What is Ofsted?

Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills.

Established initially in 1992 as the Office for Standards in Education, Ofsted's remit was expanded in 2007 to include children's services work relating to social care and the courts, and its full title was changed to reflect this.

An independent, non-ministerial government department reporting directly to Parliament, Ofsted is responsible for inspecting and regulating education and training for learners of all ages and for inspecting and regulating those services which care for children and young people.

Ofsted is headed by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector (HMCI) who has overall responsibility for the organisation, management and staffing of Ofsted. HMCI is also the Accounting Officer for Ofsted and is answerable to Parliament for the proper use of resources.

The Chief Inspector is supported by an Executive Board of Directors who meet at least fortnightly and the Ofsted Board which meets at least four times a year and is responsible for Ofsted's strategic direction and for ensuring HMCI and Ofsted perform efficiently and effectively.

Similar bodies carry out the same functions as Ofsted elsewhere in the UK: Estyn in Wales; Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education in Scotland; and the Education and Training Inspectorate in Northern Ireland.

Ofsted inspects schools, colleges, initial teacher education, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, education and training in prisons and other secure establishments, and the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass). Ofsted also assesses children’s services in local areas, and inspects services for looked after children and child protection.

Inspections are carried out by one or more inspectors and each inspection must follow a specific framework devised for that particular provider; for example: 'Framework for the inspection of maintained schools in England'; 'The Common inspection framework for further education and skills'; and 'Framework for the regulation of those on the Early Years and Childcare Registers.'

Following Ofsted's expansion in 2007 through the amalgamation of four separate inspectorates, an 'over-arching framework' was devised to provide greater consistency and coherence and reduce duplication of inspections. Published in 2009, 'Ofsted inspects: A framework for all Ofsted inspection and regulation' sets out a basis for developing more flexible frameworks better tailored to the needs of each provider.

Framework 2012:

Under the new framework for school inspections which came into force in January 2012, inspectors are to focus more sharply on aspects of schools' work which have the greatest impact on raising achievement.

It is intended that this will involve a reduction in the number of key judgements that are required and a further increase in the proportion of inspectors’ time in school that is spent observing teaching and gathering evidence of learning, progress and behaviour.

Inspectors will be required to report on achievement of pupils at the school, quality of teaching in the school, quality of leadership in and management of the school and behaviour and safety of pupils at the school.

Inspectors must also consider: the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at the school and the extent to which the education provided by the school meets the needs of the range of pupils at the school and, in particular, the needs of disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs.


Prior to 1992, schools were inspected by Local Education Authority (LEA)-employed inspectors. However, this system fell into disrepute because of inconsistent standards across the country and concerns about the independence of inspectors of local chief education officers and councillors.

The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) was formed under the Education (Schools) Act 1992, as part of the major overhaul and centralisation of the school system begun by the Education Reform Act 1988, which introduced the National Curriculum, extensive testing in schools and the publication of league tables. The impetus to form Ofsted also came partially from the perceived unwillingness of left-leaning LEAs and inspectors to implement elements of the Conservative government's agenda.

Initially through the Section 9 inspections of the 1992 Act, and then Section 10 of the School Inspections Act 1996, primary, secondary and special schools had been inspected in a four-yearly and subsequently six-yearly cycle.

Ofsted increased its role with the overhaul of Further Education brought about by the Learning and Skills Act 2000, which empowered it to inspect FE colleges and school sixth forms. The Care Standards Act 2000 widened Ofsted's powers further to nursery education and childcare, and took Ofsted's role out of the inspection and advisory spheres for the first time, making it responsible for maintaining a register of approved childminders.

Although the 1996 Act explicitly stated that Local Education Authorities were entitled to carry out their own inspections of schools under their control, LEAs themselves have been subject to inspection by Ofsted and the Audit Commission since 1998.

The inspection regime was amended in 2005 to reduce the burden on schools posed by inspections and to improve their efficacy. From September that year schools had just two days notice of an inspection, compared to six to ten weeks previously, and were required to keep their own self-assessment reports which Ofsted could refer to.

The aim was to reduce regulation on good schools while taking tougher action on those that were underperforming. A similar regime was introduced in early years services in April 2005, although self-assessment was not a requirement, and in teacher training providers in September 2005. It was extended to the independent school sector in January 2007, and planned for further education colleges later that year.

In April 2007 the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (the present Ofsted) was formed through the amalgamation of four separate inspectorates; they were - the previous Ofsted; the children's social care remit of the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI); the inspection work of the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI); and the inspection remit of Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Court Administration (HMICA).

This expansion made Ofsted one of the largest regulatory and inspection bodies in England. The new post of Ofsted chair .was created at the same time to reflect Ofsted's expanded remit. The first Ofsted chairman was Zenna Atkins whose term ended on 31 August 2010. An interim chairman, board member John Roberts, was then appointed to serve for six months until the present chairman, Baroness Morgan of Huyton, took up the post in March 2011.

Christine Gilbert was the first Chief Inspector of Ofsted to head the new Office for Standards in Education and Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted). She resigned in June 2011 after almost five years of service and former Ofsted executive director Miriam Rosen was appointed interim Chief Inspector.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, a former teacher of 43 years standing – 26 of these as a head teacher - became the new HMCI on 1 January 2011. 


Despite its short history, Ofsted has been a controversial body. For much of its lifetime, Ofsted has existed in a state of high tension with schools and other educational institutions, because of its willingness to criticise and find fault.

At least some of the difficulty for many years was attributed by many to the personal style of the confrontational Chief Inspector, Chris Woodhead, who ran the Office from 1992 until his surprise resignation in 2000.

Under Mr Woodhead, Ofsted pursued a strong accountability agenda and accepted no excuses for failure, undertaking many initiatives that were deeply unpopular in schools - particularly the policy of "naming and shaming" failing schools and their staff and the publication of league tables for primary schools. Mr Woodhead also campaigned vociferously against "fashionable" teaching methods and falling standards in schools in favour of "old fashioned" education.

Mr Woodhead resigned in 2000, claiming that he could not accept some of the educational policies of the Labour Government (which had reappointed him in 1997). His departure was widely celebrated by teachers, who believed that his policies had blamed educational standards, which owed as much to a lack of funding and equipment, entirely on "lazy" or "incompetent" staff.

The inspection process was widely criticised, particularly by teachers, who argued it caused high levels of stress among staff under pressure to ensure their schools performed well. As a result, the government proposed a shift towards the shorter, sharper inspection process, which was introduced in 2005.

Mr Woodhead was replaced by an interim Chief Inspector, Mike Tomlinson, followed by David Bell, and then Christine Gilbert, who took over in October 2006. Following the introduction of the new inspection regime, relations with teachers improved. A report by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) in July 2006 found 85 per cent of the 134 schools surveyed thought the new system would lead to improvements. However, there were still concerns among teachers that Ofsted had a "fascination with failure", as one union leader described in November 2006.

Ofsted's expansion in 2007 attracted more controversy with questions being raised about the inspectorate's ability to cope with such a broad remit, culminating in a call from the Commons Education Select Committee for Ofsted to be fundamentally reformed.

In its report in April 2011 the Committee said it believed a single inspectorate was too big to function effectively and greater elements of specialism were needed to raise the quality of inspections and restore confidence. The Committee therefore recommended that Ofsted be split into two new organisations – the Inspectorate for Education and the Inspectorate for Children's Care.


Ofsted Annual Report 2010/11, drawing on over 31,000 inspection visits across the schools, early years, children’s social care and learning and skills sectors in England.

Early years and childcare:

Overall 12% of early years registered provision was outstanding, 62% good, 23% satisfactory and 3% inadequate, an improved picture from last year.
The number of providers in the early years and childcare sector has increased in 2010/11, halting the trend seen in recent years of a fall in numbers.
Childcare providers who have been inspected against the requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage and have subsequently left the sector are ten times as likely to have been found inadequate than those who remained in the sector. This suggests that inspection has contributed to an overall increase in quality.
Childcare on non-domestic premises, for example nurseries and playgroups, continues to outperform childminders in terms of the quality of provision. The difference between the two in the percentage judged good or outstanding has increased for the last two years.
Time and experience help childcare providers develop outstanding quality. A childcare provider who has been registered for four or more years is more than twice as likely to be judged outstanding under the Early Years Foundation Stage as a provider who has been registered for a year or less.


Overall, in a context of targeted inspection, 11% of schools were judged outstanding; 46% good; 38% satisfactory and 6% inadequate this year. This compares to last year’s figures where 13% were outstanding; 43% good; 37% satisfactory and 8% inadequate.
The ‘state of the nation’ picture, looking at the most recent inspection judgement for all schools in England, shows that 20% of schools are outstanding; 50% are good; 28% are satisfactory and 2% are inadequate. This is similar to the overall picture at 31 August 2010 when 18% of schools were outstanding, 50% were good, 30% were satisfactory and 3% were inadequate.
In the fifth of schools serving the least deprived pupils, 27% of schools were satisfactory.
A third of all schools inspected during 2010/11 improved their performance compared with their previous inspection and nearly half maintained their performance. Nearly a fifth received a lower overall effectiveness grade. This is a slightly more positive picture than in 2009/10.
Forty percent of schools previously judged to be outstanding that were inspected this year declined. The large majority of these schools were selected for inspection following a risk assessment.
Primary schools which were most successful in teaching children to read by six had a very rigorous, systematic approach to teaching phonic knowledge and skills. This laid the foundations for successful reading, writing and spelling.
Most of the academies inspected this year were sponsored academies where previously the school had experienced a history of failure or low performance. Of the 75 academies inspected this year, 40 were judged to be providing a good or outstanding education for their pupils and five were inadequate.
The very large majority of initial teacher education inspected by Ofsted over the last three years has been judged to be good or outstanding. Thirty one percent is outstanding; 58% good, 10% satisfactory and two inadequate providers.
For non-associated independent schools, there has been a strong rise in the proportion of schools meeting all the regulations for independent schools. This has increased from 36% in 2009/10 to 45% in 2010/11.
Learning and skills (colleges, adult learning and work based learning):
Overall, in a context of targeted inspection, 39 out of 84 colleges were judged good or outstanding; 41 were satisfactory and four were inadequate.
The ‘state of the nation’ picture giving the most recent inspection judgement for all colleges shows that that 23% are outstanding; 47% are good; 29% are satisfactory and 1% are inadequate.
Over two fifths of previously good colleges, selected for inspection on the basis of Ofsted’s risk assessment, have declined in their performance this year. In 2009/10 around a quarter of colleges previously judged to be good declined.
There has been a substantial increase this year in the percentage of independent learning providers, who provide work based learning, judged good or outstanding. This has increased from 47% in 2009/10 to 55% in 2010/11. The percentage judged to be outstanding has increased from 4% last year to 10% this year.
A high proportion of provision in prisons and young offender institutions is no better than satisfactory. Leadership and management, and the extent to which provision meets the needs and interests of learners, are key factors limiting improvement.

Social care:

Of the 47 local authorities who received a full safeguarding inspection this year, nine were judged inadequate for services that keep children and young people safe; 25 were adequate and 13 were good.
Unannounced inspections of 133 local authorities’ contact, referral and assessment arrangements have been carried out this year. In the vast majority appropriate actions have been taken to improve the arrangements for children at risk since their previous inspection
Of the 46 looked after children services inspected, 26 were adequate 19 were good and one was inadequate.
Under a new framework for the inspection of children’s homes introduced in April 2011, 77% of the 731 homes inspected were judged good or outstanding. This maintains the clear trajectory of improvement seen since September 2007 when just 58% were good or outstanding.
There are 327 children’s homes which also provide education or are linked to education providers. At their most recent inspection the education provided was judged good or outstanding in around half these children’s homes. However, in 11% education was inadequate.
For the four secure training centres inspected, quality of care was outstanding in three centres and inadequate in one. A downward trend in the use of restraint in secure training centres has been observed over the last two years.
Of the 102 fostering agencies and services inspected this year, 79% were providing good or better services. However, 21% of these services were no better than satisfactory.
All but seven of the 68 adoption agencies inspected were found to be good or outstanding. However, too many children are waiting too long to be adopted.

Source: Ofsted Annual Report: 'Raising Ambition and Tackling Failure' – November 2011


"I am honoured and privileged to be appointed to this most important and influential post.
"As HMCI, I will endeavour not only to provide a commentary on educational standards but also to challenge the service to provide consistently high quality provision for young people and adults."

Sir Michael Wilshaw on being selected as the new HMCI – October 2011

"Sir Michael has transformed the fortunes of thousands of children during his time as a head teacher. He truly understands what success looks like and knows how to achieve it – even in the most challenging circumstances. This role will allow more heads, teachers and other professionals to be influenced by this talented and inspirational leader."

Education Secretary Michael Gove – October 2011

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