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Inspection requirements for safeguarding in UK schools

Last updated: 12 Jul 2023

Assessing how well a school carries out its statutory safeguarding and child protection responsibilities and promotes child wellbeing are key aspects of the school inspection process in the UK.

As part of the inspection, regulatory bodies may also look at areas related to safeguarding and child protection such as the quality of a school’s sex and relationships education.

> Read more about sex and relationships education guidance across the UK

Each nation has its own regulatory body that sets the inspection framework and guidance and carries out inspections of schools.

  • England: Ofsted
  • Northern Ireland: The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI)
  • Scotland: Education Scotland
  • Wales: Estyn.

Independent schools

In England, members of the associations that form the Independent Schools Council are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI). All other independent schools in England are inspected by Ofsted. In Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales all independent schools are inspected by their national regulatory bodies.

Independent schools that are charities also need to comply with the relevant regulations for the charity sector in each UK nation.

> Read more about keeping children safe in the voluntary and community sector


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Assessing safeguarding and child protection

How are safeguarding and child protection practices assessed?

Each regulatory body in the UK follows its own inspection framework. Evidence is collected to assess how well a school meets the required standards.


Ofsted uses the education inspection framework (EIF)1 following guidance set out in the school inspection handbook1 and specific guidance around safeguarding.2

Schools are inspected in five key areas:

  • overall effectiveness
  • quality of education
  • behaviour and attitudes
  • personal development
  • leadership and management

Safeguarding is assessed as part of the leadership and management key area, which requires schools to demonstrate that they are meeting their statutory safeguarding responsibilities. Schools are evaluated on the effectiveness of their safeguarding procedures and policies, and the wellbeing, behaviour, and personal development of their pupils.

Northern Ireland

The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) uses the inspection and self-evaluation framework (ISEF).3

Schools are evaluated on a set of key indicators:

  • overall effectiveness
  • outcomes for learners
  • quality of provision
  • leadership and management
  • governance
  • care and welfare
  • safeguarding.

The ETI inspects schools with the view that safeguarding and child protection should be a core part of how the school operates. The safeguarding key indicator focuses on how the school follows policy and procedures and if the children feel safe and secure.

The care and welfare key indicator looks at evidence of effective practice in areas such as supporting children to overcome barriers to learning and monitoring of attendance and engagement. It also includes the inspection of the statutory curriculum around relationships and sexuality education.


Schools in Scotland are assessed using Education Scotland’s How good is our school? self-evaluation framework.4

The framework focuses on a school’s capacity to improve:

  • leadership and management
  • learning provision
  • successes and achievements.

Each of these three areas has its own set of quality indicators (QIs). The safeguarding and child protection QI comes under the heading of learning provision. It looks at:

  • school policies for safeguarding and child protection
  • strategies to support children who have unexplained, regular, or long-term absence
  • the standard of safeguarding record keeping
  • how staff respond to any child protection or safeguarding issue
  • if children are safe and feel safe in school
  • if children feel that they have trusted adults to talk to when they need help.


Estyn’s approach to inspections is set out in its What we inspect guidance.5 Inspectors evaluate Welsh schools using five inspection areas (IAs):

  • learning
  • wellbeing and attitudes to learning
  • teaching and learning experiences
  • care, support and guidance
  • leadership and management.

Safeguarding and personal development come under the IA of care, support and guidance which covers:

  • the school’s approach to safeguarding
  • the degree to which leaders promote and support a culture of safety and wellbeing within the school
  • how well pupils believe that the school’s leaders will take seriously any concerns they have about their safety
  • the general security of the school buildings and setting.


Ofsted (2022) Education inspection framework (EIF) [Accessed 19/05/2023]
Ofsted (2022) School inspection handbook [Accessed 19/05/2023]
Ofsted (2022) Inspecting safeguarding in early years, education and skills settings. [Manchester]: Ofsted.
The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) (2017) The inspection and self-evaluation framework (ISEF). [Accessed 18/05/2023]
Education Scotland (2023) How good is our school? [Accessed 22/06/2023]
Estyn (2022) What we inspect – maintained schools and PRUs. [Accessed 18/05/2023]
Inspection process

How does the inspection process work?

Each nation uses a combination of pre-prepared information and inspection visits to assess a school’s ability to safeguard their pupils.


Schools in England are evaluated using information provided by the school, feedback from questionnaires and an inspection visit. The inspection process is set out in Ofsted’s education inspection framework (EIF)1 and school inspection handbook.2

Schools judged by Ofsted as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ are inspected around every 4 years.

Most schools judged as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ are re-visited within 30 months of the previous inspection. However, schools that are found ‘good’ or ‘better’ in every other aspect but are found ‘inadequate’ due to ineffective safeguarding will be revisited within 3 months of the inspection report being published to carry out a monitoring inspection.3

Ofsted has set out further information for schools on when they can expect their next inspection.

Ofsted will normally contact a school the day before an inspection. The school will then have until 8am the next morning to put together the documentation the inspectors need to review. Requested safeguarding information includes:

  • the single central record, summarising the checks and vetting of all staff working with pupils
  • a list of concerns that have been shared with the designated safeguarding lead
  • a list of pupils who have open cases with children’s services and for whom there is a multi-agency plan
  • records and analysis of incidents such as exclusions, sexual harassment, and bullying or discriminatory behaviour.

During the evaluation, the inspectors will observe pupils to evaluate aspects of personal development and welfare. Inspectors will ask pupils about their experiences of behaviour in the school, including how the school deals with any form of harassment and violence.

Ofsted will also gather further feedback from pupils, parents, staff, and other stakeholders, through questionnaires and informal meetings during the inspection.

Northern Ireland

Schools in Northern Ireland self-evaluate their safeguarding practices using questions from the inspection and self-evaluation framework (ISEF).4 This self-evaluation is then reviewed alongside findings from the inspection visit, as set out in the Education and Training Inspectorate’s (ETI’s) overview of the inspection process.5

Educational settings are inspected at least once every 3 years. If an inspection identifies important areas for improvement, a follow-up inspection will take place within 1-2 years.

For full and follow-up inspections, the ETI notifies the school or education setting by telephone and email 2 weeks before the visit. Sustaining improvement or monitoring inspections are scheduled in between full inspections, with 2 days’ notice. Inspections can take anywhere from 1 to 4 days depending on the education setting.

In preparation for the visit, schools are required to provide the following safeguarding information:

  • a questionnaire, known as the safeguarding proforma, reviewing the school’s safeguarding practice
  • a safeguarding policy that reflects the guidance of the Department of Education

During the visit, inspectors will assess how well the content of the safeguarding proforma is understood and implemented.

Inspectors obtain information from pupils, parents, staff and governors, through conversations and questionnaires which take place before and during the inspection. Inspectors also examine lessons and examples of pupils’ work.


Schools in Scotland evaluate their own work through the quality indicators (QIs) set out in the How good is our school? framework.6 This self-evaluation provides the basis of inspections, which focus on a subset of the QIs. All inspections include a focus on safeguarding.

Education Scotland selects an annual sample of schools to evaluate. Each school is notified of an upcoming inspection by email, which is followed up with a phone call. Inspections can take up to a week to complete.

Before the inspection, schools in Scotland are asked to gather information including:

  • a self-evaluation summary
  • a pre-inspection questionnaire and survey for pupils, parents, staff, and partners
  • a child protection and safeguarding self-evaluation form.

During the visit inspectors may visit classes, read key documents, look at pupil’s work and have discussions with groups of children and staff.

Inspectors evaluate the school’s safeguarding procedures and how they are linked to locally agreed multi-agency procedures. As part of this they will meet with the school’s child protection coordinator to sign off the completed child protection and safeguarding self-evaluation form.

Further information on the inspection process is set out in Education Scotland’s guidance on inspections for heads of education settings (PDF).7


Estyn uses target outcomes that focus on strengths and required improvements to inspect schools in Wales.

Safeguarding practices are evaluated using the school’s own assessment of their safeguarding policy and any actions taken to address inadequacies, alongside the inspector’s assessment of the school during their visit. The inspection process is set out in detail in Estyn’s How we inspect8 and What we inspect (PDF)9 guidance for inspectors.

Estyn visits schools at least once in an 8-year-period10 and will make more regular visits to schools that require additional support.

Schools will be notified 10 working days before the inspection. They will then receive a follow-up phone call and be given further information about pre-inspection questionnaires. The length of the inspection is determined by the size of the education setting.

The inspection team will gather evidence through a range of means including:

  • the pre-inspection questionnaires
  • discussions with pupils, parents, and staff
  • observing lessons and the children’s behaviour during the school day.

Estyn assesses the culture of safety and wellbeing in a school by looking at:

  • the culture of safety and wellbeing
  • the effectiveness of the school’s own evaluation
  • the record keeping processes
  • the security of school buildings and site
  • child protection arrangements.


Ofsted (2022) Education inspection framework (EIF) [Accessed 19/05/2023]
Ofsted (2022) School inspection handbook [Accessed 19/05/2023]
Ofsted (2023) Changes made to school inspections. [Accessed 13/06/2023].
The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) (2017) The inspection and self-evaluation framework (ISEF). [Accessed 18/05/2023]
The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) (2020) Key information about inspection. [Accessed 19/05/2023]
Education Scotland (2023) How good is our school? [Accessed 22/06/2023]
Education Scotland (2022) Briefing note for headteachers of schools and heads of early learning and childcare (ELC) settings (PDF). [Livingston]: Education
Estyn (2022) How we inspect [Accessed 19/05/2023].
Estyn (2022) What we inspect – maintained schools and PRUs (PDF). Cardiff: Estyn.
Estyn How often does Estyn inspect? [Accessed 19/05/2023]
Responding to concerns

How do inspectors respond to safeguarding concerns?

If immediate or serious safeguarding concerns are found, these are raised during inspections. The guidance for responding to concerns differs in each nation. A summary of the guidance is shared below.


A school’s overall effectiveness will be judged as inadequate if safeguarding is found to be ineffective. If weaknesses are identified in safeguarding which are easily rectified and there are no serious failings that leave pupils either being harmed or at risk of harm, a school will be judged as requiring improvement.1

If a school has been found inadequate in its safeguarding but good or outstanding otherwise, inspectors will carry out a monitoring inspection within 3 months of the original report’s publication. After the monitoring inspection, if the school’s safeguarding has improved and any concerns resolved, a new inspection report and grading will take place.

If a child protection or safeguarding concern arises during any inspection, the lead inspector should discuss the matter with the relevant senior manager at the setting and verify that a referral to the local authority’s children’s services will be made.2

Northern Ireland

If the school is described as ‘unsatisfactory’ for children’s care, welfare and safeguarding, the ETI will return within 6 working weeks to re-assess the progress on these issues.3

The ETI’s code of conduct for inspecting states that there should be prompt and appropriate action on any safeguarding or health and safety issues.4


If a QI is found to be unsatisfactory, senior managers based within the school (such as headteachers) and staff from relevant agencies will support the school to take immediate steps to improve.5

If safeguarding concerns arise during the visit, inspection team members will discuss these with senior leaders as appropriate.6


Where safeguarding plans don’t meet requirements, inspectors will alert managers at the school, record the concern, and recommend strategies for improvement. After the inspection a ‘wellbeing letter’ is issued to the school and local authority to ensure that progress is being made. If inspectors find significant risks to pupils, the school will normally be assessed as needing special measures and senior leaders in the school will be notified.7

If safeguarding concerns arise during the visit, inspectors should alert the managers at the provision, and follow Estyn’s policy and procedures for safeguarding.8


Ofsted (2022) Education inspection framework (EIF) [Accessed 19/05/2023]
Ofsted (2021) Safeguarding concerns: guidance for inspectors. [Accessed 19/05/2023]
The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) (2019) What happens after an inspection – pre-school, nursery schools, primary, post-primary and special education. [Accessed 19/05/2023]
The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) (2019) A charter for inspection. [Accessed 19/05/2023]
Education Scotland (2023) How good is our school? [Accessed 22/06/2023]
Education Scotland (2021) Child protection and safeguarding policy (PDF). [Livingston]: Education Scotland
Estyn (2022) How we inspect (PDF) Cardiff: Estyn
Estyn (2019) Estyn policy and procedures for safeguarding. [Accessed 19/05/2023]