Information for further education institutions about Ofsted inspections and grades.
Inspections are carried out using the Common inspection framework: education, skills and early years.
The grading scale for inspection judgements
Inspectors use a 4-point grading scale to make judgements during inspections:
- grade 1: outstanding
- grade 2: good
- grade 3: requires improvement
- grade 4: inadequate
Find out more about the judgements Ofsted inspectors make during further education and skills inspections in the Further education and skills handbook.
Frequency of inspection
New providers will normally have a first full inspection within 3 years of being funded. They may also receive monitoring or support and challenge visits.
Providers judged outstanding
Providers judged outstanding at their most recent inspection are not normally inspected again. Ofsted will inspect an outstanding provider if its performance declines or for other reasons, such as potential safeguarding issues.
Providers judged good
A provider judged good at their most recent inspection will have a short inspection. If their performance remains good they will have a short inspection roughly every 3 years. The short inspection will convert to a full inspection if inspectors think it’s appropriate, such as if the provider’s performance has declined.
Providers judged to require improvement
A provider judged to require improvement will normally have a full re-inspection within 1 to 2 years. Ofsted will make ‘support and challenge’ visits to help with improvements before the full re-inspection.
Providers judged inadequate
Ofsted will monitor providers judged as inadequate and re-inspect them within 15 months of publication of their last full inspection report.
The first monitoring inspection will usually take place soon after the publication date of its most recent full inspection report. Further visits may take place after the first monitoring visit and before the re-inspection.
Notice of an inspection
Providers will normally be notified 2 working days before an inspection, unless the inspection is unannounced. Ofsted will notify the provider in the morning of the notification day and will email the notification letter. The lead inspector will then contact the provider as soon as possible.
Before the inspection visit
Ofsted will send a short pre-inspection briefing letter that tells providers what to expect during the inspection. The lead inspector will set up a telephone planning meeting to arrange how any further information required will be made available to inspectors. These should be working documents and not prepared specifically for the inspection.
Providers can nominate a senior member of staff to act as a link between staff and the inspectors.
The nominee should:
- understand the provider’s programmes and operations
- ensure the co-operation of staff at all levels
- have authority to carry out the role with autonomy
The nominee will:
- provide information for the lead inspector to support inspection planning
- brief the provider’s staff about arrangements
- inform learners and employers about the inspection
- attend all team meetings, including the final team meeting
- co-ordinate feedback arrangements during and at the end of the inspection
- act as a link with the lead inspector and ensure that documents are available and that staff can attend meetings
During the inspection visit
A full inspection will normally last between 2 and 5 days on site. Short inspections will normally last no longer than 2 days on site and monitoring visits will usually last between 1 and 2 days.
The number of inspectors involved in the inspection will vary according to the size and nature of the provider.
Inspectors will spend most of their time collecting first-hand evidence both on- and off-site, including through observing teaching, training and assessment. Inspectors are also likely to review case studies of learners, including potentially vulnerable learners such as disabled learners, those who have special educational needs and young people in care.
Other first-hand evidence includes:
- discussions with learners and analysis of their work
- analysis of provider and learner records showing planning for, and monitoring of, learners’ individual progress
- meetings with learners, employers, staff, governors, councillors, trustees and the provider’s partners where appropriate
- learner and employer questionnaires, including Learner View and Employer View
Where meetings take place, the main focus will be on evaluating the impact of actions taken by providers’ staff on learners’ personal development, their learning and progress and their outcomes.
During the inspection, inspectors will collect, analyse and record evidence and their judgements on evidence forms.
The evidence forms, together with any briefings, plans or instructions prepared by the lead inspector, and responses from learners and employers, either in hard copy or in emails, contribute to the evidence base.
The lead inspector is responsible for compiling and assuring its quality.
There is more information about the main activities Ofsted inspectors undertake when they inspect further education and skills providers in the Further education and skills inspection handbook.
After the inspection visit
Following the inspection, the lead inspector will write a report outlining the findings of the inspection. The provider will be sent this draft report and have 2 working days to comment on its factual accuracy. The draft report is confidential at this stage.
Ofsted normally publishes the report online within 19 working days of the end of the inspection.
After the inspection Ofsted will invite providers to complete an online inspection survey. The survey asks for their views on the inspection process, including the impact that the inspection is likely to have in bringing about improvement.
Complaints about inspection
Raise any complaints about the inspection immediately to the lead inspector.
For issues that can’t be resolved during the inspection you may want to lodge a formal complaint.
You need to submit complaints no more than 10 working days after the publication of any inspection report.
The inspections are carried out using the ‘Common inspection framework: education, skills and early years from September 2015’. You can also read specific guidance in the ‘Further education and skills inspection handbook’.