Ofsted lawyers - Ofsted compliance & regulation

Stephensons has a team of specialist regulatory lawyers who provide advice and representation to registered early years, childcare, education and social care providers in relation to compliance, inspections, enforcement action and appeals to the first-tier tribunal (Health, Education and Social Care Chamber).

Our specialist Ofsted lawyers understand the intense pressure on providers to comply with the vast and complex regulations governing regulated settings, whilst ensuring that children are suitably protected and safeguarded. We appreciate how a negative inspection report, or any potential enforcement action, can impact significantly on your business and, in many cases, unfairly so.

It is important to protect your business and reputation with legal advice from a specialist before you take any action. Defending you and your business is our primary concern. For a confidential, no-obligation discussion regarding your case, please contact our specialist regulatory lawyers now on 0203 816 9274.

  • Challenging Ofsted Rankings

    Ofsted compliance & regulation specialist Francesca Snape talks about why an organisation may need to challenge an Ofsted inspection or report. Francesca provides guidance on how to prepare a complaint, the process of making a complaint and why professional legal advice is vital.

    "It is really important that providers get the complaint right. It can be the difference between having a positive or a negative outcome. So it's really important that if you are considering making a complaint, that you do seek legal advice. From the outset, we can prepare that complaint on your behalf. We can liaise with Ofsted on your behalf and we can take some of that pressure off you and make sure that the process is handled correctly." - Francesca Snape

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Challenging Ofsted

Our firm has developed an excellent reputation in this field and we pride ourselves on achieving the best possible results for our clients. We have successfully defended and represented numerous providers across a variety of sectors, assisting them in retaining their registration, challenging an unfair rating and avoiding criminal prosecution.

We have a network of offices across the country, including in London and Manchester, and we act for clients nationwide. We appreciate that Ofsted often impose tight deadlines and we regularly prepare cases at very short notice. We also understand the needs and anxieties of our professional clients at risk of losing their registration and in some cases, their business and reputation.

We recognise that Ofsted enforcement action, and even inspections, can be a stressful and frustrating time and our experience allows us to provide clear and strategic advice at all stages.

Our specialist team of lawyers have experience of advising registered providers in early years, childcare, education and social care sectors. We represent nurseries, childcare providers, children’s homes, schools, colleges, adoption and fostering agencies.

Our Ofsted lawyers regularly act for providers nationwide in relation to the following:

  • Notices of intention/decision to:
    • Cancel registration
    • Suspend registration
    • Vary, impose or remove a condition of registration
    • Refuse registration
  • Appeals to the first-tier tribunal (Health, Education and Social Care Chamber)
  • Emergency applications to the Magistrates Courts
  • Welfare requirement notices/compliance notices
  • Notices restricting accommodation
  • Complaints against inspection reports and/or inspectors
  • Interviews under caution
  • Simple cautions
  • Prosecutions

Take a look at our Ofsted case studies and find out how we’ve helped childcare providers, education providers and social care providers in England and Wales challenge Ofsted and helped them through first-tier tribunals.  

If you require Ofsted advice or support about any of the above, you should seek specialist legal advice as soon as possible in order to protect your interests. For a confidential discussion with a member of our team, please contact us on 0203 816 9274 or complete our online enquiry form.

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Health, Education and Social Care Chamber: First-Tier Tribunal

The Health, Education and Social Care Chamber is one of seven chambers of the first-tier tribunal that settles legal disputes. Also known as the first-tier tribunal (care standards), they handle appeals against decisions by Ofsted as well as the Secretary of State for Education, the Secretary of State for Health, Care Quality Commission and the Care Council of Wales.

Our expert regulatory solicitors were recently instructed to represent a children’s home that had received notice of cancellation of registration by Ofsted. We dealt with the initial stages of the first tribunal appeal, prepared witness statements and amassed evidence in response to the concerns outlined by Ofsted. After receiving the evidence, we put together, Ofsted dropped their opposition to the appeal, which meant the children’s home could remain open.

At Stephensons, we can represent you and your business if you wish to appeal a decision that has reached the first-tier tribunal. We have achieved success in appeals to the first-tier tribunal for a range of services. If you need legal advice and advocacy for a first-tier tribunal (Care Standards), contact us today for no-obligation initial advice.

Ofsted complaints procedure

After you have undergone an inspection by Ofsted, your establishment will receive a draft inspection report and have the opportunity to make any factual accuracy comments. The timeframe for this can be short and may differ, depending on the type of inspection. If no factual accuracy comments are made, the publication is normally published within 10 working days.

If you wish to challenge the finding and judgment of the report, then you will have to follow Ofsted’s complaints procedure. It is sometimes possible to ask Ofsted to delay publication; however, the bar for this is set very high and it can be difficult to persuade them to withhold the report whilst a complaint is considered.

There are three stages to the Ofsted complaints procedure, which are:

Stage 1: Informal complaint

It is encouraged by Ofsted that providers should raise any concerns they may have as soon as they arise with the individuals involved. If the concerns are about the inspectors, it is recommended that you speak to the lead inspector during a visit.

At Stephensons, we understand that is not always easy, as providers are worried if they raise a concern, it might have a negative impact on the inspection or problems may not be raised by staff until after the inspection. Speak to our Ofsted lawyers today, to find out if you have a case to challenge Ofsted.

Stage 2: Formal complaint

If you wish to submit a formal complaint against Ofsted, then this must be done within 10 working days of the concern or, if the complaint relates to a report, 10 working days of publication. Generally, a complaint can be made online and you can explain your concern and submit any supporting documentation. The complaints tend to be dealt with by an independent investigator, who does not work in the region where the setting is based. Once submitted, Ofsted will have 30 working days to investigate and respond to the complaint. 

Stage 3: Request for an internal review

The third and final stage is a request for an internal review. It is important to understand that this stage is only to look into how a complaint was dealt with and it is not a re-consideration of the original complaint itself. If you do wish to request an internal review, then this will need to be done within 15 working days of the response to stage 2.

If you are not happy with the way Ofsted has dealt or are dealing with your case, seek legal advice as soon as possible.

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Ofsted compliance FAQs

If you need legal advice regarding an Ofsted decision or rating contact our specialist solicitors on 0203 816 9274. However, if you are looking for general information on how Ofsted works please take a look at our FAQs below.

What is Ofsted?

Ofsted is a non-ministerial department that inspects educational institutions, including state schools, some independent schools, colleges, child-minders, nurseries and adoption and fostering services. The department also regulates teacher training, early years and children’s social care services.

Ofsted reports to Parliament and publishes reports of their findings with the aim to improve the overall quality of education and training. The department is also responsible for informing policymakers about the effectiveness of the services they inspect and regulate.

What does Ofsted stand for?

Ofsted stands for Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills.

How often are Ofsted inspections?

How often Ofsted inspects a state primary school or secondary school will depend on its last inspection status: 

  • Schools rated ‘outstanding’ are exempt from inspection unless concerns arise. (This does not apply to special schools, pupil referral units, or maintained nursery schools)
  • Schools rated ‘good’ will undergo an inspection once every four years unless there are concerns about performance
  • If a school is rated ‘requires improvement’, there will be a full inspection within 30 months
  • If a school is rated ‘inadequate’ or put into ‘special measures’ how often it will be inspected will depend on the school’s circumstances

A new free school will be inspected within three years of opening, while schools that have changed their status (i.e. to academies) will also be inspected within three years, unless the inspection history of the predecessor school exempts them from inspection.

Ofsted only inspects independent schools that are known as non-association independent schools; all other independent schools are inspected by the Independent School Inspectorate. All non-association independent schools, including independent special schools, and the boarding provision of these schools are inspected every three years.

For early years providers, such as nurseries and child-minders, an Ofsted inspection will take place within 30 months of registration and then there will be another inspection once every cycle. However, this is dependent on the nursery's current grading. If a nursery is graded as ‘inadequate’, they will be inspected again within six months. If the nursery is graded as ‘inadequate with enforcement’ they will likely also be subject to monitoring visits, to focus on particular issues, between full inspections.

Currently, Ofsted's early years inspection cycle is four years. The current inspection cycle will run out on 31 July 2020.

What can trigger an Ofsted inspection?

An Ofsted inspection of a school can be triggered by two sections of the Education Act 2005.

Section 5 inspection: also known as a routine inspection, will take place within a certain timeframe. How often an inspection occurs will depend on the type of education facility you run and the result of your previous inspection.

Section 8 inspection: this type of inspection may be triggered by concerns about behaviour or other matters as well as safeguarding problems. This type of inspection, also known as a short inspection, will be used to monitor schools that have been judged ‘require improvement' or ‘inadequate' in a previous report. Schools rated ‘good' will also undergo a short inspection within an inspection cycle if their last rating was ‘good.’

What triggers a Section 8 Ofsted inspection?

All Ofsted regulated schools, no matter their rating, can be subject to a Section 8 inspection. Called this after Section 8 of the Education Act 2005, a Section 8 inspection can be triggered for the following reason:

  • For investigating concerns such as safeguarding, behaviour and/or other matters
  • For monitoring schools that have been rated ‘require improvement’ or ‘inadequate’
  • A Section 8 inspection can be used as a short inspection for schools rated ‘good’

Schools that are rated ‘outstanding’ are currently exempt from Section 5 inspections (correct as of September 2019), however, they are not exempt from Section 8 inspections. While short inspections, such as those for schools rated ‘good’ are not carried out, a Section 8 inspection can be triggered for an ‘outstanding’ school if concerns come to light. Not all ‘outstanding’ schools will be exempt from Section 5 inspections.

For a school rated ‘good’ at their last inspection, a two-day inspection will take place, known as a short inspection. These typically will take place every four years. However, if a ‘good’ school is deemed to have “deteriorated significantly”, during a short inspection, a full inspection may take place.

What triggers a Section 5 Ofsted inspection?

A Section 5 inspection is a full inspection that will take place within a certain timeframe that is set out by Ofsted. How often you will be subject to a Section 5 inspection will depend on the type of facility your business, school or college is and your previous rating.

Named after Section 5 of the Education Act 2005, a Section 5 inspection will look into four key areas, which include:

  • The quality of education
  • Behaviours and attitudes
  • Personal development
  • Leadership and management

Inspectors will also look at arrangements for safeguarding pupils and their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.

Schools rated as ‘Outstanding’ are generally exempt from Section 5 inspections - however, there are some instances when they are not. If an ‘Outstanding’ school is inspected under Section 8 of the Education Act 2005 and ends up losing their ‘Outstanding’ rating, this may trigger a Section 5 inspection.

Schools rated ‘good’ are generally given a short inspection (Section 8) within four years of their Section 5 inspection. If, during the short inspection, they are deemed to have “deteriorated significantly” then another Section 5 inspection may be triggered. 

What is the difference between a Section 5 and Section 8 Ofsted inspection?

Section 5 inspections and Section 8 inspections refer to different parts of the Education Act 2005. A Section 5 is typically a routine inspection that is taken periodically to help ensure standards are kept high. 

Section 8 inspections are either short inspections carried out on schools that are 'good' or ones that require monitoring; or they are inspections that are triggered by concerns, such as safeguarding or poor behaviour.

Ofsted school inadequate what happens next?

If your school is rated inadequate, then there are two possible categories it will fall into:

  • Serious weakness
  • Special measures

A local authority school that is rated inadequate will result in the Secretary of State for Education making an ‘academy order’. Typically, this means they will be taken over by an academy chain to enable it to become an academy and receive additional support.  

If a school that is already an academy, or a free school is rated inadequate, then Ofsted inspectors will monitor the school until it has reached a higher rating. Generally, schools placed in special measures will have two years to improve, while those classed to have serious weaknesses will have 18 months. What do Ofsted look for?

Schools, nurseries and other educational establishments are all inspected in a similar way. Typically, in a routine inspection, Ofsted inspectors grade against the following:

Quality of education - this is split into three sections which include:

  • Intent
  • Implementation
  • Impact

Behaviour and attitudes - this mostly looks at the behaviours and attitudes of the students and the relationships between students and teachers

Personal development - this looks at providing learners with a broader development opportunity, support structure for character development, look at how the school provides students with the tool for future successes and prepares learners for life in modern Britain

Leadership and management - inspectors will evaluate whether leaders have a clear vision for providing high-quality education for all, improving staff knowledge on their subject, communicate with the wider community and aim to ensure that students complete their education

Arrangements for safeguarding - this will look at the school’s policy on safeguarding both staff and pupils

For registered child-minders, Ofsted is looking for the following:

  • Understanding and knowledge of the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework
  • Development and delivery of activities that support development
  • How progress is evaluated and monitored
  • How safeguarding and inclusive practice is promoted

An inspector may want to chat with a parent, and you will also be expected to show samples of relevant paperwork that include:

  • Policies, planning and assessment document
  • Training records
  • Complaints records
  • DBS and first aid certificates

How long for Ofsted report to be published?

Ofsted reports are typically published within three weeks of inspection. If you wish to challenge a report and delay its publication, it must be done so quickly. Ofsted will only delay publication in exceptional circumstances. If you wish to challenge Ofsted, contact our expert Ofsted lawyers today.

How often do Ofsted inspect outstanding schools?

Schools, including academy converter schools, that are rated ‘outstanding’ are exempt from Section 5 inspections unless concerns arise. However, they are not exempt from Section 8 inspections. A Section 8 inspection may occur if concerns are raised.

In 2019, Ofsted has lobbied the government to change the current system of inspection, especially in regard to the exemption of ‘outstanding' schools, so this may change shortly. 

How to become Ofsted registered?

Ofsted registration depends on the type of setting you intend to register as. It is important, especially when registering a setting for a first time, that you seek specialist advice to ensure the registration process is as smooth as possible.

Providers can seek advice from a specialist consultant to advise on registration requirements and policies and procedures. If there are any issues with the registration process, or if you receive notification that Ofsted intend to refuse your application for registration, it is vital that you seek specialist legal advice to assist with challenging the decision. If you require assistance with registration matters, contact our expert Ofsted lawyers today on 0203 816 9274.

Finally, Ofsted are currently undertaking a drive to tackle unregistered providers, particularly in the social care sector. If Ofsted suspect that an individual or an organisation is operating an unregistered setting, they may instigate a criminal prosecution. It is therefore vital that, prior to setting up a service involving young people, you seek specialist legal advice on whether you are required to be registered. Alternatively, if you are already operating a setting and you have been visited by or received correspondence from Ofsted suggesting they are investigating your setting, you should seek legal advice immediately.

How often do Ofsted inspect nurseries?

Nurseries are considered early years providers and are inspected within 30 months of registering with Ofsted. After this, they will be inspected once every inspection cycle, which lasts for four years. The current inspection cycle is due to finish on 31 July 2020.

A nursery may be inspected more frequently than this, depending on their inspection grading. If a nursery is graded as ‘inadequate’, they will be inspected again within six months. If the nursery is graded as ‘inadequate with enforcement’ they will likely also be subject to monitoring visits, to focus on particular issues, between full inspections. If a nursery has two inspections in a row where they are judged as ‘inadequate’, Ofsted may take steps to cancel registration.

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Ofsted team reorder

  • Francesca Snape
  • Chloe Parish
  • Laura Hannah
  • Carl Johnson
  • Alison Marriott
  • Paul Loughlin​​
  • Sean Joyce​
  • Emily Hill
  • Elizabeth Groom
  • Jessica Macaulay
  • Cameron Stubbs