Guidance for education providers about Ofsted’s phased return to inspection.
Applies to England
Plans from January 2021
Maintained schools and academies
From January, we will resume monitoring inspections of schools judged inadequate at their previous inspection and some schools graded as requires improvement. These will not result in a grade.
Emergency inspections of schools will continue as they have done throughout the pandemic, in response to any serious concerns raised with Ofsted.
See January 2021: maintained schools and academies for more information.
Routine inspections, which result in a school being awarded a new grade or being confirmed in its current grade, will resume in the summer term.
Throughout the spring term, all inspections will be at the request of the Department for Education (DfE). See January 2021: non-association independent schools for more information.
Routine inspections will resume in the summer term.
Further education and skills
From January, we will resume monitoring visits to providers that would be monitored in normal times, in particular those graded requires improvement and inadequate, and new providers. Read January 2021: further education and skills providers for more information.
Colleges that do not receive a monitoring visit may receive support and assurance visits. Safeguarding visits will continue in response to concerns raised about providers.
Full graded inspections will resume in the summer term.
Interim education visits to prisons will start in January, to support and challenge prisons to return to full programmes of education and skills activities following COVID-19 restrictions.
We will carry out a programme of assurance inspections from the start of the spring term. These inspections will confirm whether or not a provider is meeting the early years foundation stage (EYFS) requirements.
Assurance inspections will be proportionate and risk-based. Providers will be prioritised based on the length of time since their last inspection, and any other relevant information.
Routine graded inspections will resume in the summer term of 2021.
Area special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)
From January 2021 we will resume joint interim visits with the Care Quality Commission. These visits aim to support improvement and will not result in a published letter or graded judgement.
September to December 2020: the interim period
What we are doing
The activity we will carry out in registered early years settings, state-funded schools, non-association independent schools and further education and skills providers will be led by what is most important for children and learners in each remit.
We are continuing our registration and regulatory activity in early years, state-funded schools, non-association independent schools and further education providers.
We began carrying out early years interim visits at the beginning of September and other visits at the end of September 2020.
How we are reporting our findings
For state-funded schools, visits will not result in an inspection grade. We will publish a brief letter that establishes the context of the visits.
For further education and skills providers, we will publish a brief report but no grade. However, it will be necessary to give progress judgements when we monitor new providers of apprenticeship training.
For non-association independent schools, we will carry out non-routine inspections, as commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE), where appropriate. We will prioritise those with safeguarding concerns and those that open up local capacity where it is needed. As usual, these inspections will have a judgement and result in a published report.
Registration visits and regulatory work continues in early years. For more information about our interim visits and what inspectors will look at, see our early years operational note. After carrying out registration or regulatory activity in early years settings, we will publish a short summary about what we have found.
Information for early years and childcare providers
We will focus on ensuring sufficient capacity in the sector, supporting a safe return to education and care and responding to information that causes concern.
Providers on the Childcare Register
On 11 September, the Secretary of State for Education wrote to Ofsted to outline the requirements for the autumn term. These included the request for Ofsted to return to inspecting 1 in 10 providers registered on the Childcare Register each year. Ofsted resumed inspecting these providers on 16 September.
Inspection of provision registered only on the Childcare Register (either or both parts) is a compliance inspection. It is not to make judgements about the quality of the provision but to make sure that the provider is complying with the requirements of the register.
We are continuing to register early years providers, including carrying out on-site registration visits.
We are continuing our emergency regulatory and enforcement work as usual. We also started making interim visits from September 2020.
Inspectors will look at what action leaders and managers have taken since the last inspection. In these visits, inspectors will confirm whether providers are meeting any actions set that relate to the safeguarding and welfare requirements of the early years foundation stage (EYFS). Find out about EYFS disapplications.
These are not inspections and visits will not result in an inspection grade. However, inspectors can take regulatory or enforcement actions if appropriate.
We will publish an outcome summary after a visit, confirming:
- whether the provider has met the actions raised at the last inspection
- whether we need to take any further action
Information for state-funded schools
We are focusing on carrying out visits. These look at how leaders are managing the return to full education for their pupils, including considering remote learning and safeguarding, in line with Department for Education guidance.
We are continuing with pre-registration inspections, as needed, to increase capacity within the sector.
Section 8 emergency inspections
We continue to make emergency inspections as and when required. These are in response to serious concerns, such as safeguarding.
We will visit all inadequate schools and a sample of schools across the other Ofsted grades (outstanding, good, requires improvement).
The visits will be based around a series of professional conversations with senior and middle leaders. They will focus on:
- identifying the barriers schools have faced and are still facing in managing the return to full education for pupils
- how leaders are ensuring pupils resume learning the school’s extant curriculum in line with DfE guidance, including the blend of classroom teaching and, where necessary, remote education
- how pupils are settling back into expected routines and behaviours
- how any identified and specific issues related to special educational needs, disabilities, health, care and well-being for particular groups of pupils are being addressed
The visits are not inspections and so will not result in schools receiving a grade.
As with other inspection visits, we do not require any pre-written planning or other documentation for the visit or ask schools for documents or records in a certain format. We will use what schools have already, if needed to support discussion. We will not require teachers to prepare any lesson plans or examples of assessment, or to put up any displays for the visit.
We will give schools up to a day’s notice of a visit.
Information for non-association independent schools
We are providing essential, targeted oversight of independent schools, prioritising safety and vulnerability. We will focus on additional inspections, which are an existing type of inspection activity within the independent school sector.
As usual, the DfE will commission us to carry out additional inspections. Additional inspections are demand-led, in response to risk or immediate need.
Find out more about our work in independent schools during this interim period.
We continue with pre-registration inspections to increase capacity within the sector, prioritising urgent cases.
Material change inspections
We continue with material change inspections to increase capacity within the sector, prioritising where this is urgent.
We continue with emergency inspections as and when required by the DfE.
Emergency inspections are usually carried out without notice to the school. During this interim period, inspectors will contact the school 30 minutes before arriving.
Progress monitoring inspections
We will focus on safeguarding at this time. However, in exceptional circumstances and at the request of the DfE, inspectors may also consider other parts of the Independent School Standards.
Progress monitoring inspections are usually carried out without notice to the school. During this interim period, inspectors will contact the school 30 minutes before arriving.
All additional inspections
Additional inspections do not result in an inspection grade. However, we will make judgements about how and whether a school is meeting the relevant Independent School Standards. Ordinarily, the results of these inspections will be published.
We will not judge schools on their response to COVID-19 during the spring and summer terms 2020.
Information for further education and skills providers
We are focusing on carrying out interim visits. These will look at how leaders are enabling provision to resume fully following an extended break in formal education, including considering remote education and safeguarding. We are also carrying out new provider and other monitoring visits, where necessary.
New provider monitoring visits
We began carrying these out in September 2020.
We will carry out an additional monitoring visit, covering the 3 usual themes, to new providers that:
- have one or more existing ‘insufficient progress’ judgements and
- would have been due a full inspection up to and during this interim period
These visits will follow our established format: find out more in the further education and skills inspection handbook.
New provider monitoring visits will not result in an overall inspection grade for a provider. However, inspectors will make a progress judgement for each of the themes examined, and we will publish a brief report.
Visits will prioritise providers:
- that are judged inadequate or requires improvement overall
- that we have identified risks or concerns about
We are also visiting a sample of good and outstanding providers and newly merged colleges.
Visits will be based around a series of professional conversations with senior and middle leaders, staff and learners, with a focus on:
- identifying the barriers that colleges and other further education and skills providers have faced and are still facing in managing the return to full education for learners
- the curriculum and how it meets the reasonable needs of learners and stakeholders
- the approaches used to develop learners’ knowledge and skills
- safeguarding arrangements
These interim visits are not inspections under the education inspection framework (EIF). They will not:
- use the EIF and further education and skills inspection handbook
- result in any grade or progress judgement: we will publish a brief report explaining what we found
- focus on providers’ response to COVID-19 during lockdown
- require any pre-written planning or other documentation for the visit; the lead HMI will make a simple phone call to discuss the logistics of the visit
- ask providers for documents or records in a certain format – we will use what they have
- require staff to prepare any lesson plans or examples of assessment, or to put up any displays for the visit
- involve a general review of policies and procedures
We will give further education and skills providers up to 2 working days’ notice of a visit, but occasionally longer where necessary.
Information for local areas on special educational needs and disabilities arrangements
Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) will be carrying out a phased return to inspection, starting with an interim period of visits beginning in the autumn term. We intend to resume full area special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) inspections when it is right to do so, and are keeping the exact timing under review.
Our activities will focus on supporting local areas to strategically prioritise and meet the needs of children and young people with SEND, and enable government and other stakeholders to plan how to rebuild a better SEND system in the future.
Visits to local areas
From the autumn, Ofsted and CQC visits will be to a sample of local areas across England.
Visits will include dialogue with professionals, children and young people and families. This will focus on:
- understanding the impact of the pandemic on children and young people with SEND and their families, and how local area leaders are responding to the disruption caused by COVID-19
- supporting local area leaders to strategically prioritise the needs of children and young people with SEND in the context of COVID-19
- identifying good practice, challenges and opportunities for education, health and care services in meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND during this time
We will combine findings from visits into a number of thematic reports. The learning from these will be used by government to support improvement nationally and to inform decision-making about wider SEND policy, including the return to routine inspections.
These visits are not Ofsted and CQC inspections. They will:
- not use the area SEND inspection framework and handbook, but we will publish information in the autumn about how we will carry out visits
- not result in a published report or grade; we will publish our findings in a series of national reports, which will support areas to strengthen the area SEND system in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic