An operational note for Ofsted inspectors carrying out assurance inspections of registered early years providers.

These assurance inspections cannot be carried out remotely. Therefore, we will not start them until national restrictions allow us to inspect on site.


On 17 March 2020, all routine inspections were suspended. Since then, we have continued our registration and regulatory work. Inspectors continue to use regulatory or enforcement actions, if appropriate.

We will carry out assurance inspections under the education inspection framework (EIF). Inspectors will use the early years inspection handbook (‘the handbook’) when carrying out these inspections. The differences in inspection approach are outlined within this note.

Inspectors will refer to part 2 of the handbook and consider the criteria against the 4 key judgements in the usual way when gathering and recording their evidence. When inspectors are considering the criteria, they will have due regard to the limitations the pandemic may have caused and any disapplications or modifications of the early years foundation stage (EYFS), as set out in the Department for Education’s (DfE) coronavirus disapplications guidance, which a provider may be relying on or may have relied on.

We will continue to carry out our regulatory and compliance functions as normal, as far as the public health emergency allows.

Assurance inspections

The purpose of these inspections is to:

  • find out what it is like for children in their early years setting
  • seek assurance that providers continue to meet requirements to remain on the Early Years Register and, if applicable, the Childcare Register

These inspections will result in a report that will give parents information and reassurance about what is happening in their child’s setting. This is particularly important at a time when, due to the protective measures in place, parents are not entering settings as much as they usually do.

During these assurance inspections, providers must demonstrate how they:

  • meet the learning and development requirements, if appropriate
  • meet the safeguarding and welfare requirements
  • develop and deliver the educational programmes, if appropriate
  • identify children’s starting points and ensure that children make progress in their learning and development, through effective planning, observation and assessment, if appropriate
  • work in partnership with parents, carers and others
  • offer an inclusive service
  • evaluate their service and strive for continuous improvement

Inspectors will find out how providers have addressed any actions and/or recommendations from the last inspection.

The assurance inspection will not result in a judgement of quality. But it will consider whether the setting continues to meet EYFS requirements. The inspection will therefore result in 1 of 3 possible outcomes:

  • met
  • not met with actions
  • not met with enforcement

The inspector is not expected to check that each of the statutory requirements set out in the EYFS are met. However, if, in the course of collecting evidence, the inspector finds that a particular requirement is not met, they should take this into account when reaching a decision on the outcome.

Failure to meet a statutory requirement will not always result in a judgement of ‘not met’. When a statutory requirement is not met, the inspector will take into account the impact of this on children’s health, safety and well-being as well as on their learning and development. If the inspector determines that it has an impact on these aspects, they will either issue actions for the provider to take or consider enforcement action. In these cases, the inspector must follow the guidance for inadequate judgements, as set out in paragraphs 100 to 104 in the handbook.

If the provider is relying on the disapplication/modification of the learning and development requirements and/or safeguarding and welfare requirements, they should still use ‘reasonable endeavours’ to meet the relevant requirements (as set out in the disapplications guidance). If this is not the case, it may contribute to an inspector considering an outcome of ‘not met’.

Inspectors will use the criteria from each judgement area along with their own professional judgement. They will determine and report on what the provider is doing in order to create a high quality setting that is welcoming, safe and stimulating, and in which children can grow in confidence.

Guiding principles

Inspectors will be sensitive to the challenges presented by COVID-19 (coronavirus). We will always take the current context of a setting into account.

We will prioritise the safety and welfare of everyone involved in the inspections, including children, carers, staff and inspectors. We will follow the most up-to-date guidance from Public Health England.

We continue to be steered by the existing guidance and principles set out in the handbook and the compliance handbook.

The legal context

We will carry out our inspection activity as outlined in this note under section 49, in respect of providers registered under sections 35 and 36, of the Childcare Act 2006.

How the assurance inspections will apply

We will take a proportionate and risk-based approach to selection. We will consider what we know about the provider, the amount of time since its last inspection or regulatory visit and when it is due to be inspected under the EIF (when routine inspections resume).

We will select providers that:

  • have had an initial registration visit and are due or overdue their first inspection
  • received an overall effectiveness grade of requires improvement or inadequate (with learning and development actions) at their last inspection and the date for their re-inspection has passed
  • our risk assessment has indicated that we need to prioritise for an inspection, and there are concerns about learning and development

We will continue to monitor providers that received an inadequate (with enforcement) grade through our usual regulatory activity. In line with our usual process, we will publish an outcome summary for these providers. This is set out in our early years compliance handbook and guidance on writing complaint and compliance action outcome summaries.

Assurance inspections are carried out outside of the statutory inspection window as set out in the DfE’s inspection requirements for Ofsted. When routine inspections resume under the EIF, the statutory inspection window will begin.

Before the inspection

If there are no children present

When providers have children on roll but those children will not be present on the proposed date, the inspection should be rescheduled on a day when children are present. While the provider remains registered with us, it should expect to be inspected at any time.

If there are currently no children on roll or a provider is not operating

An assurance inspection may still take place if a provider has no children on roll or is not operating. The inspector will check that the provider continues to be suitable to remain registered and will monitor whether any actions set at the last inspection have been met. This is because care could resume at any time.

Notifying the setting of an inspection

Notification of assurance inspections will remain as set out in paragraphs 30–34 of the handbook.

The purpose of the notification call is to:

  • make practical arrangements for the inspection, including to discuss the protective measures in place and any arrangements for having visitors on site
  • allow the provider/manager and inspector time to discuss the context of the setting and the purpose of the inspection

The telephone call is the first opportunity to begin a professional relationship between the inspector and the provider or its representative. In addition to the questions set out in paragraph 34 of the handbook, inspectors will also use this call to find out whether the setting:

  • has children or staff with confirmed cases of COVID-19
  • has any children or staff currently self-isolating due to COVID-19
  • is currently disapplying, or has previously disapplied, any of the requirements of the EYFS

Inspectors will refer the provider to paragraph 35 of the handbook. This lists the information they may need access to during the inspection.

During the call, the inspector will ensure that providers are aware of the assurance inspections’ purpose and focus. Inspectors will confirm that the inspection will not result in a change to the judgement from the last inspection.


Inspectors will always have regard to how well children are helped and protected so that they are kept safe. Inspectors will make a written judgement in the report about whether the arrangements for safeguarding children are effective.

If safeguarding arrangements are judged to be ineffective, this will result in a ‘not met’ outcome.

Requests for deferral

We will consider any requests for deferral of assurance inspections in line with our deferral policy.

Where possible, a setting that has no children present on the planned day of inspection but is operating at other times during the week should have its inspection rescheduled for one of those days.

Inspections that are prioritised as a result of risk assessment will not usually be deferred. This is the case even if there are no children on roll or present at the time of the inspection.

Leaders may request the deferral of an assurance inspection during the notification call. We will not normally consider deferral requests if we receive them after 4.30pm on the day the provider is notified.

On receipt of a request, the inspector must immediately contact the relevant regional duty desk. The regional director or their delegate will decide whether a deferral should be granted in accordance with our deferral policy.

Preparing for an assurance inspection

We will plan for the assurance inspections in line with paragraphs 26–29 of the handbook.

As part of their preparation, inspectors will also consider any risks associated with COVID-19 during inspections. We have carried out a COVID-19 general risk assessment for all inspection activities.

For most providers, this will be an on-site visit, but there may be rare occasions when a blended approach (a combination of on- and off-site working) may be an appropriate alternative. We will discuss and agree the arrangements for inspection with the provider as part of the notification call.

To avoid any unnecessary travel, the inspector will reconfirm with the provider that everyone in the setting/household remains symptom-free before starting their journey.

During the inspection

To assess whether the provider is meeting the learning and development (if appropriate) and safeguarding and welfare requirements, the inspector will carry out inspection activity as set out in part 1 of the handbook. In particular, inspectors will, where possible:

  • observe interactions between practitioners and children
  • consider how leaders create and plan an ambitious and well-sequenced curriculum
  • consider how leaders and practitioners implement the curriculum
  • find out how leaders and practitioners check what children know and can do
  • find out how practitioners seek children’s views
  • talk to practitioners about performance management and professional development
  • meet with the provider and/or its representative
  • evaluate a sample of policies and procedures and relevant documentation
  • seek the views of parents

Inspectors will consider the extent to which leaders and providers plan, design and implement the EYFS curriculum, using the criteria set out in part 2 of the handbook. They will have due regard to the limitations the pandemic may have caused and any disapplications used. Inspectors will also consider how providers are supporting children’s learning at home and how they are ensuring that children return to their expected levels of development.

Providers must confirm that they continue to meet the requirements of the Childcare Register, if applicable. Inspectors will take account of any disapplication of requirements in line with the DfE’s guidance.

Meetings with parents

When possible, the inspector will find out the views of parents during the inspection, including those of any parents who ask to speak to them. This will contribute to considerations about how well the provision works in partnership with parents to support children’s learning, development and well-being.

Meeting with the provider and/or its representative

Meetings with the provider and/or their representative will take place as outlined on pages 18–19 of the handbook, while following government guidance on COVID-19.

Reaching final judgements, further action and feedback

Inspectors should avoid giving any impression that they have reached a final judgement before the inspection has finished. More detail, including what further action we may take, is earlier in this note and on pages 19–22 of the handbook.

Feedback will be given as set out on pages 22–23 of the handbook.

After the inspection

Reporting arrangements

The inspector will record all the relevant information about the inspection in our inspection database.

The inspection will result in a report for parents that will explain what it is like for a child to attend the setting. The report will tell parents what the setting does well and what it needs to do better. It will include reference to the quality of education, leadership and management, children’s behaviour and attitudes and personal development.

The report will describe clearly any weaknesses that led to a ‘not met’ judgement and from which actions or enforcement action have been raised. For settings that meet the requirements, inspectors will report on what the setting needs to do better, if required, but they will not raise recommendations.

Inspectors will always report on safeguarding arrangements.

Within 18 working days of the end of the inspection, we will write to the provider, setting out in a draft report what the inspector found. This will have been quality assured. We may share the draft report or findings with other public bodies.

The provider will have 5 working days to comment on the draft report, process and findings. We will consider all comments and we will respond to them when we share the final report with the provider within a maximum of 30 working days after the visit, although it will likely be much sooner.

If the provider wishes to submit a formal complaint, it will have until the end of the fifth working day after receiving the final report to do so.

We will normally publish the report on our reports website within 38 working days of the end of the visit. We may delay the publication of the report if a complaint is being investigated.

Post-inspection surveys

Following the inspection, we will ask the provider for feedback about the process through a survey. We will provide details about how providers can share their views when we send the final report.

Quality assurance

We will monitor the quality of the inspection through a range of formal processes. We will quality assure evidence bases and reports.

The evidence base

The evidence base for the inspection will be retained in line with Ofsted’s retention and disposal policy. This is normally for 6 years from when the report is published. We may decide that retaining it for longer is warranted for research purposes.

Conduct and complaints

Inspectors must uphold the highest professional standards in their work and treat everyone they encounter during inspection fairly and with respect and sensitivity.

Inspectors must at all times adhere to the code of conduct for inspections. Any concerns and complaints during the visit will be handled in line with Ofsted’s complaints policy.

Incomplete inspections

We will apply our policy on incomplete inspections where appropriate.

Privacy notice

During an inspection, inspectors may collect information about staff and children by talking to them and by looking at documents and other recorded information. We will use this information to prepare the report and as set out in our childcare privacy notice.

Published 7 December 2020
Last updated 20 January 2021 + show all updates

  1. Updated to clarify that we will not carry out assurance inspections until national restrictions allow us to inspect on site.

  2. First published.