Guidance

Deferring Ofsted inspections

Ofsted’s policy for determining that an inspection of a provider should not go ahead on the planned dates.

Applies to England

What this deferral policy applies to

This deferral policy applies to inspections of/visits to:

We refer collectively to those we inspect or regulate as ‘providers’ of education or care.

Requesting a deferral

If you are a provider considering making a request to defer your inspection or visit, you should study the criteria in this policy carefully before making the request.

You should make the request, at the earliest opportunity, to the inspection support administrator or inspector who notifies you of the inspection or visit. You should confirm this in writing (preferably by email to them) so that we can consider it promptly.

We will continue to make arrangements for the inspection or visit while considering the request for deferral.

If an inspection or visit has started but has to be paused due to a public health or other concern, we may take steps to complete it at a later date. Please refer to our guidance on gathering additional evidence to secure an incomplete inspection.

Circumstances for deferring Ofsted inspections and visits

There are a limited number of circumstances when we may decide that an inspection or visit should not go ahead on the planned dates. The examples in this policy are indicative of situations where we may grant a request for a deferral and are not exhaustive. They also do not provide automatic grounds for a deferral. We will consider each case separately and on its own merits.

Normally, we will only defer an inspection or visit if:

  • the headteacher, centre manager, childcare provider, nominated individual, registered manager and/or registered provider or similar authority, or a member of the provider’s senior management team is subject to a current police investigation or serious concern from another agency that would be compromised by an inspection of, or visit to, the provider
  • the provider has experienced a recent major incident, such as: a fatality involving a pupil, child, service user, trainee, training participant or a member of staff; serious injury or serious/infectious illness at a provider; death of a member of a household where the childcare takes place; or a serious incident when the presence of an inspector would have an adverse impact on the safety and well-being of children, young people or adults
  • the provision is confirmed as being due to merge, close or move and it is decided that no useful purpose will be served by inspecting it
  • concerns in a local area mean that an inspection or visit would be inappropriate (such as a security incident or other major incident that means the police are focused on public safety)
  • the relevant setting is closed to all users – for example, owing to a staff training day or adverse weather conditions that make access difficult or dangerous – for at least half of the time for which the inspection or visit has been scheduled (this does not apply to pre-registration inspections of independent schools, or when substantial numbers of pupils are not on site, but continue to be educated through remote or blended learning)
  • at least three quarters of the users will not be at the provider’s setting or with their employer – for example, owing to a school trip, holiday or a religious festival – for at least half of the period for which the inspection or visit has been scheduled (this does not apply to inspections of registered childcare settings or pre-registration inspections of independent schools, or when substantial numbers of pupils are not on site, but continue to be educated through remote or blended learning)
  • a school has very recently converted to become an academy; in these circumstances, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) reserves the right to go ahead with the inspection or visit if they deem it necessary, or to schedule the academy’s first inspection or visit for a later date
  • a further education and skills provider or an ECF or NPQ lead provider is no longer in receipt of relevant public funding
  • a childminder agency no longer has childminders registered with it
  • there are other exceptional circumstances that the relevant Ofsted regional director decides are grounds for a deferral

Further information on deferrals

Ofsted puts the interest of children and learners first. It is only in exceptional circumstances, such as those set out in the previous section, that we would consider granting a deferral. Anyone requesting a deferral should explain fully the nature of the circumstances in their request.

In the case of a deferral request made due to the absence or illness of the headteacher, centre manager, childcare provider, nominated individual, registered manager and/or registered provider, or similar authority, the relevant Ofsted regional director will determine whether the inspection or visit will take place.

Building and/or refurbishment work is not normally a reason for deferral if the provider is open and users are on site. However, if the provider is significantly disrupted by measures taken to deal with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), we will consider these deferral requests carefully as an exceptional circumstance.

Inspections of, or visits to, schools or further education and skills providers may still go ahead when all, or substantial numbers of, pupils, learners or users are not on site, but continue to be educated through remote or blended learning.

When a deferral is requested, we will consider whether the timing of any rescheduled inspection or visit would cause this to fall outside of any prescribed intervals or windows. For regulated early years and social care settings, we will also carry out a risk assessment to determine whether any other regulatory responses would be appropriate.

In exceptional circumstances, it may prove difficult for the inspection coordinator to contact the provider. In these cases, the inspection coordinator will contact a designated inspector to discuss the situation. For independent school inspections, the designated inspector will check that the DfE has no reason to believe that the school is no longer operating.

The designated inspector will normally advise that the inspection or visit will go ahead, and that the inspection coordinator should continue to try and contact the provider while the lead inspector travels to the provider. If there continues to be no answer, it will be carried out as an unannounced inspection or visit.

We carry out some inspections and visits without giving notice to the provider. There may be exceptional circumstances where we may need to consider whether an unannounced inspection should go ahead. We will treat these cases in line with this policy.

The following sections set out additional information about deferrals of announced inspections or visits to different types of providers.

Deferral of section 8 monitoring inspections of maintained schools and academies

In the case of a section 8 monitoring inspection for a school judged to require improvement, to have serious weaknesses or to require special measures, we consider that the presence of the headteacher is important in helping inspectors understand the school’s improvement journey.

We may, therefore, defer the monitoring inspection if the headteacher is out of school, unless the headteacher is absent for a prolonged period, for example due to ill health.

Deferral of independent school inspections

We may defer an inspection of an independent school in the case of unavoidable absence of the headteacher or proprietor, when this person is the only full-time teacher in the school, at the discretion of the relevant Ofsted regional director.

When an independent school is also the provider of a regulated social care service, we will carry out a risk assessment to consider whether any other regulatory responses would be appropriate.

When a school requests a deferral of its inspection because there are no pupils on roll, and the Department for Education (DfE) is already taking regulatory or enforcement action against the school, we will not agree to defer the inspection on those grounds alone.

When the standard inspection of a school has already been deferred once because there were no pupils on roll, we will not normally defer the inspection for a second time solely on the same grounds.

If an independent school is within 6 months of confirmed closure, the inspection will normally still go ahead. We will inform the DfE of the timescale in which the school expects to close.

When we are informed that an independent school has already closed or that it is no longer operating as a school, we will consult the DfE. The DfE may commission us to carry out an emergency inspection to check compliance with the independent school standards.

We will always inform the DfE if we grant a deferral of any type of independent school inspection.

Independent schools are charged a fee for standard, pre-registration and progress-monitoring inspections, as explained in the non-association independent school inspection handbook. An inspection fee will always be charged unless a deferral is granted in line with our deferral policy before the start of on-site inspection activity.

Pre-registration inspections

Pre-registration inspections of independent schools will not be deferred because a proposed school withdraws its application at, or following, notification. Pre-registration inspections will not go ahead if, before we notify the school of its inspection, we are notified by the DfE that the proposed school’s application for registration has been withdrawn. The inspection fee may still be payable, as set out in the handbook for additional inspections of independent schools.

Pre-registration inspections must not be deferred on the basis that the proposed school states that it is not ready for inspection. The DfE informs proposed new schools that they should not apply to register if they will not be ready to operate within the proposed timescale. The DfE will expect a proposed new school to be ready to undergo a pre-registration inspection, since the provision wishes to educate (and, for boarding schools and residential special schools, accommodate) pupils in the near future.

Proposed new schools should have already reported to the DfE any incomplete building works – or any other issues that may prevent inspectors gaining access to the site – before we notify them of their inspection. Therefore, we will not normally defer a pre-registration inspection if the proposed school states that it is not ready for inspection, unless there are issues preventing access to the site and those issues were communicated to us during the notification call. Consequently, if inspectors arrive on site and are unable to carry out or complete the pre-registration inspection due to an inability to access the site, for example incomplete building works, the inspection fee may still be payable, as set out in the handbook for additional inspections of independent schools.

In cases when proposed new schools strongly resist a pre-registration inspection, we will report this to the DfE.

Material change inspections

If it transpires in the notification call that a school no longer wishes to continue with its application to make a material change, we will inform the DfE. The inspection will normally not go ahead.

Deferral of area SEND inspections

We do not anticipate having to defer an area SEND inspection other than in exceptional circumstances, such as an extreme weather event or other major incident.

If local areas have concerns about the timing of an inspection, they may submit a deferral request, with any supporting reasons, to the lead inspector at the point of notification of the inspection. We will consider each individual request on its merits. All requests will be considered jointly by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC), in line with this policy. If a local area requests a deferral of its inspection, the lead inspector must notify Ofsted through the appropriate region as soon as possible. The absence of the clinical commissioning group’s chief executive, director of children’s services or their equivalent will not normally be a reason for deferring an inspection.

Deferral of ILACS inspections

We do not anticipate having to defer an ILACS short or standard inspection or focused or monitoring visit other than in exceptional circumstances, such as an extreme weather event or other major incident.

If local authorities have concerns about the timing of an inspection, they may submit a deferral request, with any supporting reasons, to the lead inspector at the point of notification of the inspection. We will consider each individual request on its merits. All requests will be considered by Ofsted, in line with this policy. If a local authority requests a deferral of its inspection, the lead inspector must notify Ofsted through the appropriate region as soon as possible.

Deferral of JTAIs

We do not anticipate having to defer a JTAI inspection other than in exceptional circumstances, such as an extreme weather event or other major incident.

If local areas have concerns about the timing of an inspection, they may submit a deferral request, with any supporting reasons, to the lead inspector at the point of notification of the inspection. We will consider each individual request on its merits. All requests will be considered jointly by Ofsted, the CQC, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services and HM Inspectorate of Probation (where applicable), in line with this policy. If a local area requests a deferral of its inspection, the lead inspector must notify Ofsted through the appropriate region as soon as possible.

Published 13 March 2020
Last updated 1 September 2023 + show all updates
  1. Updated to clarify how Ofsted will consider requests for deferrals, including those related to reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).

  2. Removed information on COVID-19. Updated the 'Deferral of independent school inspections' section throughout, including a new paragraph on material change inspection deferral requests and revisions to our policy on inspecting schools with no pupils on roll. Clarified that JTAI or ILACS inspections cannot be deferred unless there are exceptional circumstances.

  3. Amended to clarify how Ofsted will consider requests for deferrals, including those related to COVID-19.

  4. The deferrals policy has been updated so that it aligns better with our phased return to inspection.

  5. This policy has been revised to reflect the most recent government COVID-19 guidance and changes to Ofsted’s inspection activities from 25 January 2021 during national restrictions.

  6. Updated what the policy applies to and information around Covid-19 and deferrals.

  7. First published.