Schools: For parents and carers

Types of school Ofsted inspects

Schools fall into two different groups:

  • Maintained schools and academies could be nursery, primary (infant and junior), secondary, community special, independent (non-maintained) special, boarding, residential special schools, pupil referral units and service children’s education.
  • Independent schools can cover different age ranges from 3 to 18; include boarding schools and residential special schools. 

How frequently a school is inspected depends on how well it did at its last inspection. We inspect weaker schools more frequently and only inspect outstanding schools where concerns emerge.

We can inspect any independent school in England if the Department for Education asks us to. However, our main contact with independent schools is with the non-association schools; these are schools where the headteacher is not a member of one of the associations that makes up the Independent Schools Council.

Types of school

If you want to look for a school in your area, then you can search by these types of school: 

  • Independent school
    Independent schools provide full-time education to five or more pupils of aged 5 and older, or one or more pupils who have a statement of special educational needs, or are in public care. Independent schools are registered with the Department for Education. Ofsted does not inspect all of these; some are inspected by other inspectorates. See Further information below for their details.
  • Local authority
    We inspect a local authority’s school improvement arrangements to see how well it carries out its legal duty to promote high educational standards and fulfilment of potential of all children and young people in the local area. We publish the report on this website on the local authority’s page.
  • Nursery
    Maintained nursery education is for children from the age of three; and may be for some or all of the day. Some nursery schools also educate children under three. 
  • Primary
    Dependent on where you live, maintained primary schools are for children aged from three, four or five, until the age of 11 but some schools also look after children under three. Some primary schools are just infant schools, some are junior schools and some are for both. Some might even have boarding pupils. 
  • Pupil referral unit
    A pupil referral unit is a place where a child or young person is educated when they are not able to go to their normal school. This could be because they are very ill, have been excluded from their school or because they are pregnant or are a school-age mother. Usually attending a pupil referral unit is only for a short time. 
  • Secondary
    Maintained secondary schools are for children aged 11, until the age of 16 but often also include sixth form centres or colleges which have pupils until the age of 18. Some secondary schools offer childcare and/or nursery education and may have boarding pupils. 
  • Service children's education
    Service children's education is responsible for providing schooling for the children of the armed services – that means the army, navy, air force and Ministry of Defence personnel who work outside the UK. There are 43 schools, including six secondary schools.
  • Sixth form schools
    Sixth form centres and sixth form colleges which have pupils aged 17 to 18. 
  • Special schools
    Community special schools educate children or young people almost always with statements of special educational need. These pupils often have a range of learning and/or behavioural problems. Some might have specific disabilities like being deaf or having sight problems. Independent special schools are registered by the Department for Education and provide full-time education for one or more pupils aged 5 and upwards. They are also usually for children with statements of special educational need, some of whom might board at the school too. 
  • Other schools
    For example, community schools, foundation schools, non-maintained special schools, sixth form centres, community hospital schools and foundation hospital schools.

Inspecting independent schools

There are around 2,400 independent schools in England, but the educational provision of only half of them is inspected by Ofsted. The schools Ofsted inspects are known as ‘non-association schools’. Inspections are carried out at the request of the Department for Education.

There are three other independent inspectorates which inspect the provision of the other independent schools in England also at the request of the Department for Education. These are known as ‘association’ schools:

We monitor the work of these independent inspectorates on behalf of the Department for Education to ensure the quality and consistency of their inspections and reports. Our arrangements for communicating and working with the independent inspectorates are set out in the document Protocol between Ofsted and the approved independent inspectorates. This protocol has been agreed by Ofsted, the Department for Education, the Independent Schools Inspectorate, the Bridge Schools Inspectorate and the School Inspection Service.

Inspecting early years and childcare in schools

Our maintained school inspections cover maintained nurseries and nursery classes in primary schools. If a school has early years or childcare provision on its premises that is not run by the school's governing body – for example, a playgroup or an after-school club – then this will receive an early years or childcare inspection. For further information, go to the information about early years and childcare pages.

We inspect early years and childcare provision in all non-association independent schools. We inspect early years and childcare provision for children from birth to age three in association schools inspected by the School Inspection Service and Bridge Schools Inspectorate. For further information, go to information about early years and childcare.

We do not inspect early years and childcare provision in association schools inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate.

Inspecting welfare of boarders and residential pupils in schools

We inspect the welfare of boarders and residential pupils in all maintained boarding and residential special schools, non-maintained residential special schools, and non-association independent boarding and residential special schools. We also inspect the boarding provision in schools whose education provision is inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, Bridge Schools Inspectorate and the School Inspection Service. Boarders and residential pupils are pupils who also stay at the school for one or more nights in a week. We normally carry out these inspections when we inspect the whole school. As well as these inspections, our social care inspectors separately inspect welfare of residential pupils every year in residential special schools and twice a year in schools which are also registered children’s homes. For further information, go to the information about children’s and families services pages.

Voluntary inspection scheme for British schools located overseas

The Department for Education has a voluntary inspection scheme for British schools which are located overseas. Inspections are intended to judge and report on how standards in British schools overseas compare with those in independent schools in England. Inspection reports should also provide parents and prospective parents with information about how well schools prepare their pupils for either re-entry into the British school system or entry to higher education. The Department for Education has approved six independent overseas inspection providers to inspect British schools overseas against their published standards. You can read inspection reports of British schools overseas on the Department for Education’s website.

The Department for Education’s website has more information about the inspection of British schools overseas.

We monitor the quality of a sample of the independent overseas inspection providers’ inspections and reports. Each inspection provider has their own framework for inspecting British schools overseas. There is a list of approved overseas inspection providers.

Our arrangements for monitoring the independent overseas inspection providers is set out in the document Protocol between Ofsted and the approved independent overseas inspection providers for British schools overseas. This protocol has been agreed by Ofsted, the Department for Education and the inspectorates.

Further information

Annual Report 2012/13

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