Ofsted: What are the Requirements Following COVID-19?

November 9, 2020
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Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. They have a vitally important role in ensuring that educational establishments for all ages, and organisations responsible for children and young people in England, are of adequate quality and are properly run.

Although an Ofsted inspection can be a source of worry and stress for a school or child services provider, they are a valuable way to learn and improve, as well as give organisations official recognition for their hard work and delivering best practice.

In this article we will help you to understand what Ofsted is, why they exist, their requirements for educational settings, and how they are adapting to the COVID-19 environment.


This guide covers the following:

Use the links above if you’d like to jump to a certain section of the guide.


What Does Ofsted Do and Why Was it Introduced?

You can explore this topic using the dropdowns below:

Ofsted’s Remitdrop down menu

Ofsted was first formed under the Education (Schools) Act 1992. The aim was to centralise the school inspection service away from Local Education Authorities (LEAs) and to ensure consistent standards and expectations across the whole of England.

Today, Ofsted’s role is much wider. They are now by law responsible for inspecting, regulating, monitoring and reporting on a wide range of services in England, which can be broadly split into the three categories below. Expand the boxes to find out more detail on each category according to the different inspection frameworks:

Education for all agesdrop down menu

Education providers as covered by the education inspection framework from 2019 include:

  • Any state-funded education provider for all ages (except for universities and higher education who are monitored by the Quality Assurance Agency), such as:
    • Maintained and academy schools or colleges with provision from ages 2-19.
    • Adult education, further education and skills providers (including employers who use the Education and Skills Funding Agency to train their employees).
    • Teacher training.
    • Pupil referral units.
  • Non-maintained special schools.
  • Independent (private) schools which are not affiliated to the Independent Schools Council (‘non-association’). The remainder are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, who themselves are monitored by Ofsted.
  • Early years (age 0-5 years) and childcare (age 5+), including childminders.
  • National Careers Service.

Ofsted does not inspect or regulate home-schooling, known as ‘elective home education’, because there is no specific legislation dealing with home education as an approach. However, there is government guidance on the legal requirements for home-schooling.

Local area SEND (special educational needs and disability) provision for children and young people (ages 0-25)drop down menu

Inspections of Local Area SEND provision are a joint effort between Ofsted and the CQC (Care Quality Commission) which began in 2016. They aim to assess how children and young people (ages 0-25) with special educational needs or disabilities (or both) are supported by the range of local services available to them. The inspection framework and guidance from Ofsted can be found here.

Social care services for children, young people and familiesdrop down menu

Social care services, as covered by Ofsted’s social care common inspection framework from 2019, include children’s homes, secure children’s homes, independent fostering agencies, boarding schools, residential special schools, voluntary adoption agencies, adoption support agencies, residential family centres, residential holiday schemes for disabled children, and residential provision of further education colleges.

There is a separate framework for inspecting local authority children’s services, which focuses on child protection (including joint inspections for multi-agency work) and experiences of looked after children and young people.

Additionally, Ofsted inspect Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service), and have a monitoring and reporting role in places of detention through the National Preventive Mechanism.

Through this remit, Ofsted helps to provide assurance of standards, hold organisations to account, and encourage improvement of education, training and social service quality. Ofsted also produce consolidated reports on their findings, supplying valuable information to parents, service users and governing bodies, which can be used to inform policymakers and enable positive change.

Person holding clipboard

As a non-ministerial department, Ofsted retains a level of political independence. Their leadership is not headed by a minister appointed by the Prime Minister, but by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) who is responsible directly to Parliament.

Ofsted inspectors, known as Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMIs), are experienced educational and social care professionals who have received dedicated training for their role as inspectors, and typically specialise in inspecting specific types of educational establishments or childcare settings. Ofsted normally carry out on-site visits and observations as part of their inspection process, but in March 2020 they suspended routine inspection activities due to COVID-19. They have since changed the way they work in order to adapt to the current situation.

Inspectorates Outside of Englanddrop down menu

It is important to note that Ofsted is only responsible for England, and that there are different inspecting bodies for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This article is tailored to Ofsted, but if you’d like information about the other inspectorates, please refer to the links in the following table.

  Education Social Care
Wales Estyn Care Inspectorate Wales
Scotland Education Scotland Care Inspectorate
Northern Ireland Education and Training Inspectorate Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority

How do Ofsted Carry Out Routine Inspections and Provide Results?drop down menu

Ofsted normally inspects schools through a two-day site visit, with one day notice. Inspectors will observe classes, meet with parents and teachers, and hold discussions with senior leadership team. They also examine school policies, procedure documents and school records, though they emphasise that they do not require any specific pre-work. This is because these documents should be part of normal day-to-day running of the school, and just need to be made available by 8am on the day of inspection.

Expand the boxes below to find out more.

Types of School Inspectionsdrop down menu

For education providers, there are two types of inspections: a section 5 ‘full’ inspection and a section 8 ‘light’ inspection.

Section 5 inspections are full inspections where a school is judged against all categories in the inspection framework, and may receive a change in judgement. The frequency of these inspections depends on the judgement grade of the school and ranges from 1 to 2.5 years.

Section 8 inspections are smaller inspections which are often carried out for ‘good’ schools or exempt ‘outstanding’ schools, and aim to confirm that the school still remains at this standard. They occur approximately every 4 years and cannot result in a change in judgement. Instead, the inspectors may request that a full Section 5 inspection be carried out in the next 1-2 years, if there is deemed to have been significant changes. Section 8 inspections are also carried out in emergencies when there are significant concerns.

It is worth noting that following a consultation in January 2020, the government is currently seeking parliamentary approval to remove the exemption of ‘outstanding’ schools from inspections. Ofsted intend to begin the process of scheduling inspections for all ‘outstanding’ schools starting in January 2021, according their last inspection date.

Ofsted Judgement Gradesdrop down menu

The result of an Ofsted inspection is a series of judgements, which have four grades:

  • Grade 1: Outstanding (the school must ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in all judgement areas).
  • Grade 2: Good (the quality of education must be at least ‘good’ to qualify for this).
  • Grade 3: Requires improvement (previously ‘Satisfactory’).
  • Grade 4: Inadequate (one or more judgement areas are graded as inadequate).
    • Serious weaknesses (school is inadequate but leadership and management are not).
    • Special measures (both the school and the leadership and management are inadequate).

These judgement grades or ‘Ofsted ratings’ are well known and feature greatly in a school’s public image, even appearing as search parameters in house-buying websites. In all cases, safeguarding must be effective, otherwise an inadequate judgement is given.

Categories of Assessmentdrop down menu

Full Section 5 inspections result in an ‘Overall Effectiveness’ judgement, and separate judgements in the following attributes:

  • Quality of education, including a detailed consideration of the school’s curriculum and how it is accessible to all pupils, including disadvantaged pupils and those with SEND.
  • Behaviour and attitudes, including the school environment, routines, attendance, and where bullying is sufficiently addressed.
  • Personal development, such as development of pupils’ character, understanding of British values, respect and becoming active citizens.
  • Leadership and management, including safeguarding.
  • Early years provision (if applicable).
  • Sixth-form provision (if applicable).

More detailed descriptions of the requirements for each grade and their attributes can be found in the school inspection handbook and the Education Inspection Framework.

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General Changes to Ofsted’s Processes for COVID-19

Ofsted suspended all routine inspections on the 17th March 2020, as a nationwide lockdown began to combat the spread of COVID-19. There were exceptions for urgent inspections or where specific concerns such as safeguarding had been raised.

In the following months, Ofsted released plans to begin a phased return to routine inspection from September 2020 for education, local area SEND and social care providers. In most cases, the aim is to start routine inspections in January 2021, but this date is still subject to change.

During the interim phase, Ofsted is carrying out ‘interim visits’ (education and local area SEND provision) or ‘assurance visits’ (social care). It is important to note that Ofsted has specifically stated that these visits are not inspections so will not result in a change in graded judgement. The focus of these visits is on gathering experiences and insight in educational settings and local area SEND, with the addition of monitoring regulatory standards and checking progress for social care and registered childcare/early years providers.

Data from visits is used to generate consolidated reports which give an overview of education and social care status as part of an Ofsted COVID-19 series. The first briefing reports were released in September 2020 for schools in education, and children’s homes in social care.

Further information, including links to detailed guidance on the interim phase for specific types of providers, can be found in Ofsted’s page ‘autumn 2020 plans’.

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What Are Ofsted Looking for Following COVID-19?

Interim Visits

The interim period is currently September 2020 to December 2020. Interim visits are planned for approximately 1,200 schools across England, across all judgement grades (including all schools graded as inadequate), different types of schools and different geographical regions.

In their guidance, Ofsted states that the purpose of school visits is to “reassure and inform parents, government and the public about how schools are managing the return to full education for all pupils”.

The interim visits are not inspections, unless significant problems with safeguarding or leadership are found, in which case it could be treated as a ‘no formal designation’ inspection. Additionally, the visits will not consider the previous actions of schools in spring and summer of 2020 or be used as evidence in later inspection events. Instead, the visits will include open, constructive discussions with the senior leadership teams and will not involve visits to classrooms.

According to Ofsted’s guidance, these discussions are likely to involve:

  • What adaptations and changes have been made to ensure the safety of children and staff.
  • Discussion on barriers for returning to full education.
  • How learning is resuming in relation to Department for Education guidance, and specifically how remote learning is integrated into the curriculum.
  • Safeguarding challenges and solutions, including: identification of pupils in need, securing the help required and safe recruitment of staff.
  • How SEND issues are being addressed.
  • Health and wellbeing of staff and pupils.
  • How the school is helping children settle into new routines, and setting expectations of behaviour related to COVID-19, such as hygiene.
  • Plans for catch-up funding.

The key output of these collaborative discussions at the interim visits is not a judgement, but a published short letter, which will explain to parents what the school is doing to help all children return to full-time education.

For further detail and information, you can refer to Ofsted’s Education plans from September 2020 and the specific guidance for different educational settings:

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Routine inspections

Routine inspections, as conducted under Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework, are planned to return in January 2021, though this date is still subject to potential delay. At the time of writing, there is no specific guidance on if, or how, inspections may change, but Ofsted wrote in their schools and early education update October 2020 that in terms of returning to inspections in January 2021 they are: “currently exploring the challenges of inspecting under the EIF [Education Inspection Framework] while COVID-19 measures are still in place”.

Therefore, the expectations of a routine inspection currently remain as normal, adhering to the published Education inspection Framework and School Inspection Handbook.

However, with the likelihood of COVID-19 causing disruption to pupils and staff for the remainder of this academic year, it is worth considering how some of the new and temporary ways of working may relate to Ofsted’s assessment categories, such as:

  • Mapping of remote learning to what would happen in face-to-face classes and the national curriculum, in relation to the ‘Quality of Education’ judgement.
  • Plans for catch-up support funding and how they enable pupils, including disadvantaged pupils and SEND pupils, to access the school curriculum in the ‘bubble’ environment.
  • Addendums of behaviour policies to include COVID-19 related routines and behaviours as part of the ‘Behaviour and attitudes’ judgement.
  • Safeguarding policy updates for vulnerable children who are self-isolating.

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How Can Schools Prepare for Upcoming Ofsted Visits and Inspections?

Interim visits

For an interim visit between September and December 2020, education providers will receive up to a days’ notice before inspectors will visit the premises for one day. It is possible to request a deferral if Ofsted’s guidance states that you do not require any pre-written documents or specific preparation by teachers of lesson plans, assessments or displays. They will work with existing files and formats that you have in place if they are required during the discussions.

A good way to prepare for an interim visit is to consider the discussion points mentioned above, and keep up-to-date with the DfE Guidance for full opening of schools. There is also the need, as always, to ensure compliance with legal requirements and regulations as well as statutory guidance documents, such as Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) and Working Together to Safeguard Children.

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Routine inspections

As explained above, the return to full inspections in January 2021 may still be subject to delay and it is unclear if, or how, routine inspections under the education inspection framework may change to reflect the COVID-19 situation.

In the meantime, here are some suggestions to help you prepare for the return to routine inspections:

  • Keeping up-to-date and ensuring the school is following Department for Educations Guidance for schools, especially the Guidance for full opening, which continues to be updated.
  • Following Ofsted’s website for any changes or updates to the Education Inspection Framework or school inspection handbook.
  • Formalising any addendums to school policies and confirming best practice for any temporary procedures in place.
  • Considering any points raised in Ofsted’s consolidated reports from interim visits and seeing if any of them could spark an idea for improvement.
  • Being thorough with remote learning policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the remote education temporary continuity direction.
  • Making efforts to improve the continuity link between remote learning schedules with the ‘face-to-face’ school curriculum.
  • Setting expectations and managing working relationships with other service providers for vulnerable and SEND pupils when self-isolating.
  • Preparing justified and accountable plans for use of catch-up support funding.

Currently, the Department for Education has specified that Ofsted should use performance data from previous years (i.e. not from 2020) when assessing school performance, but it is worth keeping an eye out for any changes on this.

Additionally, for schools with early years provision:

  • Consider plans for implementation of the updated EYFS framework, which was published in July 2020 for early adopters, and becomes statutory in September 2021.
  • Ensure you are aware of, and meet, the required transition timelines for disapplications of the EYFS statutory framework, which can be applied for between 26 September 2020 and 31 August 2021 during local restrictions.

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This article has given you an overview of Ofsted’s responsibilities and the broad range of services that it covers. It then describes how Ofsted normally inspects schools, and what has changed with COVID-19. Finally, it examines some possible expectations for when routine inspections return and suggestions for preparation. Hopefully, this will have helped consolidate your knowledge and provided you with useful links to specific sources of additional information where necessary.


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