Whether you’re preparing for an upcoming visit or looking to lay down strong foundations in anticipation of that phone call, “how to pass an Ofsted inspection” is a question keeping many providers up at night.

The impending arrival of an Ofsted inspector can create a high level of pressure.

We understand that you want to be certain you’re showing a full commitment to the success of your learners in the best possible light, with all the evidence to hand.

Section 114 of The Further Education and Skills Inspection Handbook does a great job of laying out the specifics you’ll need to prepare for Ofsted Inspections. But there’s still plenty more that providers can do to feel prepared before an inspection is even announced.

And one key thing to remember is that Ofsted inspectors are people too. Yes, really!

They want what everyone in the sector wants: the best opportunities for learners to get a high quality education that works towards their career goals. Any inspector will look to ensure that your organisation is making every effort to provide this for all of your learners – something that you’re already working towards every day.

It’s useful to view your ongoing provision through the lens of Ofsted assessment criteria because it can help ease the task of evidencing this hard work at inspection. It also means you’re focused on delivering an Outstanding provision at all times, not just when Ofsted comes knocking.

This article will explore some of the proactive, best practice measures providers can put in place to support all Ofsted categories. Meaning that when inspectors do come calling, you are in the very best position to demonstrate your learners’ success and get the high grading you and your team deserve.


What are the Ofsted categories?

Ofsted sets out its criteria for assessment clearly, within the Education Inspection Framework. This framework covers the way that maintained schools, academies, non-association independent schools, further education and skills provision and registered early years settings in England will be inspected.

For a deep understanding of the requirements placed on apprenticeships and other adult education courses, we can turn to the guidance provided by the Further Education And Skills Handbook

But what are the Ofsted categories that form the cornerstone assessments of any inspection?

Before we look at the changes since the pandemic and tips for inspection, let’s take a look at these broad categories.


Quality of education

This Ofsted category seeks to ensure that providers are offering a well-considered curriculum that delivers a high quality of education to all of its learners, including those with high learning needs. Ofsted have recently evolved their assessment of this category to the 3 I’s framework – measuring intent, implementation and impact for learners.


Behaviour and attitudes

The second Ofsted category assesses the learning environment that staff and leaders create within an organisation. This environment should be safe, disciplined and supportive, creating a positive impact on the behaviour and attitudes of learners. It’s important to show clear expectations and appropriate flexibility with regard to behaviour and attitudes. A focus on punctuality, attendance and respect all contribute to success here. Again, support for those with learning needs is a specified focus and may cause behavioural differences that are not always intentional.


Personal development

This Ofsted category focuses on the support that a provider gives beyond the academic, technical or vocational. Inspectors are looking to evaluate the measures a provider puts in place to help their learners’ personal development. Equality of opportunity and an inclusive environment that meets the needs of all learners are of paramount importance here. Each learner’s rate of learning, individual targets and acquisition of knowledge, skills and behaviours will be different, and progress will be evaluated in relation to each learner’s starting point.


Leadership and management

Finally, the fourth key Ofsted category assesses the impact of “principals, chief executives, senior leaders, deans, heads of apprenticeships, subject leaders and others with leadership and management roles[.]” (Further Education And Skills Handbook, 2022)

Once again, the experience of learners with learning support requirements is highlighted. With management required to show a “positive impact on all learners, including those with SEND and those who have high needs.”


Judgements on each major type of provision

In addition to the four key Ofsted categories listed above, inspectors will also be required to assess each of the major types of provision in relation to the funding that they have received.

This includes:

  • education programmes for young people
  • adult learning programmes
  • apprenticeships (at all levels)
  • provision for learners with high needs


For the specifics of funding sources here, see Section 99 of the Further Education And Skills Handbook.

Once again, SEND provision is clearly specified as an area of focus when it comes to grading. Section 101 states that “The quality of provision for learners with high needs and with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND), a much broader group than those attracting high-needs funding, will always be considered during the inspection of any type of provision.”


Ofsted Inspections and Covid-19: What’s Changed?

The lockdowns associated with the Covid-19 pandemic had a huge impact on the provision of education.

And as you would expect, this change has been reflected with updates to the Ofsted assessment criteria and guidance. Providers wondering how to pass an Ofsted inspection should be aware of the need to clearly demonstrate the measures they’ve put in place to minimise the impact to learners in the wake of Coronavirus, including gaps in learning.

What are the Ofsted categories that specifically reference a provider’s response to Covid-19?

The impact is wide-ranging, influencing the assessment of most aspects of provision. There’s particular focus on the need to show an appropriate response and adjustments, especially for learners who could fall behind their peers without appropriate support, within the following categories.



How have leaders and managers adapted and prioritised the curriculum in response to the pandemic? How has the curriculum been implemented remotely and how have learning gaps or new starting points been addressed and responded to?


Personal development

What support for personal development was in place before the pandemic, and how is the provider responding to restore this provision? Have you considered the impact on learner’s confidence and motivation to learn?


Remote education

Here it should be noted that Ofsted does not have a preferred model for remote education. However, the provision of remote learning will be assessed through the same “intent, implementation and impact” framework laid out in Quality of Education.


Internal data

Within the context of the pandemic, providers can expect for Ofsted to request data that predates the inspection to help them make assessments of “learners’ progress in relation to their starting points, based on their rate of learning, acquisition of knowledge, skills and behaviours and whether they have achieved their individual, challenging targets.”

Although Ofsted will take into account the disruptions and impact caused by the pandemic, inspectors will want to see how you are assessing and supporting learners’ gap in knowledge and learning needs. With clear data on how you have identified and adapted in response to areas where learners may have fallen behind or had their progress hampered.



Measures to protect a culture of safeguarding (when learners are receiving remote education or, previously, if they were self-isolating due to Covid-19) should be shown.

We will be dealing with the effects of the pandemic for years to come, and providers have learned the hard way how to adapt quickly. Now it’s just about maintaining this sense of urgency and continuing to improve practices for disadvantaged learners, breaking down barriers to their success.


5 tips on how to pass an Ofsted inspection

Preparation for Ofsted inspection should be approached proactively. Providers should have a clear understanding of what’s required. Not only to pass an inspection, but to do so in a manner that protects and enhances their reputation, motivates staff and encourages learners.


1.   Tracking Learner Success

Be mindful of the need to be on top of data. Every organisation has success measures in place, but when it comes to “how to pass an Ofsted inspection”, you need to be clearly tracking an evolving pathway to success for each learner.

Do you use ongoing surveys, monthly one-to-ones, intervention and reasonable adjustment reporting, or quarterly impact questionnaires?

There needs to be clear visibility of every learner and their distance travelled in terms of progress. Cognassist can help here, offering the easier provision of personalised learner journeys, at any scale.


2.   Company values and culture

You’ll also need to demonstrate a commitment to the “Behaviour and attitudes” section of the inspection, as evidenced by your values and culture.

To obtain an Outstanding grade, learners should be displaying “high positive attitudes and commitment to their education and/or training”.

The need for providers to show “intelligent, swift and highly effective action to support” individuals who are struggling here is specifically called out.


3.   Be proactive about areas that need improvement

Knowledge is power. No inspector expects perfection, so rather than trying to downplay or conceal known problem areas, show how action is being taken to remedy these issues.

The benefits of taking a proactive stance were highlighted in our Ask An Inspector event, where Marina Gaze (former Deputy Director FE and Skills) remarked, “I always say this to people, if you thought Ofsted were going to turn up on Monday, what wouldn’t you want them to see? Don’t hide it. Go and sort it out now, not for Ofsted but for your learners, your apprentices. Making sure that they get the best possible deal that they can.”

An example of proactive steps here could be neurodiversity training for staff, helping to ensure that all learners can be well-supported. If you know learning support is an area your organisation needs to develop, don’t wait. Ofsted are going to spot a poor provision from a mile off.


4.    Create a robust SEND provision

The latest iteration of Further Education and Skills Handbook places a stronger emphasis on SEND provision, and this is notable across the full range of the guidance it provides.

It’s especially important within the assessment of Quality of Education, where the Ofsted 3 I’s framework comes into play. To obtain an Outstanding assessment here, providers should show that “across all parts of the provider, including in subcontracted provision and for learners with SEND and those with high needs, teaching and training are of a high quality.”

And in terms of impact, “Learners consistently achieve highly, particularly the most disadvantaged. Learners with SEND achieve the best possible outcomes.”


5.   Be adaptive to your learners’ needs

Finally, be aware of and prioritise your requirement to maintain support of your learners’ evolving needs. Having a good process in place for initial assessments is essential, as it will inform your learning support plan.

A personalised approach is key here, and in order to attain the best grading, providers must be able to show use of a wide range of resources which help to support learners’ individual learning needs. Cognassist’s digital cognitive assessments can help in terms of delivery here, and additionally make the tracking of progress easier and clearer to evidence.


Proactive. Prepared. Pressure off

Ofsted inspections can create a degree of pressure and even stress, but providers should remember that, ultimately, everyone is chasing shared outcomes.

High quality provision.

Better learner outcomes.

A healthier working environment for all.

For those who have proactively prepared, an Ofsted inspection represents a real opportunity to showcase improvement and aspirations.

By developing a deeper understanding of how the various Ofsted assessment criteria are judged, you can ensure that you’re ready to welcome inspectors with all of the data, evidence and information they require. It starts by having measures in place to track, respond and improve your learners’ experiences. These are the markers for a successful provision.

So start actively preparing for Ofsted before the phone rings…


Looking for more top tips for Ofsted inspection of Apprenticeship providers?

Watch our free Ask The Inspector event.

Need a robust approach for your high needs learners?

Talk to us about identifying and supporting learning needs