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How Ofsted Inspects Safeguarding And What You Need To Know To Make It A Stress-Free Visit [2024 Update]

While safeguarding isn’t something that leaders and schools ‘do’ for Ofsted, there are processes and procedures that you can implement to prepare for an Ofsted safeguarding inspection.

This article will focus primarily on safeguarding and how you as a senior leader, headteacher or DSL  can prepare to make it a stress-free, positive experience.

Whether you are new to education or a veteran, there is no feeling like getting ‘the call’! 

Ofsted or the Office for Standards in Education (England’s regulatory body) is never far from news feeds and the minds of headteachers anxiously awaiting their next school inspection. 

But does it need to be such a stressful experience? 

Having worked as a Designated Safeguarding Lead and recently undergone inspections, in England and a British Inspection Overseas, it’s clear that preparation is key to a successful visit. 

Above all, school leaders need to strike a balance between preparing for the Ofsted inspection calming colleagues’ nerves and promoting the positives that come with school inspections. 

Ofsted inspectors will always focus on safeguarding and are looking to ensure that as a school, there is a positive culture of safeguarding and that pupils’ interests are put first. As the welfare of children, child protection and safeguarding should always be at the forefront of whole school practices, Ofsted inspecting safeguarding so closely should never be a shock.

They won’t expect anything beyond the Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) guidance which is a vital tool for schools. 

Ofsted Safeguarding Framework

The new Ofsted framework 2019 sets out the key aspects of what the school inspection will focus on for safeguarding. It is an informative tool to help headteachers and DSLs get a feel of what the focus on school safeguarding will entail during a school inspection. 

What do Ofsted look for? The framework covers how Ofsted inspectors will evaluate: 

  • Safeguarding culture
  • What Ofsted expect in terms of interacting with learners
  • What constitutes ineffective safeguarding 
  • What happens if a disclosure is made to an Ofsted inspector during their visit
  • How the school handles evidence or allegations of abuse

Key safeguarding information within the education inspection framework is as follows:

  • The culture of safeguarding and how schools put pupils’ interests first (378 of the education inspection framework)
  • Safeguarding will be judged under ‘Leadership and Management’ (379 of the education inspection framework)
  • Relevant guidance and key statutory documents ( 380 of the education inspection framework)
  • How inspectors triangulate information (381 of the education inspection framework)
  • How inspectors evaluate the culture of safeguarding (382-387 of the education inspection framework)
  • What to expect when inspectors speak to pupils ( 390-391 of the education inspection framework)
  • What happens if allegations of abuse are identified during the inspection (393-393 of the education inspection framework)
  • What happens if safeguarding is ineffective ( 395 – 396 of the education inspection framework)

Ofsted do not use the four-point grading for safeguarding but will write a judgement within the leadership and management aspect of the inspection report with regards to whether the arrangements for safeguarding pupils are effective.

As the regulating body, the Department for Education (DfE) sets out statutory guidance in Keeping Children Safe in Education found on gov.uk to outline a school’s responsibility to safeguarding children. Working together to safeguard children is paramount and so Ofsted naturally utilises the DfE’s KCSIE publication to underpin their inspection when looking at safeguarding arrangements, safeguarding concerns and safeguarding policy.

Ofsted Deep Dive Preparation Framework

Ofsted Deep Dive Preparation Framework

Help your school get ready for the new Ofsted inspections with this framework of the deep dive questions you can expect to be asked.

What you’ll find in KCSIE and what you need to know about it

DSLs need to understand KCSIE and any recent updates inside out to make an Ofsted visit stress-free! Ofsted inspectors will expect to see the guidance set out within KCSIE being effectively deployed. 

This document is paramount to ensuring that as a school you are doing everything to promote the welfare of children.

KCSIE guidance sets out what you need to know about:

  • Different types of abuse
  • How to recognise and identify abuse
  • How to handle low-level concerns
  • What schools must do to promote the welfare and safety of children,
  • Statutory guidance on record keeping
  • Pre-employment checks
  • Roles and responsibilities of staff

The document is large and sets out more – this is far from an exhaustive list!

Role of the DSL in safeguarding

KCSIE clearly states that every school must have a Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL). The main role of a DSL is to take lead responsibility for safeguarding and child protection. 

DSLs support staff to:

  • Carry out their safeguarding duties
  • Advise of safeguarding concerns 
  • Work closely with services such as the local authority and social care towards ensuring the welfare of children

A key part of the DSL’s role is to ensure that staff regularly receive safeguarding updates. Ofsted will be interested in how the DSL ensures staff are trained and kept up-to-date. 

DSLs are the champions of safeguarding within the school, ensuring policies are up-to-date and executed. But most importantly, it is the role of the DSL to ensure that safeguarding is clearly visible in the school, through the: 

  • curriculum
  • environment
  • staff
  • pupils

This includes online safety and understanding the monitoring systems that are in place within the school. 

Within the role of the DSL, record keeping and determining how information is shared between agencies is a key aspect. DSLs are responsible for making referrals and ensuring sensitive information such as child protection cases are stored and shared appropriately. 

A thorough understanding of KCSIE is paramount to this role. DSLs need to be able to show that any incidents that have occurred have been handled appropriately against the KCSIE guidance. 

Responsibilities of all staff in safeguarding

All staff have a responsibility to:

  • Provide a safe environment for learners
  • Be prepared to identify children for early help
  • Raise concerns about a child’s welfare

There is an emphasis on everyone working together to safeguard children. Because of this, all staff must receive safeguarding and child protection training, and be aware of processes for referrals to local authorities for children’s services.

Principles of early help in safeguarding 

Early help is identified in both KCSIE and the inspection framework. It is important when promoting the welfare of children as an intervention, rather than waiting for incidents to occur and taking a more ‘reactive’ approach. 

Ofsted requires schools to have effective arrangements to identify children who may need early help due to being at risk of harm or have been harmed. This helps ensure young people get the help they need at the earliest opportunity.

It is best practice to be actively working together to safeguard children through a multi-agency collaborative approach. 

KCSIE has a comprehensive list of those who may be more vulnerable and require early help. This includes: 

  • Children and young people in receipt of an EHCP
  • Children and young people with poor mental health
  • Young carers

What is the Single Central Record?

A single central record is used to help ensure the safety of both staff and pupils. It is used to store information about all staff including qualifications, police clearance checks, barred list checks and checks against people who have lived outside of the UK. 

It can also be useful to store non-statutory information such as dates that safeguarding training has been provided and childcare disqualification regulations. 

Creating and maintaining a single central record has been a statutory requirement of KCSIE since 2007 and is a key element of safer recruitment. Ofsted will ask to see this. 

A single central record should include: 

  • All staff employed by the school 
  • Governors
  • All providers including contractors
  • Supply teachers and trainee teachers
  • Anyone else who is brought into school for teaching, training or instruction

How safeguarding is inspected by Ofsted inspectors in your school

Ofsted inspectors are looking to see that your school is safe. Safeguarding is assessed as part of the leadership and management area of the report. 

Ofsted will cross-reference information in a number of ways:

  • Reviewing the single central record
  • Meeting the designated safeguarding lead (DSL)
  • Surveys
  • Questions with staff and learners

Inspectors triangulate the evidence gathered during the inspection and use this to evaluate the effectiveness of safeguarding in your school. 

By doing this, they are looking further than statutory requirements and guidance set out in: 

Impact of safeguarding across the curriculum

Based on a recent Ofsted inspection in my school, Ofsted is also looking to see how safeguarding concerns have impacted the curriculum. For example, increasing online risks through online gaming and social media platforms may have led to further lessons around online safety and cyberbullying in PHSE. 

They will also be looking to ensure that staff have a ‘professional curiosity’ where the school can show they act when they see change and not just observe and wait – the principles for this underpins Prevent Duty and KCSIE. 

Ofsted is looking to evaluate how effective your whole-school approach to safeguarding practice is. This means that to evaluate, they will look further than the evidence the school presents. 

What else will Inspectors look at concerning safeguarding for Ofsted? 

They will: 

  • Take into account how the school implements and reviews safeguarding policy 
  • Check appropriate actions are taken to safeguard pupils
  • Look at data collected from staff, learners and parents
  • Meet with staff to see how local issues are reviewed in training
  • Look at how looked after children and minority groups are catered for
  • examine case studies of how incidents have been dealt with
  • Question how referrals are made and ensure staff know safeguarding procedures
  • Be interested in pupils’ views and how the school acts upon these

Who’s involved in an Ofsted safeguarding inspection?

During the safeguarding inspection, the DSL should be prepared to meet discretely with the inspection officers. The headteacher, the SENDCo and governors will also be required to meet with inspectors and will be asked about what safeguarding ‘looks like’ within the school setting along with related questions. 

Teachers will be questioned within group meetings and should be prepared to show that they understand:

  • What to do in the event of disclosures
  • What their responsibility is 
  • How safeguarding fits into the curriculum 

Ofsted inspectors will also want opportunities to speak with learners — another way they triangulate evidence towards the effectiveness of your safeguarding practice.

How you can prepare for an Ofsted safeguarding inspection

Ofsted’s focus is to assess how well you are carrying out statutory safeguarding and child protection responsibilities to promote the welfare of children. It is hard to not feel intimidated by the inspection framework but if you are confident that what you are doing is the best for the children, then you should have little to worry about! 

As previously mentioned, safeguarding is an embedded practice and not just a tick box for Ofsted. That said, there are things you can do to remove the stress of the day. Below are 5 things you can to to prepare and alleviate stress:

  1. Have everything ready: Ofsted usually contacts the school in advance requesting information such as the single central record, pupils under multi-agency plans with open cases with children’s services and examples of concerns that have been shared with the DSL. 
  1. Make sure that you know the current changes to KCSIE – list them if it helps.
  1. Know your children! Make sure that you know the current number of learners in attendance that are:
    • looked after children, 
    • children in need 
    • Families and children who are in receipt of early help from outside agencies
    • Those who have a child protection order
  2. Understand how safeguarding links into your curriculum and how safeguarding concerns shape your curriculum. 
  3. Ensure that your safeguarding training is clear and succinct so that every member of staff knows what is expected of them (they will be questioned).

Consider quizzing your team regularly on safeguarding topics to keep everyone up-to-date and feel more prepared. 

Ofsted safeguarding questions and answers

Every Ofsted inspection is different and contextual to the setting. Here are some potential safeguarding questions that may be asked during your school inspection.

  1.  How does safeguarding shape your curriculum?

    This allows you to talk about the safeguarding issues that are current in your community. For example, ensuring that children know how to stay safe online in computing or how exposure to social media and online gaming has led to PHSE lessons of cyberbullying as well as parent workshops run by the school to highlight dangers. 

  2. How are incidents dealt with and recorded?

    For this question refer to your own safeguarding policy and electronic systems that are in place for recording concerns. 

    It is important to talk through how a member of staff would raise a concern and follow it through to how the DSL would deal with this. Refer to the LADO as appropriate. 

  3.  Does the school conduct social media checks as part of the recruitment process?

    Many schools are conducting social media checks but it is worth noting that this is not statutory guidance so explaining that you are waiting for local guidance here would be acceptable. 

  4. How does the school educate parents and the school community on online safety?

    Explain how you promote safeguarding in your school community and highlight how you work with parents. 

    This could be through providing workshops for parents, information via newsletters, visiting speakers as part of the curriculum and how it is incorporated into your computing and PHSE curriculum. 

  5. How does the school identify whether policies are clear, understood and adhered to?

    Showcase the staff training you have given in relation to safeguarding, the policy and procedures. Highlight how safeguarding is on the agenda at staff meetings, you may also be providing refresher information in staff bulletins. 

What can happen if safeguarding concerns are identified by Ofsted?

Schools will be judged ‘Inadequate’ if the current safeguarding is found to be ineffective. Alternatively, a school will be graded as ‘Requires Improvement’ if the weaknesses found can be easily rectified and cause no harm to learners. 

The school inspection framework defines ineffective safeguarding as “…widespread failures in the school’s safeguarding arrangements…” and is not meeting statutory requirements. 

Some examples given in the inspection framework are as follows:

  • Safeguarding allegations about staff members are not being handled appropriately
  • Clear evidence of serious failures in safeguarding practice that lead pupils or particular groups of pupils not to be safe in school
  • Statutory requirements, such as breaches of the requirements for Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, are not being met

If the school has been given an Ofsted rating of Inadequate then expect a monitoring inspection in around 3 months to ensure that safeguarding has improved and that concerns have been resolved. 

Ofsted safeguarding and child protection

It is important to understand the difference between safeguarding and child protection. 

  • Safeguarding is the action we take to promote the welfare of children and protect them from harm. 
  • Child protection focuses on protecting children who have been identified as suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.

Child protection is part of safeguarding and demonstrates how to respond to concerns about a child. 

KCSIE is there to ensure that child safety is ensured through safeguarding practices. This is defined in KCSIE) as:

  • Protecting children from maltreatment
  • Preventing the impairment of children’s mental and physical health or development
  • Ensuring that children grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care, and
  • Taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.

KCSIE highlights the need for collaboration and a multi-agency approach to safeguarding children. This is because no one professional has the full picture of a child’s needs. 

Ofsted inspections have a huge role in ensuring children are kept safe. Remember, this is the ultimate goal and also shared by us educators. They are not there to trick us or catch us out. Be honest and open – some of the best advice I have been given!

Ofsted safeguarding and Local Authorities

The DFE uses the information gathered by Ofsted in local authorities to shape child protection policies and to intervene if necessary. 

Ofsted works closely with local authorities by having protocols in place specific to local safeguarding partners and safeguarding and child protection concerns. At times, Ofsted may attend strategy meetings with the local authority (see the early years enforcement policy). 

The local authority must support schools with safeguarding under their duty to improve the well-being of children in their area. Local authorities must have a designated officer (known as LADO) who is responsible for allegations against people who work with children. 

Ofsted will be interested in how you work with your Local authority and LADO to coordinate allegations made against individuals. They will be looking to see what arrangements the school has in place to receive and share records, particularly at points of transfer. 

Safeguarding is a huge part of the Ofsted school inspections. Whilst headteachers and schools anxiously await ‘the call’, preparing for your visit will reduce the stress caused on the day. 

Time spent preparing will not be wasted but make you more confident in your safeguarding practices. Remember the ultimate goal of the safeguarding focus is to ensure that your school is taking every measure to ensure the safety and well-being of your learners. 

Read more:


What do Ofsted look for in safeguarding?

Ofsted is looking to ensure that schools have an open and positive culture towards safeguarding. Paramount to this, they are looking to ensure that the school is putting the learners’ interests first.

What are the four areas of an Ofsted inspection?

Ofsted will be looking to make a judgement against these four areas within your school using the 4-point scale: quality of education; behaviour and attitudes; personal development; leadership and management.

How do I report a safeguarding issue to Ofsted?

You can contact Ofsted with concerns via email: enquiries@ofsted.gov.uk or by phone: 0300 123 4666

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Zoe Hardman
Zoe Hardman
SENCo and designated safeguarding lead
Zoe has worked in primary education across KS1 and KS2 in England and internationally for many years. During this time, Zoe has been part of the Senior Leadership Team, a DSL and a SENCo. She enjoys using her expertise to write articles for Third Space Learning.
Ofsted Deep Dive Preparation Framework

Ofsted Deep Dive Preparation Framework

Help your school get ready for the new Ofsted inspections with this framework of the deep dive questions you can expect to be asked.

Download Free Now!

Ofsted Deep Dive Preparation Framework

Downloadable resource

Help your school get ready for the new Ofsted inspections with this framework of the deep dive questions you can expect to be asked.

Download Free Now!

FREE Ofsted Deep Dive Questions: Preparation And Discussion Framework

Questions are taken from those that have turned up most frequently in recent Ofsted Deep Dives, as provided to us by teachers from inspected schools, following the current Ofsted Education Inspection Framework.

Many of the questions apply across other subjects - not just maths!

Download free