Ofsted to inspect online education

Ofsted to inspect online education

No matter how prepared you think you are for the new DfE inspection framework for online education providers, think again!

For better and for worse, the DfE has decided to base their Ofsted inspection framework for online education provision on the standards written for independent schools. In order to test whether these standards are appropriate for online settings, and exactly how they can be carried out with online providers, a pilot programme was initiated in June 2021.

We were entirely honoured to be chosen as one of four provisions to undergo the Ofsted pilot inspection. We hosted an HMI and a principal officer for Independent and Unregistered Education. Both were lovely to work with and it was a unique opportunity to feedback to the DfE about their proposed inspection framework and to learn where our strengths and areas of improvement lay.

It turns out that the framework is not a qualitative judgement about our various online provisions. It is a compliance framework only. That was initially disheartening to hear on Day 1, as we pride ourselves on being an amazingly effective and interactive education provision. But, after experiencing the 2-day inspection, it became clear that part of the framework was centred directly around impact for students – indeed the entire framework is calculated to determine whether there’s a chance of positive impact for students. Afterall, for example, if your schemes of work (SOWs) are not up to snuff, then you’ve got a potential problem with your teaching and learning – just like a bricks & mortar school.

This is also a 100% pass/fail inspection. Either you comply 100% with all standards or you fail. Your results will be posted on Ofsted’s website and, if successful, you can plaster your website with Ofsted and DfE accreditation badges to prove once and for all that you are a quality provision. The scheme is entirely voluntary at the moment so think carefully before accepting the invitation to participate. Don’t get caught short.

Over the years, we have dedicated ourselves to complying as closely as possible to the DfE standards and Ofsted’s guidance, but even our “best-fit” approach was not entirely compliant with this burgeoning framework of standards. While no judgements were made during the pilot, we did get a nice summary of where we stand.

The good news for us is…

  1. Leadership and Management got rave reviews from staff and parents
  2. Safeguarding and data protection were seen to be robust
  3. CPD is good and performance management is developmental
  4. Our learning environments are safe and caring for both staff and students
  5. The way we use technology promotes engagement and allows for very good content and pacing of lessons
  6. Staff are secure in their subject knowledge, aware of student needs, and amend lessons to suit the needs of their students
  7. Positive progress and impact were obvious from watching students in lessons

Honesty time now…

  • While our policies were 99% in place, they were not written specifically with our online provision in mind. They were more appropriate to a bricks & mortar school. So, these are now being rewritten to comply more fully with the type of educational institution we are.
  • While all our SOWs are living on our learning platform, we had not completed all the spreadsheet versions for our broad range of couse offerings. So, these are now being completed according to the direction given us by the inspector. This will make it much easier for an inspector to see that we are actually in compliance without having to troll through all our courses on the learning platform.
  • Due to the short notice and the acutre vulnerability of our students, the one child who agreed to speak with Ofsted was too sick on the day to do so. So, we will be preparing all our students for the possibility of chatting with an inspector so that when this scheme goes live in 2022, we’ll have more students available for a short chat.

Altogether pretty good for a first-time guinea pig.

Top Tips for you going forward…

  • The bottom line is that no matter how well prepared you are for the vast number of standards that will come your way, take time now to double-check and refine everything you do.
  • Get some sleep! The sheer mental exhaustion of two full days of proving yourself worthy is a reality better anticipated than not.
  • Find a location that is amenable and comfortable for you and the inspectors – allowing them a place of privacy for phone calls and the like.
  • Create an Ofsted folder (GDrive or server) with everything you’ll want them to reference. You might even dedicate a laptop for their use with everything they’ll need to access on it.
  • Keep your staff and students in the loop. No surprises are best. It’s not about shining 100% of the time; it’s about competence, care, and compliance. Do that every day and you’ll be ready for whatever comes.

There is an advantage to being a guinea pig that goes beyond how well we stacked up against the new framework. We were able to highlight some of the infelicities of basing it on the independent school standards.

There are aspects of the framework that are impossible for any online providers to achieve (like performing Section 128 checks on staff (without a DfE number no one cannot login to the system that does these checks); like offering PE or other practical courses; like providing careers advice and PSHE – which we can do, but only if commissioned to provide them). Of course, SMSC, English, and Maths are embedded in all our SOWs and we also take time while teaching every course to work with our students on their varied barriers to learning. So only time will tell whether this will be sufficient to meet the final DfE standards regarding PSHE – if not specifically commissioned to teach the course.

Related to the career/PSHE question, we had many conversations about whose responsibility it is for our students’ whole education. We argued that the school/LA has ultimate responsibility for educating the students referred to us for specific academic subjects. We told them to think of renovating their own house. We are the plumbers (for example) – hired to do the plumbing – someone else does the electrics – but the school/LA is responsible for project managing the whole build. So every time something came up that they thought we should be doing (like careers), we just kept saying, “but we’re just the plumbers – we’re a third-party contractor. We actually do more than plumbing – we teach the whole child and work with them on their confidence, resilience, and a variety of learning behaviours, but we are just commissioned to be the plumbers at the end of the day.” They definitely got the message and will make sure this is heard by the DfE.

All-in-all this was a terrific experience and we are so pleased to have been invited to take part. The scheme is anticipated to go live in January 2022. Best of success!


You can keep abreast of OEAS’s and Ofsted’s accreditation scheme here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/accreditation-for-online-education-providers/accreditation-for-online-education-providers. They will post the final list of standards on completion.

You can receive notifications if you email OEAS.enquiries@education.gov.uk with this request.