Ofsted inspections return on 4 May. Gill Jones answers your key questions...


Ofsted inspections are returning 4 May 2021. Gill Jones, deputy director for schools and early education policy at Ofsted, answers some key questions…

As you may know, the secretary of state recently announced plans for Ofsted inspections during the summer and autumn terms of this year.

Back in November 2020, we previously set out our plans to start assurance inspections from January 2021, but of course this was before we knew about the next national lockdown. Throughout the spring, our inspectors have continued with their regulatory work, responding to concerns by visiting or contacting early years providers.

The government’s roadmap for easing restrictions is continuing to progress. Because of the changing landscape, in January, we confirmed that we would not introduce non-graded assurance inspections as a temporary measure. Instead, we said that we would return to our routine graded education inspection frameworks (EIF) inspections when we thought the time was right.

Recently, we announced that we will resume full graded EIF inspections of registered early years settings from 4 May 2021. We’ve also published an updated early years inspection handbook, alongside the summary of changes on gov.uk.

Here, we address some of the key questions that we know many early years providers will be thinking about ahead of the return to full EIF inspections…

What is the rationale for returning to full EIF inspections on 4 May?

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve continued to speak with key stakeholders, including the Alliance. Through these conversations, we’ve found that the preference among providers is to resume routine inspections under the EIF as soon as it is safe to do so.

We know that providers prefer to receive a graded overall effectiveness judgement following an inspection as this enables them to give reassurance to parents, stimulate their business, and allow access to funding from local authorities. 

Our interim visits, research calls, and on-site fieldwork have helped us to determine some minor amendments to the inspection handbook. This is so we can take the COVID context into account when we inspect, and to inform our inspector training. 

As set out in our inspection handbook, we will continue to be sensitive to the challenges presented by the pandemic. Providers have worked hard to provide a safe place for young children, which has helped working parents and the community to withstand the pressures during difficult times. It’s important we do the right thing for children right now.

We know that the EIF, built on research and 26 years of inspection experience, is the right tool for us to find out how well settings are helping children to thrive, both emotionally and in their education.

It is particularly important for children from poorer families, who may have lost out on the vital foundations of early learning during the pandemic, to get back on track. We want to make sure that no child gets left behind.

What format will inspections take?

All inspections will be carried out on-site. However, we may sometimes need to carry out elements of the inspection through video or telephone calls and this will be agreed with the provider at the start of the inspection. These channels will mainly be used to involve parents/carers and those with leadership responsibility who are unable to physically attend the setting.

When will I have my EIF inspection?

Last autumn we announced that we will move to a six-year inspection window. This means each provider has their own inspection window determined by their last inspection judgement. As we prepare for a return to full EIF inspection we will take a proportionate and risk-based approach to who we inspect first.

We will prioritise providers who:

  • were judged less than good at their last inspection, including those who received an interim visit in the autumn term
  • registered recently and have not yet been inspected and whose first inspection is overdue
  • were not inspected in the last inspection cycle due to the pause in routine inspections.

We will also continue to carry out any urgent inspections where we have significant concerns about a provider.

Unfortunately, we are unable to answer specific questions about the timing of an inspection for individual providers.

What safety measures will be in place during an inspection?

We take the safety and welfare of everyone involved in inspections, including children, carers, staff and inspectors, seriously. We will follow the most up-to-date guidance from Public Health England.

In the notification call before an inspection, providers and inspectors will agree safety measures to ensure the inspection is Covid-19 secure and how inspectors can work effectively within the protective measures in place.

Inspectors will also take a Covid-19 test before arriving at the setting. Private, voluntary and independent and childminders now have access to these tests too. Where possible, any interactions with practitioners, leaders and parents will be in a socially distanced manner. This could include, but is not limited to, standing two metres apart in a large room and conversations/meetings taking place outside or by telephone.

What precautions are needed will vary from provider to provider and activity to activity, but inspectors will always ensure that they are acting safely and within the clear guidance given.

What if a provider has active cases of Covid-19 or staff / children self-isolating?

Where a provider has active cases of Covid-19 in their setting, they can request a deferral of their inspection at the point of notification. We will consider all requests in line with our published deferral policy.

Useful links

The Education Inspection Framework

The Early Years Inspection Handbook

Watch our free webinar on Ofsted Inspections 2021

Guidance on Ofsted registration and inspections