What Do Ofsted Look For During a Nursery Inspection?

What Do Ofsted Look For During a Nursery Inspection?

As a parent thinking about childcare, you’ll want to feel reassured that an independent regulator has inspected the nursery you choose.

You’ve likely heard of Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. They inspect and regulate services that care for and educate children, such as schools.

If you’ve never had to access formal childcare before, you may not know that, as well as schools, Ofsted also regulates children’s day nurseries and pre-schools, childminders, and registered nannies.

This may leave you wondering what Ofsted’s role is in relation to early years care and education.

We’re here to explain what they do and look for when inspecting settings like our children’s day nurseries.

“When does Ofsted inspect nurseries?”

Ofsted will routinely inspect nurseries every six years following the last inspection date. Of course, other circumstances may trigger an early inspection or shorter timespan between inspections, which include:

  • Where a nursery has recently opened, they should expect to be inspected within 12 months
  • Where a serious complaint has been made to Ofsted by either a parent, carer or member of staff
  • Where a ‘reportable incident’ has been submitted to Ofsted by the nursery
  • Where a nursery has received either a ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’ inspection grading

“What does Ofsted look at during an inspection?”

Ofsted looks at four ‘Areas of Inspection’, which are as follows:

  • Quality of Education
  • Behaviours and Attitudes
  • Personal Development
  • Leadership and Management

Ofsted will grade each Area of Inspection, which will form the overall grading.

If you are interested in understanding the Areas of Inspection in detail, then please feel free to read the Early Years Inspection Handbook:

Early Years Inspection Handbook

“What gradings does Ofsted give, and what do they mean?”

Ofsted will give a nursery setting an overall grading, which will be one of the following:

  • Outstanding
  • Good
  • Requires Improvement
  • Inadequate

Below we have provided a summary of what each grading means as outlined in the Early Years Inspection Handbook (2021):


  • The Quality of Education is Outstanding.
  • All other Areas of Inspection are graded as Outstanding. In exceptional circumstances, one Area of Inspection may be ‘Good’, providing sufficient evidence that the Area is improving rapidly and securely towards Outstanding.
  • Safeguarding is effective.
  • There are no breaches of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) requirements.


  • The Quality of Education is Good.
  • All other Areas of Inspection are judged to be either Good or Outstanding. In exceptional circumstances, one Area of Inspection may require improvement, providing sufficient evidence that the Area is improving rapidly and securely towards Good.
  • Safeguarding is effective.

Requires Improvement

  • Where one or more Areas of Inspection require improvement, the overall grading is likely to be Requires Improvement.
  • Safeguarding is effective, and any weaknesses are easy to rectify because they do not leave children at risk of harm.
  • If there are any breaches of the EYFS requirements, they do not significantly impact children’s safety, well-being, or learning and development.


A nursery’s overall provision is likely to be graded as Inadequate if one or more of the following apply:

  • Safeguarding is ineffective.
  • Any Area of Inspection is judged to be Inadequate.
  • Breaches or EYFS requirements have a significant impact on the safety and well-being and/or the learning and development of children.
  • It has received two previous ‘Requires Improvement’ judgements and has not made the necessary improvements.

“What happens during an Ofsted inspection?”

Inspectors will spend as much time as possible during their visit looking for and gathering evidence of how the nursery performs to the Areas of Inspection. Inspectors will:

  • Observe children in their play.
  • Talk to the children and the nursery staff about the activities provided.
  • Talk to parents/carers to gain their views on the quality of care and education provided.
  • Observe the interactions between nursery staff and children.
  • Gauge children’s levels of understanding and engagement in learning.
  • Talk to nursery staff about their assessment of what children know, can do, and how they are progressing.
  • Observe care routines and how they are used to support children’s personal development, including the nursery’s approach to toilet training.
  • Evaluate the nursery staff’s knowledge of the EYFS curriculum.

“Are parents involved during an inspection?”

When Ofsted arrives at a nursery setting, the nursery will likely make parents aware that an inspection is taking place. 

As part of the inspection, Ofsted may wish to speak to a number of parents about their experience of accessing the nursery, which may include:

  • Parents’ overall satisfaction with the service and care provided to their child(ren). 
  • If parents are involved with the setting (parent forums, regular feedback, relationships with staff etc.)
  • Whether parents have any concerns or thoughts for improvement.

“How soon is the grading published?”

The grading given by Ofsted remains confidential until the report has been approved and published. This means there is a slight delay in parents being informed of the outcome. However, when an inspection is published, it will be available on Ofsted’s website.

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