How Ofsted inspects non-association independent schools

Information on Ofsted inspections for independent schools that are not members of associations.

Ofsted inspects independent schools which are not members of associations. These are known as non-association independent schools.

When you will be inspected

All independent schools are inspected at the direction of the Department for Education (DfE), which is the registration authority for independent schools. The DfE can request that Ofsted inspects an independent school at any time.

All non-association independent schools will have a ‘standard inspection’ within 3 years from September 2015. Standard inspections are carried out under the Common Inspection Framework (CIF) and the independent school standards, which came into effect in January 2015.

Schools judged to be requires improvement and inadequate in a standard inspection from January 2015, will be re-inspected within 2 years. In addition, these schools may also receive a ‘progress monitoring inspection’ before their next standard inspection.

Boarding provision of independent boarding schools is inspected every 3 years.

There will be an ‘integrated inspection’ if both inspections are due at the same time.

Independent residential special schools usually receive an integrated inspection every 3 years. The residential provision of independent residential special schools will also be inspected annually.

Who inspects schools

School inspectors are either:

  • Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) employed directly by Ofsted
  • social care regulatory inspectors employed directly by Ofsted
  • Contracted Ofsted Inspectors

Getting notice of an inspection

You could be inspected at any time. For standard inspections, notification is normally given around lunchtime, on the day before the start of the inspection. The inspection will typically start in the early afternoon of the following day.

Ofsted may also conduct standard inspections without notice. In such cases, there will be no prior notification given to the school. All progress monitoring and emergency inspections are conducted with no notice.

Before the inspection

All parents of pupils at the school should be told about the inspection. Other relevant bodies, including those providing alternative provision for pupils, should also be notified of the inspection.

The standard letter that Ofsted provides should be used to notify parents of the inspection. The letter provides parents with details and options for providing their views.

Inspectors will look at Parent View to see the views of parents. Inspectors will also take into account the results of any past parent surveys, or other surveys, carried out by the school.

Staff, pupil and local authority questionnaires

Schools will also be asked to distribute a questionnaire to their staff at the start of inspection, so that inspectors can find out their views about the school.

Once a year we ask schools to invite their pupils to fill in our online point-in-time surveys, so they can tell inspectors what they think about the school.

Where pupils have been placed at the school by a local authority, once a year the placing authority will also be sent a point-in-time-survey.

The responses to these surveys form part of the evidence considered by inspectors.

During the inspection

The inspection will not normally last longer than 3 days.

Inspectors will spend most of their time gathering evidence to inform judgements and to check the school’s compliance with the independent school standards. They will gather evidence in a range of ways. They will talk to pupils about important aspects of the school’s work, observe teaching in lessons, and will scrutinise the school’s records and documentation.

Final judgements will be made when all evidence has been collected and considered.

The lead inspector will ensure that the headteacher and senior staff:

  • are kept up to date about the inspection
  • understand how the inspection team reaches its judgements
  • have opportunities to clarify how evidence is used to reach judgements
  • are given the opportunity to present evidence

The school’s headteacher will be invited to:

  • participate in joint lesson observations, as agreed with the lead inspector
  • receive regular updates from the lead inspector

They will also normally:

  • attend the formal inspection team meetings at the end of each day of the inspection
  • comment on the inspectors’ recommendations to ensure that these are understood

Inspectors will provide oral feedback to teachers and other staff about the work they see.


Before leaving the school, the lead inspector must make clear:

  • the independent school standards that are met and those that are not met
  • that the DfE will decide any action to take in respect of any standards that are not met
  • the grades awarded for each judgement
  • that these grades may be subject to change
  • that the main points in the feedback will be mentioned in the written report
  • how the report will be published
  • the complaints procedure
  • that where the school has been judged requires improvement or inadequate, it will be subject to a progress monitoring inspection

The inspection team’s judgements will be presented and explained to the senior leadership team and those responsible for the governance of the school, all of whom should be invited to the feedback.

After the inspection

The lead inspector will write a report setting out the inspection findings. The final version of the report is normally sent to the school within 14 working days after the end of the inspection. The final report will normally be published on the Ofsted website within 19 working days of the end of the inspection. If Ofsted decides that a report will be subject to further quality assurance, the school will usually receive an electronic version of the final report within 23 working days. In these circumstances, the final report will usually be published within 28 working days.

The report is also sent to the DfE.

Making the report available

The school has to send a copy of the report to parents and carers and to local authorities which fund places for pupils who have statements of special educational need or who are in public care.

The school also has to make a copy of the report available upon request to members of the public.

Reporting failings

Where a school has failed to meet some standards in its education or welfare inspection, Ofsted reports this to the DfE who will:

  • ask the school to produce an action plan
  • ask Ofsted to carry out a progress monitoring inspection to monitor the implementation of this action plan

The DfE can close a school if improvements are not made.

Complaints about an inspection

Any concerns or complaints about the inspection should be raised immediately with the lead inspector.

For issues that can’t be resolved during the inspection, a formal complaint can be made.

Additional inspections

Ofsted carries out additional inspections of independent schools if asked to do so by the DfE. These types of inspections may also include independent schools which are members of associations and are normally inspected by other approved independent inspectorates.

Proposed new schools and pre-registration inspections

Proprietors wishing to open a new independent school must apply to the DfE for registration.

When the DfE has checked that the application from a proposed new school is complete, it will commission Ofsted to conduct a pre-registration inspection of the proposed school.

The purpose of the inspection is to check whether the school is likely to meet the independent school standards if the DfE decides to register it. Schools must comply with the standards to be registered.

Once registered, new schools are inspected in their first year of operation.

Material change inspections

Registered independent schools wishing to make changes to their registration must seek permission to do so from the DfE.

A change of proprietor, premises, age range, number or gender of pupils are known as material changes. If a school proposes to start or stop providing boarding accommodation, or to start or stop admitting pupils with special educational needs, these are also material changes.

The DfE may ask Ofsted to conduct an inspection to consider the implications of the material change. Inspectors will report to the DfE whether or not the school is likely to meet the relevant independent school standards if the material change is implemented.

Emergency inspections

The DfE may ask Ofsted to conduct an emergency inspection of an independent school for any reason. Normally, this will be as a result of a complaint or other intelligence received by the DfE which appears to raise a concern about safeguarding pupils or putting their safety at risk. An emergency inspection will also be commissioned where the DfE suspects that a school may have closed.

The issue that triggered the inspection will be used as the main line of enquiry for the inspection. The purpose of the inspection is for Ofsted to report to the DfE on whether the school meets the independent school standards that relate to the issue.

Progress monitoring inspections

The DfE may ask Ofsted to carry out a progress monitoring inspection to check the progress made by an independent school to address weaknesses identified at its previous inspection.

The previous standard or additional inspection will have identified qualitative weaknesses and/or judged that the school does not meet the independent school standards. If the previous inspection was a standard inspection, the school will have been judged inadequate or requires improvement overall.

Following the previous inspection, the DfE may have required the school to write an action plan to set out the steps the school proposes to take to address its weaknesses and to meet the un-met independent school standards. If so, the inspection will be carried out against the version of the action plan approved by the DfE.

Further guidance

You can read the full documents and guidance for independent schools inspections.

Published 3 December 2014
Last updated 1 September 2015 + show all updates
  1. Updated to reflect September 2015 changes.
  2. First published.