, any attendees may leave at any time, including leaving for a short time and then returning (paragraph 160).
  • Paragraph 162 clarifies that if a school is likely to be graded as inadequate or that it might be judged to have serious weaknesses or require special measures, school leaders will be told of this by the end of the first day of the inspection or during day 2 but before the final feedback meeting.
  • Where feedback is likely to be challenging or is likely to raise difficult issues, the lead inspector will be sensitive to any implications arising from this and discuss with the headteacher which other people may attend to ensure the necessary support for school leaders (paragraph 159).

Following the final feedback meeting, paragraph 161 clarifies that school leaders can share the inspection outcomes, in confidence, with others not involved in the school such as family, medical advisers and/or their wider support group. They may also raise any issues or concerns, or seek clarification about the inspection at the final feedback stage, with the option to contact Ofsted on the working day after the end of the inspection, if necessary.


Governors and/or trustees in meetings

When referring to governor and trustee attendance at meetings during inspections, wording has changed across the handbook from "as many governors/trustees as possible" to "any governor/trustee who is available."

For academies, paragraph 24 clarifies that Ofsted will expect to meet those directly responsible for management and governance, including the CEO or their delegate (or equivalent), the chair of the board of trustees (or their delegate) and other trustees. This will be discussed with headteachers during the notification call.


Professional dialogue

There is clarification throughout the handbook on the purpose of meetings and the importance of professional dialogue. Paragraph 133 states 

At the heart of our inspections is a professional dialogue between inspectors and leaders and so the lead inspector will agree a process for keeping leaders informed of progress throughout the inspection.

Reference is also made to this in paragraphs 252 and 265 which talk about the meetings that take place between other staff members (e.g. ECTs, teaching assistants, MTAs) and Ofsted.


Meetings with staff, pupils and parents

Just like the provisions made for headteachers, paragraphs 118, 266 and 317 clarify that staff may always be accompanied by another appropriate person in meetings with Ofsted, providing that it allows them to express their views freely.

The handbook also clarifies that inspectors should speak with stakeholders in line with their code of conduct, and at all times act with professionalism, courtesy, empathy and respect (paragraph 117). Inspectors will take careful account of the well-being of leaders and staff and adjust their approach or activity, as appropriate, as they go about their inspection work in the best interests of pupils. This includes actions inspectors will take if they see or suspect a staff member (including leaders and the headteacher) are upset or distressed (paragraph 119).

Meetings with pupils or parents must take place without the presence of any leaders or staff, unless there are relevant exceptional circumstances (paragraph 121).


Ofsted inspection deferrals and pausing inspections

Requesting an inspection deferral

Information has been expanded here to clarify that Ofsted recognise there may sometimes be reasons that a planned inspection may not go ahead and so a school may request a deferral of an inspection (paragraph 89). During the inspection planning conversation part of the main 90-minute phone call, the lead inspector will "invite the school to consider if there are any reasons, of either a personal or professional nature, that may mean they wish to ask for a deferral." (Paragraphs 100 and 101).

Pausing an inspection

Paragraph 127 (and others) clarify that there may be exceptional occasions when a pause to inspection needs to be considered. A link to new guidance - Pausing state-funded school inspections - is provided and gives more details.


Amendments to the Ofsted phone call practices

Paragraph 93 clarifies that Ofsted understand that the data they can gather to prepare for the inspection may not express the full picture of the school's context. There is an opportunity during the Ofsted phone call for headteachers to provide a fuller context and discuss particular circumstances that have played a role in their decision making.

Paragraph 95 then goes on to state that Ofsted understand there is a "great deal of information to be discussed at this stage of the inspection." They suggest that it may be better to have 2 or more separate conversations with a break in between. The lead inspector will discuss what will work best for the headteacher.

The inspector will now check on the headteacher's well-being, and find out whether any steps need to be taken to ensure any issues or concerns are addressed, including that appropriate support is available (paragraph 96). They'll also ascertain how to contact whoever is responsible for the headteacher’s well-being on a day-to-day basis (normally the local authority or trust).

Finally, paragraph 104 identifies that in some cases, the phone call may last longer than 90 minutes.


Who can be present during the 90-minute Ofsted phone call?

The lead inspector will encourage the headteacher to have at least one other senior leader present during both calls to assist and support them (paragraph 94). The same applies to urgent inspections (paragraph 482).

The Ofsted phone call can be nerve-wracking, so much so that we wrote a whole blog on it. We've always suggested having other members of your SLT present during the phone call to support you - find out how you can work together to relieve the pressure and feel prepared with our Ofsted Phone Call Preparation Pack.

Ofsted concerns and complaints

This entire section (paragraphs 178-180) has been reworded so it's worth reading this in its entirety, as below:

178. The great majority of our work is carried out smoothly and without incident. If concerns do arise during the inspection, they should be raised with the lead inspector as soon as possible, in order to resolve issues before the inspection is completed. Any concerns raised, and actions taken, will be recorded in the inspection evidence. If there are any concerns that it is not possible to resolve with the lead inspector during the inspection, the headteacher, another senior leader, the local authority or a trust representative can contact a senior Ofsted leader using the number provided as part of the notification process (usually during the preparatory telephone call(s) with the headteacher).
179. If an issue remains unresolved, the school or responsible body can contact Ofsted on the working day after the end of the inspection. This will be an opportunity for the school to raise informal concerns about the inspection process or outcomes, ask about next steps or highlight information that they feel was not fully considered during the inspection. This will be directed to an inspector who is independent of the inspection, to discuss and to resolve, where appropriate, at the earliest opportunity.
180. If it is not possible to resolve concerns during the inspection, through a telephone call the day after the inspection, or through submitting comments in response to the draft report, the school may wish to lodge a formal complaint when it receives the final report. The lead inspector will ensure that the school is informed that it is able to make a formal complaint and that information about how to complain is available on

Other unlinked changes

Clarification on Ofsted's role as an inspectorate - paragraph 28 states that Ofsted will not provide schools with any information from any lesson visit with the intention that it be used in capability to disciplinary proceedings or for the purposes of performance management.

What inspectors review and consider as part of their preparation - changes have been made to paragraph 103 about what publicly available information Ofsted look at.

Draft and final reports - paragraphs 169 and 170 have been altered slightly to reference moderation of draft reports, that they will be sent to schools within 18 days or "as quickly as possible" and that any comments made by the school “will normally be within 30 working days of the end of the inspection.”

Final thoughts

Our first thought is we've been hit with more news this week from the DfE about teacher and leader wellbeing and how they want to support schools to reduce workload to improve wellbeing. All good on paper, but why then do Ofsted release this update to the handbook so it hits leaders' inboxes on a Saturday? Judging by the number of typos in the changes, including an incorrect paragraph number in the summary, the cynic in me wonders if it was rushed for a reason that isn't solely to do with headteachers' wellbeing...

Nonetheless, these are the changes Ofsted have made to their Schools Inspections Handbook in 2024. Let's hope that every Ofsted inspector implements them so every school in the country faces a kinder and fairer inspection process.

Until the next update...

Did you miss the September and October 2023 School Inspection Handbook Changes?

We wrote this part of the blog back in October 2023 when the handbook was last updated. If you missed these wide-ranging changes, we've kept them here for you!

Looking for a specific section? This table of contents will help:


Before the inspection takes place

Inspection timings

Paragraphs 34-42 detail when schools can expect their next inspection. Full details can be found here: Ofsted Schools Inspection Handbook - Part 1: How schools will be inspected. In paragraph 65, the handbook also clarifies that Ofsted’s risk assessment methodology is updated and published annually.

Inspection planning conversation and pre-inspection information

Minor changes have been made to what takes place in the inspection planning conversation (paragraph 94):

  • For academies, there should be a discussion about who (in the trust and in the school) has responsibility for key decisions like behaviour policy and curriculum content (paragraph 86). Inspectors will also refer to the scheme of delegation and discuss this with the headteacher when deciding who may be the most appropriate individuals to speak to (paragraph 24).
  • The headteacher (or staff member leading the phone call) will have a chance to share other factors they consider relevant to their current context, and ask any questions or to raise any concerns, such as perceived conflicts of interest.
  • The headteacher will be asked to make requests for inspectors to not visit any specific lesson or lessons (as opposed to being asked whether any teachers cannot be observed for any reason ). Details must also be included in the operational documents provided by the school before 8am on the day of the inspection.

As well as the usual documentation, the headteacher will now be asked to read Ofsted’s code of conduct before 8am on the day of the inspection.

Wondering what else the phone call entails? Our supportive pack can guide you through the entire process...


Conduct and concerns about the inspection process

Paragraphs 8-10 tell us inspectors are expected to follow Ofsted's code of conduct and will uphold the highest professional standards in their work by treating everyone fairly, and with respect and sensitivity. Likewise, providers should be open, honest and transparent during inspection.

However, if schools do have concerns about an inspection, inspectors' conduct, or any potential or perceived conflicts of interest, paragraphs 11-12 reference that these should be raised at the earliest opportunity at any point during the inspection, including the inspection planning conversation during the Ofsted phone call, in any meetings between inspectors and leaders, and during the final feedback meeting.


During the inspection

Evaluating the curriculum

The following areas have received minor amendments and further clarification. 

Trust leaders

For academies, clarification has been added that when looking at the leadership of the curriculum, trust leaders with responsibility for the curriculum can now be involved in these discussions. Note, this does not mean that Ofsted expects the trust to make curriculum decisions necessarily. Where trust-wide decisions are or aren't made, inspectors will want to understand how and why that conclusion was reached, and the impact on pupils.

Year 4 multiplication tables check (MTC)

Paragraph 262 has been added to say that inspectors will draw on information from the MTC but inspectors will only use this information as a starting point and understand that it represents a small element of the mathematics curriculum overall.

Other minor amendments

Clarification has been provided on the following:

  • PRUs and alternative provision settings are not necessarily expected to deliver the national curriculum (paragraph 214).
  • Inspectors may speak to local authorities, other agencies and parents/carers to evaluate whether alternative provision is safe and effective in promoting pupils' progress (paragraph 282).
  • In paragraph 219, the handbook states a broad and rich curriculum needs to be offered and that this includes pupils with SEND - this was not previously specified.
  • The date that mainstream, state-funded schools are required to provide a minimum of 32.5 hours has been amend to 1st September 2024 (not 2023).

Thinking about the quality of education in your setting? This audit pack is perfect to dig deeper.


A culture of safeguarding

The following list, as well as the details on minor safeguarding improvements, applies to both graded and ungraded inspections. It is worth leaders reading paragraphs 367-385 (for graded inspections) and 408-411 (for ungraded inspections) to understand the changes have been made to the handbook. A summary of this is below:

All schools should have an open and positive culture around safeguarding that puts pupils’ interests first. This means they:

  • protect pupils from serious harm, both online and offline
  • are vigilant, maintaining an attitude of ‘it could happen here’
  • are open and transparent, sharing information with others and actively seeking expert advice when required
  • ensure that all those who work with pupils are trained well so that they understand their responsibilities and the systems and processes that the school operates and are empowered to ‘speak out’ where there may be concerns
  • actively seek and listen to the views and experiences of pupils, staff and parents, taking prompt but proportionate action to address any concerns, where needed
  • have appropriate child protection arrangements, which:
    • identify pupils who may need early help, and who are at risk of harm or have been harmed. This can include, but is not limited to, neglect, abuse (including by their peers), grooming, exploitation, sexual abuse and online harm
    • secure the help that pupils need and, if required, refer in a timely way to those who have the expertise to help
    • manage safe recruitment and allegations about adults who may be a risk to pupils
    • are receptive to challenge and reflective of their own practices to ensure that safeguarding policies, systems and processes are kept under continuous review

Minor improvements to safeguarding practices

Inspectors may identify minor improvements that need to be made to the school’s safeguarding practices during inspection, such as administrative errors in paperwork or out-of-date policies. If these can be rectified during the inspection, inspectors will give the school the chance to do so. Where minor improvements are required but these are not able to be resolved before the end of the inspection, if the school has taken steps to resolve the issue, the school can still be judged effective for safeguarding.

Judging safeguarding to be ineffective

In paragraphs 384-385, the handbook details what ineffective safeguarding might look like:

  • insufficient action is being taken to remedy weaknesses following a serious failure of safeguarding arrangements
  • safeguarding allegations about staff members are not being handled appropriately
  • clear evidence of serious failures in safeguarding practice that lead pupils or particular groups of pupils not to be safe in school
  • statutory requirements, such as breaches of the requirements for Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, are not being met
  • pupils have little confidence that the school or setting will address concerns about their safety, including risk of abuse, because leaders have not taken their views seriously and/or addressed relevant concerns
  • pupils, particularly vulnerable pupils, who are not on the school site (whether long term, temporary or for part of the school day) and the school are either not clear where those pupils are or are not able to give reassurances as to the appropriate steps taken to safeguard them when off-site. This can include children absent from education and children attending inappropriate, unregistered or unmonitored alternative provision.

Local authority designated officer (LADO) referral records

When secure access to safeguarding information is given to inspectors, schools must also provide information about any referrals made to the LADO regarding staff or other adults.

Single central record (SCR) checks

These should be in line with the requirements set out in Keeping Children Safe in Education. Paragraph 29 now states that while inspectors may not always review personnel files, they will review the single central record for the school and look at how the school undertakes the necessary safeguarding checks.

Thinking about your current safeguarding practices or offering further training? We've got resources to support this.


Clarification has been added along the following lines:

  • Attendance between March 2020 and March 2021 will not impact on the judgement of the school.
  • Inspectors will expect schools to do all they reasonably can to achieve the highest possible attendance, recognising that the context in which schools operate has changed.
  • Inspectors will expect schools to have done an analysis of absence and persistent absence rates for all pupils, and for different groups, compared with the published local and national averages for all pupils. This includes the extent to which pupils with persistent and severe absence are improving their attendance or whether attendance is consistently low. Inspectors will want to see this analysis and how this has fed into the school’s approach.
  • Where attendance is not consistently at or above what could reasonably be expected, inspectors will expect attendance to be a high priority for leaders and for it to be improving towards and beyond national, pre-pandemic levels. There should be a strong understanding of the causes of absence (particularly for persistent and severe absence) and a clear strategy in place that takes account of those causes to improve attendance for all pupils. In some cases of persistent and all cases of severe absence, schools should make efforts to engage in multi-agency work with the local authority and other partners.
  • Where leaders are aware of the issues affecting attendance and have a clear, strategic plan of action in place but attendance for all pupils is not yet consistently very high, inspectors should judge this favourably, as long as there is a track record of improvement that demonstrates leaders’ capacity to continue to improve attendance.

If you're looking for templates to back up the work you're already doing on attendance, it could be worth having a look at our budget-friendly attendance strategy, monitoring and training pack:


Part-time timetables

Additional paragraphs have been added (398-399) to clarify what appropriate use of part-time timetables looks like. Where part-time timetables are in place, schools will need to show inspectors why it is being used and that there were plans from the very beginning to return to a full-time timetable.

Where school leaders are using part-time timetables inappropriately, this may be an unlawful suspension of a pupil. This is defined as where a pupil is sent home, or told not to come into school, often as a result of a pupil’s behaviour, without a formal suspension being used (paragraph 400). If this occurs, this is likely to effect the leadership and management grading.

Off rolling

Paragraph 401 provides a more detailed definition of off rolling. It states that this is a form of gaming where a school:

  • removes a pupil from the school roll without a formal, permanent exclusion, or
  • encourages a parent to remove their child from the school roll, or
  • encourages a sixth form student not to continue with their course of study, or
  • retains a pupil on the school roll but does not allow them to attend school normally, without a formal permanent exclusion or suspension
  • and that decision is made primarily in the interests of the school and not the pupil.



This section now states that inspectors will recognise that the context in which schools operate with respect to behaviour has changed as a result of the pandemic.

If inspectors see evidence of poor behaviour but leaders are aware of the issues and have a clear, strategic plan of action, inspectors will judge this favourably, as long as there is a track record of improvement that demonstrates leaders’ capacity to continue to improve behaviour.

Evaluating behaviour and attitudes in a graded inspection

In paragraph 310, further clarity has been provided over what information will be gathered to make this judgement, including:

  • the school’s own analysis and understanding of the absence, persistent absence and severe absence rates for all pupils and different group, and the causes for this
  • how attendance analysis has fed into the school’s prioritisation strategy for improvement to consistently high attendance
  • for academies, speaking to trust leaders about the role the trust plays in the school’s behaviour policies and in any other aspects of behaviour and attitudes in the inspected school, including how and why decisions were made

It's always worth looking at the current strengths and weaknesses of behaviour and attitudes in your setting, and our audit pack can help you complete this process.


Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Separation by sex

Paragraphs 355-357 focuses on separation by sex and clarifies that schools have an obligation not to discriminate against pupils on the basis of protected characteristics. Unless permitted by an exception under the Equality Act 2010 (such as positive action or in relation to competitive sport), it may be unlawful for schools to separate pupils on the basis of any protected characteristic such as sex, religion, belief or gender reassignment while at school.

If an inspector finds evidence of potentially discrimination because of a protected characteristic, they must take legal advice and where the issue is complex, inspectors may pause the inspection. If inspectors consider that there is sufficient evidence that a school is unlawfully discriminating against its pupils, inspectors will write about this in the inspection report and the separation may have an impact on the grade given.

Protected characteristics

Paragraph 359 includes an addition about the DfE’s statutory guidance on relationships education, relationships and sex education and health – it now specifies that if a school has failed to consult with parents, inspectors will consider this when making the leadership and management judgement.

EDI can be a challenging area for schools to make improvement on; this audit pack is the perfect tool to support your thinking.

Inspectors' conversations with staff, pupils, parents and other stakeholders

Clarification has been provided on the following:

  • Meetings with pupils or parents must take place without the presence of any leaders or staff, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
  • When inspectors hold meetings with staff (including headteachers and other leaders), they should remind those they are meeting that they can be accompanied by a colleague from the school or trust.
  • When conversations take place, every effort should be made to enable staff to speak freely, especially if they are accompanied by senior leaders. Inspectors must also have the opportunity to speak to staff without senior colleagues present (paragraph 255).
  • Evidence from pupils, such through discussion, will always be considered alongside the other evidence that inspectors collect.

The end of the inspection

Capacity to improve

Paragraph 180 clarifies that in deciding whether schools have the capacity to improve, inspectors should not simply consider a school’s potential but the extent to which leaders:

  • are able to identify and prioritise the right issues (shown by the accurate identification of the issues and effective evaluation processes to identify any future issues)
  • take appropriate and timely action to address the identified issues, including the effective use of internal and external support, where necessary
  • have a track record of improvement, even if the desired outcome has not yet been achieved, so that there is confidence that improvements will be swift and sustainable
  • have done all that they can be reasonably expected to do in the time available and the circumstances in which they work

The final team meeting

Clarification has been added that other staff, in addition to the headteacher and CEO of the trust, can also observe the team meeting at the end of the day, but they should be few in number. 

Feedback from the final meeting to others

Paragraph 150 clarifies that the lead inspector may agree that other leaders can attend feedback, but the expectation will normally be that the headteacher and CEO pass on Ofsted's feedback to staff of their choice. Paragraph 151 states that leaders may share inspection outcomes in confidence with others who are not involved in the school, provided the information is not made public or shared with parents.

Arrangement for publishing the report

Paragraph 160 clarifies that Ofsted expects leaders to share the inspection outcome and findings with governors or trustees and whoever they deem appropriate. The draft report may be sent to the DfE and other bodies but this will only take place following moderation or quality assurance.

In addition to this, paragraph 162 now states that if the school has not submitted a complaint, Ofsted will normally publish the report on their website three working days later. If a complaint had been submitted, the publication of the report may be delayed. 

Inspections for specific types of settings

Approach to academy trusts in school inspections

Paragraphs 122-124 provide clarification on Ofsted's approach to the trust in school inspections. In this section, it is explained that inspectors will:

  • acknowledge that trusts constitute a single legal entity, and decisions made by individual academies and trust leaders are closely intertwined. While inspectors must primarily focus on decisions affecting the specific academy under inspection, they will recognise this interconnectedness.
  • ensure, through discussions with leaders both at the school and within the trust, that they correctly identify the leaders in the individual academy and the broader trust to engage with during the inspection. They will also acknowledge that trusts maintain overall legal responsibility for all school matters, even when certain matters are delegated.
  • recognise that the trust leaders they need to communicate with may include those with delegated responsibilities. In cases where trusts are sizable, multiple individuals may be involved. Inspectors will not restrict attendance at meetings or inspection activities but will exercise their professional judgment to ensure the presence of the right individuals, making the best use of time.
  • as a minimum, aim to meet with the CEO if possible, but they will also recognize that, especially in large trusts, CEOs may require the presence of other senior trust leaders to support these meetings. However, inspectors will seek to understand how all leaders ensure that delegated responsibilities are effectively carried out, including how leaders verify that systems are functioning as intended.

Boarding and residential schools

Paragraphs 75-76 offer some additional insights into what happens in inspections of boarding and residential schools, including examples of when it is appropriate for the two inspection teams to share evidence and when teams will arrive and leave during the day.


Schools that are registered as children’s homes

Paragraph 79 clarifies that residential special schools that offer residential provision for more than 295 days a year must be registered as a children’s home. Paragraph 80 elaborates on the process of concurrent inspection of both elements. In this scenario, inspectors from both teams will collaborate closely, which may involve arranging meetings with key personnel, such as the designated safeguarding lead(s) and the proprietor, collectively. 

Paragraph 81 explains that when concurrent inspections take place inspectors can share key lines of enquiry that emerge during planning when the issues are likely to affect both/all of the schools, and findings with the inspectors in the other inspection team during the inspection. It clarifies that inspectors will not rely solely on this shared evidence to make their judgements and they must follow this up in their own evidence gathering.


Other amendments

Covid-19 references

Most references to Covid-19 have now been removed.


Terminology updates

Paragraph 18 shares the additional definitions to its section on terminology:

  • School - this means a maintained school or an academy. Ofsted will specify 'maintained school' or 'academy' where applicable.
  • Leaders - staff who are responsible for making key decisions about how the school operates, and will always include the headteacher
  • Trust - any academy trust, including single-academy trusts and multi-academy trusts
  • Board of governors - refers to the accountable authority for a maintained school
  • Board of trustees - refers to the accountable authority of a trust

Governance and leadership structures are explored further in the amended paragraphs 348-351.


Final thoughts

While the changes have been described in places as minor amendments, they are still important for school leaders to be aware of, especially if there are areas covered in your own school's improvement plan.

Our supportive Ofsted-focused resources are fully up to date with these 2023 changes to the schools inspection handbook, so if you're looking for structure and guidance, you've come to the right place.


And that's it. Until the next update...


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