What Ofsted Reports Mean

What do Ofsted reports mean?

All educational institutions in England must go through an inspection by Ofsted to have their quality assessed. This includes all publicly funded training and apprenticeship programmes. But who are Ofsted, and what do Ofsted ratings say about training providers?

It’s very hard to find reliable, unbiased reviews and ratings on the internet, and training providers are no exception. In England, Ofsted inspection reports are a useful way to assess an establishment’s overall credibility.

We’ve cut through the Government jargon to explain how Ofsted inspections work, and what they really tell you about education providers.

What’s Ofsted?

Ofsted are the government regulatory body responsible for upholding standards in education. They review and help to improve the performance of every education establishment which receives public money to fund its activities.

This includes state schools and academies, further education colleges, childminders, nurseries, and private training providers who receive Government funds to deliver, for example, apprenticeships – which is education geared towards building not only skills, but an entire culture.

How does Ofsted assess training providers?

Ofsted uses a workforce of specialist inspectors – people with senior educational experience who have been trained to carry out inspections – to visit, review and report on each type of establishment. Inspectors may carry out full inspections or interim reviews of provision – for example, where an establishment is new or has previously received a bad grade.

Different types of establishment are inspected in slightly different ways, but the main framework – the criteria against which Ofsted assess – is the same for all types. It judges the establishment on how effectively it manages four key elements:
  • Quality of education
  • Behaviour and attitudes
  • Personal development
  • Leadership and management

What are Ofsted inspection reports?

At the end of each inspection, the inspectors create a report that details the establishment’s performance against the four key elements. These reports are published on the Ofsted website and can be seen by anyone.

For each of the four key elements, the report records:
  • The inspectors’ observations of what is currently being delivered, and how well both staff and learners are making sure learning is received
  • Examples of any particularly good or bad practice they spot
  • Comments and feedback from learners and other stakeholders (e.g. parents, managers)
  • Recommendations on how the establishment could improve
  • A rating for each area
The culmination of each report is a final overall rating or ‘grade’ for the establishment, which appears at the start of the report.

What do Ofsted ratings mean?

The rating scale ranges from 1 to 4:
  • Outstanding
  • Good
  • Requires improvement
  • Inadequate
Inspectors have information for each different type of provider that determines what aspects of the learning process they look at, and what outcomes the establishment should be achieving.

They then use their experience of working within specific types of establishment, and their experience of previous inspections, to determine what that establishment’s grade should be.

So what do inspectors really look at before awarding those grades, and what does this really mean for learners?

A Good example

For example, we’ve recently achieved a grade 2 in our first Ofsted inspection and can now officially designate ourselves a ‘good’ provider. This puts us in the top third of further education and skills providers nationally, for those inspected under the 2019 framework.

Firebrand ratings by Ofsted - Good provider
Firebrand ratings by Ofsted
The 2019 framework criteria focus on providing a well-rounded educational experience that offers the same opportunities for everyone who participates, leading to good prospects for the next stage of individuals’ development.

Below, we’ve explained what inspectors are looking for in each of the four criteria. To help illustrate it, we’ve selected examples from Firebrand’s inspection report to show how the requirements can be met in practice. 

Quality of education: relevant skills, designed for everyone

Every educational establishment interprets its required curriculum differently. Ofsted’s inspections look at the design of the teaching.

Why has the establishment chosen the methods they use to deliver these requirements, and what benefits does it offer those they teach? It is very important that teaching makes skills accessible to everyone, regardless of starting point

They also observe teaching to check the delivery itself is effective; are learners engaging with the teacher, and are they getting support and feedback that will help them understand what they’re being taught?

Finally, Ofsted look at the results gained by the establishment to check the teaching is delivering the outcomes it is supposed to. Are learners meeting targets, passing exams, and/or being fully prepared to move into further learning or work?

Example from our report

Leaders and managers plan the curriculum in detail. It is clearly adapted to match apprentices’ work roles…Instructors work closely with apprentices to ensure that they have a good knowledge of fundamentals before going into greater depth on a topic. They use questioning to great effect, to ensure that apprentices develop and retain essential IT knowledge… Apprentices’ work meets, or in many cases exceeds the requirements of their apprenticeship.

Behaviour and attitudes: learners who want to learn

This is all about whether learners are motivated to learn and enjoy themselves doing so. Are they turning up for classes on time? Do they listen, engage and respond during class? Are they completing the learning assignments set, and are they happy to take feedback?

Ofsted also look at whether the establishment is setting out how it expects all parties to behave, and making sure that staff uphold these expectations when working with learners.

Example from our report

Apprentices at Firebrand are exemplary learners. They are confident and articulate. Apprentices enjoy their learning and are highly motivated. They have an appetite to learn and they do so quickly. Apprentices' behaviour and conduct is impeccable. 

Personal development

This criterion looks at the support learners get alongside their formal learning. Educational establishments must help learners discover what really interests them, and make sure they feel ready to be successful in further learning or work.

There is a special focus on helping learners ‘prepare for life in modern Britain’ by understanding and promoting equality and diversity, as well as fundamental British values (defined specifically as democracy, individual freedom, the rule of law and tolerance for others’ beliefs).

Example from our report

Apprentices develop a wide range of additional skills and knowledge. For example, they develop a good understanding of equality and diversity… (Staff) help apprentices develop a detailed knowledge of working in the IT sector.

Leadership and management

Without a clear focus on what they’re trying to achieve, educational establishments are unlikely to be effective. Ofsted tests this by examining how well leaders have set up and communicated their learning vision to everyone in the establishment – do staff and learners know the goals and values that underpin their activity?

To test how well an establishment is managed, inspectors look at everything from professional development opportunities for staff to the budget and management of resources. Emphasis is placed on safeguarding – ensuring the wellbeing of learners so that they feel safe, secure and fully supported during their time with the establishment.

Example from our report

Firebrand is extremely well led and managed. Senior leaders have used their commercial training experience (and) developed programmes to meet the rapidly evolving information technology industry…They involve employers fully in the development of the programmes. This ensures that programmes meet employers’ business needs.’

To find out more about Firebrand apprenticeships, read the full report on Ofsted's website or get in touch with us to find out how we can help you create your next wave of great IT professionals.


Stefano Capaldo's focus is to make sure the 17+ years of delivering high quality curriculum continues to be the nucleus of our apprenticeship provision. He's passionate about apprenticeships and is driving Firebrand to keep it's position as the no. 1 apprenticeship provider.