Ofsted nursery inspections guidance

Find out what Ofsted means to your early years setting and Ofsted nursery inspections.

What is Ofsted?

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

Ofsted’s role is to inspect and regulate England-based services that care for children and young people as well as services providing education and skills for learners of all ages.

As a nursery or childcare provider based in England you must be registered with Ofsted as they must carry out inspections and regulatory visits.

The results are then published online so you can use them to improve the overall quality of education and training in your setting.

The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) is the inspection and regulatory body for all providers of education of all ages. Their role is to ensure that organisations providing education, training and care services in England do so to a high standard for children and students. Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework (2021) states, “Inspection provides independent, external evaluation and identifies what needs to improve in order for provision to be good or better. It is based on gathering a range of evidence that is evaluated against an inspection framework and takes full account of our policies and relevant legislation in areas such as safeguarding, equality and diversity.”

Ofsted early years inspections apply to all settings on the Early Years Register. This includes child carers, such as childminders, day nurseries, pre-schools, schools and private nursery schools who care for children from birth to 31 August following their fifth birthday. Schools caring for children aged two and over are inspected under the School Inspection Handbook.

Nursery Ofsted Inspections

Providers on the Early Years Register will normally be inspected at least once within a six-year cycle of inspections. Providers can be selected for inspection at any time in the cycle; there is no set time between inspections, so it is best to be prepared for an inspection at any time. As well as inspecting all providers at least once, some providers will get more than one inspection. This normally happens if:

  • Ofsted receives a concern about a setting and concludes that inspection is needed
  • Provision is judged as inadequate; in these cases, they will be re-inspected within six months
  • Pre-school and nursery provision is judged as ‘requires improvement’, in these cases they will be re-inspected within 12 months.

Ofsted aims to inspect all new childcare providers within 30 months of registration where possible, childcare providers judged to require improvement are inspected within a year and inadequate childcare provision are inspected within six months. If there are concerns about any childcare provider, Ofsted can use its regulatory powers between inspections, and bring forward an inspection following a risk assessment.

Ofsted Education Inspection Framework for early years

Updates and changes


See all of NDNA’s support for nurseries and early years providers regarding Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework.


See inspection framework support


Providers will receive a telephone call around midday on the working day before the start of the inspection. The inspector will take all reasonable steps to contact the setting but if the inspector has not been able to speak to anyone, the inspection will continue the following day without notice.

The telephone call is to initiate a professional conversation about practical matters concerning the inspection and will not be part of the inspection itself. The inspector will clarify registration status, the arrangements for inspection, establish the number and ages of children including those with SEND, find out if any children receive funding and highlight what documentation they wish to see. This information is all available in the ‘Early Years Inspection Handbook’.

Judgement areas

Inspectors award grades under the following areas:

• Quality of education

• Behaviour and attitudes

• Personal development

• Leadership and management

• The overall effectiveness of your provision

Four-point grading scale

Ofsted use a four-point grading scale to determine the quality of the provision and inspectors determine a provider’s grades using the ‘grade descriptors’ in the handbook. The grades are:

1. Outstanding

2. Good

3. Requires improvement

4. Inadequate.

Most of the grade descriptors are under the judgement of good. If a setting mostly meets these, then it is good. This is known as a ‘best fit’ judgement. If it doesn’t meet enough of these then an inspector will judge it as ‘requires improvement’ unless it meets at least one of the grade descriptors for inadequate. It only has to meet one of these to be judged as inadequate.

To achieve outstanding which Ofsted describes as “a challenging and exacting judgement,”

inspectors must judge that the early years provision meets all the criteria set out under ‘good’ securely and consistently. In addition, it must meet all the further criteria set out under the outstanding judgement.

The inspector will give feedback to the provider or the provider’s representative (normally the manager) at the end of the inspection. This must include the provision grades for each of the judgements and actions and/or recommendations for improvement. Where relevant this should also include the next steps for provision judged as requires improvement or inadequate.

Inspection report

Ofsted endeavours to send copies of inspection reports within ten working days of the feedback meeting. Occasionally Ofsted’s internal quality process may delay the issuing of the report but providers should be informed if their report is going to be delayed. If leaders do not receive their report within this timescale it is recommended that they contact Ofsted directly.

The inspection report will be published online within ten working days of it being sent. Copies of the report must be shared with the parents of the children in the setting and with anyone else who asks for one. The day that the provider receives the report will also be the day it appears online.

Ofsted Complaints Handling – you can now pause or defer an inspection

Ofsted has updated its policies on complaints handling including pausing an inspection in exceptional circumstances.


The changes have been brought in following last year’s (2023) consultation and now include allowing providers to challenge factual inaccuracies and seek a review of their inspection once they receive a draft version of their report. It also allows a direct complaints route to the Independent Complaints Adjudication Service for Ofsted (ICASO).


Read more

What register do you need to be on?

There are 2 Ofsted registers: the Early Years Register and the Childcare Register. Find out which to join and how to change registers here.

Ofsted support from NDNA

NDNA offers a range of support for nurseries regarding Ofsted: