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How Often Are Ofsted Inspections? A Guide for Schools and Nurseries

In this blog, Adrian Gray, school improvement consultant and former Ofsted inspector, explains how Ofsted schedules inspections of schools, academies and early years settings, and underlines the importance of maintaining a state of readiness for an Ofsted visit.

The issue of how often a school or other setting will be inspected by Ofsted is often a cause of confusion. This is because Ofsted operates under various pressures – what the law may or may not require, what its own stated policy says, and the limits of its capacity to schedule inspections– hence the word ‘normally’ appears quite often in its guidance. Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the turnover of inspectors, which may mean inspections are less frequent than might be expected.

Another factor adding to confusion is that Ofsted uses risk assessment in some sectors to decide when to schedule an inspection. On top of this, past inspection outcomes and complaints from parents, etc, can cause inspections to be more frequent or to be brought forward. All this means that, although it is possible to discuss how frequent inspection should be, you should never expect this to be a firm prediction. All the best schools and providers operate on the basis that ‘it could be any day’, and maintain high-quality standards as ‘normal’.

The inspection of government-funded schools

Ofsted operates one system of inspection for all maintained schools and academies including special schools, nursery schools and pupil referral units.

For several years, schools that had previously been judged outstanding were exempt from inspection. This included formerly outstanding ‘academy converters’. This policy has now ceased, so all schools get inspected – although it has taken some time for Ofsted to reach all of those judged ‘previously outstanding’. As at January 2024, around 4,000 schools had not had a graded inspection for ten years or more, although most of these have now had an ungraded inspection. Around 400 schools had had neither type of inspection for five years. Ofsted itself has agreed with the government to close this gap: ‘… the government has also asked us to inspect every school at least once before August 2025.’ So, if you have not had an inspection for a long time, you know your limit!

There are some details to this. Schools that received their last graded inspection before September 2015 will first receive a Section 5 graded inspection. Those with a graded inspection after this date will ‘normally’, as Ofsted says, receive an ungraded inspection. If their ungraded inspection suggest they may no longer be outstanding, Ofsted will ‘normally’ carry out a graded inspection within the next year, or at least before 1 August 2026. Once these schools have all been inspected, they will slot into the same routines as for all other schools, which we can now look at.

For the rest, the current policy is that a school judged good or outstanding at its most recent inspection will normally receive a ‘Section 8’ ungraded inspection approximately every 4 years, which should confirm if the school remains good or outstanding. If the ungraded inspection suggests a previously good school may be now outstanding, then a full graded inspection will be planned within the next one or two years. Conversely, indications of a decline can also result in a graded inspection within the same time frame. If there is a serious safeguarding issue, an ungraded Section 8 inspection can be converted into a graded Section 5.

If this sounds complicated, then add to the mix that Ofsted says it will ‘automatically’ give some good schools a full Section 5 graded inspection anyway. All they say to explain the process is: ‘We use a risk assessment process to ensure that our approach to inspection is proportionate,’ is all that they say.

If a school has been judged to require improvement (RI), it will have another graded inspection within 2.5 years. If a school has been judged as ‘RI’ in two consecutive inspections, it will be subject to monitoring from inspectors to check its progress, and also get another graded inspection after 2.5 years. This seems something of an oddity: for ‘twice RI’ schools, the inspection will be ‘within a period of 2.5 years of the publication of the previous graded inspection report’ but for ‘RI once’, the guidance only says ‘within 2.5 years.’

It is slightly different for new schools. All new schools, which include newly registered academies, should be inspected in the first three years after they open. In practice, this mainly happens in the school’s third year. However, COVID-19 has caused some delays, and new schools that opened before September 2020 and have not yet been inspected can expect a visit by their fifth year of operation. There are also different rules for schools that have been changed significantly, for example by adding a key stage; this usually means that an inspection will be put back to allow changes to ‘settle in’.

Monitoring visits to schools and academies

A community school that has been subject to an academy order will not normally be monitored by Ofsted, unless there are safeguarding concerns. An inadequate academy will be monitored by Ofsted unless it is re-brokered to another academy trust; if it is not, then Ofsted will make monitoring visits and re-inspect it within 2.5 years of the previous report’s publication.

Inadequate maintained nursery schools or non-maintained special schools will be monitored in the same way as an academy judged as inadequate that is not re-brokered to a new sponsor trust.

Note also that a school judged to have serious weaknesses solely due to safeguarding will receive a return visit within three months of the publication of the graded inspection report. This is a change following the turbulent debate over the Caversham inspection.

Summary for government-funded schools

The ‘normal’ pattern is:

  • good and outstanding schools will be inspected in one form or another every four years 
  • requires improvement and inadequate schools will get a graded inspection after 2.5 years

However, Ofsted can inspect a school at any time. For example, if it received concerns about the safety of pupils in a school, it could schedule an additional inspection – although these are rare. In general, Ofsted will investigate complaints at the next scheduled inspection. 

Implications and preparation

The implications of this for all types of school are that, although you might be able to predict roughly when you would ‘normally’ expect an inspection to be – within a term or two – you cannot actually know. Most sensible schools therefore keep themselves in a state of readiness, which generally means having a co-ordinated approach to knowing about yourselves. For a school that is usually on top of its game, this may mean nothing more than keeping things running smoothly. 

In my work with schools, I tend to emphasise the following:

  • Maintain an up-to-date and properly evidenced self-evaluation form (SEF)
  • Ensure your school development plan is up to date
  • Make sure your own evidence about performance is easily accessible – often in the SEF, but perhaps also in the headteacher’s report
  • Be clear on your own strategic story – the important, evidenced messages that you want to communicate to all (including inspectors); it can be useful to practise this as a ‘state-of-the-nation’ report to governors or staff
  • Make arrangements to have a group of governors prepared and available for when you get the call

It is important to be aware that this is not all about the headteacher. In fact, I think there is an important role for school administrators in helping to maintain an up-to-date evidence base. 

Independent schools 

Ofsted inspects many ‘non-association’ independent schools for their education, some of which also have boarding that is inspected as part of social care inspections. A new three-year cycle of standard inspections began in January 2023 – and please note that this is different to state school schedules. Independent schools that are judged as requiring improvement or inadequate will ‘normally’ have a standard inspection within two years of the previous standard inspection. 

However, the DfE can commission Ofsted to make an emergency inspection of an independent school at any time. This usually follows a complaint, especially regarding safeguarding or other aspects of pupil safety. The DfE can also commission an inspection to check if a school has closed. 

Early years settings 

Ofsted ‘usually’ inspects new daycare providers within 30 months of their registration. Existing settings are usually inspected at least once every six years. 

However, if Ofsted has reason for concern about a daycare provider, often raised by a parent, they will assess any risks that they know of. Depending on the seriousness of the concerns, they may then decide to schedule an additional inspection. 

If a daycare setting’s provision for children is judged inadequate, Ofsted will re-inspect within six months. They also say that ‘if they can’, they will re-inspect daycare settings judged as requiring improvement within 12 months of the last inspection. 

We offer a range of expert-led professional development to help your school or education setting prepare for inspections in key areas, and to ensure that it meets Ofsted expectations (or those of ISI for independent schools). 

If you’re concerned about keeping up to date with the latest education policy, practice and research, consider a membership with The National College. Not only does it provide access to thousands of professional development resources for all staff, but also enables leaders to create training programmes precisely tailored to individual and collective needs, to help ensure compliance and drive up standards. 


Ofsted, 2018. ‘Methodology note: the risk assessment process for good and outstanding maintained schools and academies’ 

Ofsted, 2023. ‘School inspections: A guide for parents’

Owston, 2023. ‘When will my school be inspected?’