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Ofsted compliance FAQs

If you require legal advice or support regarding an Ofsted decision or rating, you can contact our specialist Ofsted solicitors now on 0161 696 6250.

Alternatively, you can view our FAQ’s below for some general information on how Ofsted operates.

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 childminders, 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 most recent inspection cycle was due to run out on 31 July 2020, however as a result of Covid-19, all routine inspections were postponed from March 2020. As of September 2020, Ofsted will be visiting some nurseries and childminders to ensure that standards are being maintained, however they will not result in an inspection grade. At present. Ofsted plan to commence all routine inspections again in January 2021, although this is being kept under review as the situation with Covid-19 changes.

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 August 2020), 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 does it take for an 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 do I register with Ofsted?            

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 0161 696 6250.

Do I need to be registered with Ofsted?

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. As detailed above, the current inspection cycle was due to finish on 31 July 2020. As a result of Covid-19, all routine inspections were postponed from March 2020. As of September 2020, Ofsted will be visiting some nurseries and childminders to ensure that standards are being maintained, however, they will not result in an inspection grade. At present, Ofsted plan to commence all routine inspections again in January 2021, although this is being kept under review as the situation with Covid-19 changes.

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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