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Tips and insights for applying to the Online Education Accreditation Scheme

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A year has passed since the Department for Education (DfE) launched the Online Education Accreditation Scheme (OEAS). The scheme provides a route for providers of full-time online education to apply to the DfE for accreditation.

In this blog, we’ll provide some tips that might help you if you’re considering applying for the scheme. We’ll also include comments from providers who have already been accredited.

Ofsted’s role

Ofsted’s role in the scheme is to:

  1. receive applications from DfE and check the applicants are eligible and should progress to the next stage of the process
  2. run suitability checks on applicants
  3. if the applicants are suitable, carry out an accreditation visit to assess whether the provider meets the online education standards,
  4. publish a report setting out whether the provider meets the standards so that DfE can decide whether to award accreditation to them

We have now published data on our work during the first year of the scheme.

Tips for applicants

Curriculum policies, plans and schemes of work

If Ofsted receives your application from the DfE, we will contact you by email to ask for more information. Our handbook for accreditation visits lists the subjects we will need more information on. One of the items is the curriculum policy, plans and schemes of work. You must have these things, under standard 1.1 of the online education standards.

You should make sure that your curriculum policy, plans and schemes of work cover all of the curriculum areas required by the standards. For example, if your documents make no reference to subjects such as maths, physical education, creative education, or technological education:

  • you would likely fail to meet standard 1.1
  • you could end up paying for an accreditation visit but not be accredited.

Presence in England

The DfE’s guidance on the scheme says that, to be eligible, you must have a physical presence in England. This must be where ‘a substantial part of the provider’s leadership or staff operate’ and ‘a suitable place for Ofsted to undertake a two-day accreditation visit’.

If you have pupils or staff members based outside England, you should make sure that the headquarters of your operations in England meet these criteria. You should be ready to explain which elements of your service (if any) are delivered from addresses outside England. This will make sure we can effectively prepare for an accreditation visit.

Robust safeguarding policy that deals with online context of the provision

The DfE’s guidance notes that ‘to meet standard 4.1, a provider must have a comprehensive safeguarding policy drawn up with reference to their particular context’.

This means that you should give careful thought to your online context. You should also consider how the guidance set out in Keeping Children Safe in Education and Working Together to Safeguard Children applies to your provision. Since these documents are updated regularly, you need to make sure that your policies (and training based on them) take account of the latest updates.

Determine who is a ‘proprietor’ and register for the Disclosure and Barring Service update service

We carry out a range of checks on proprietors of online providers, including Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks. Some applications for accreditation have been delayed because of:

As our handbook notes, ‘If an applicant’s DBS certificate has been issued over 3 months prior to the application, it must be registered on the DBS update service.’ If your DBS certificate does not meet this criterion, you will be asked to apply for a new one. Once issued, you will be asked to send your DBS certificate(s) to us by post.

In order to ensure that checks are not delayed, we would encourage you to determine who the proprietors are before applying, and to ensure that they are registered with the DBS update service.

Feedback from accredited providers

We spoke to the three providers who have been accredited up to 31 March 2024. We asked them what the effect of applying has been on their pupils and their provision more generally.

How has the process impacted on provision for your pupils?

The OEAS process was an opportunity to reflect on our provision and have Ofsted inspectors engage with our client schools and students, to examine the impact of our partnership approach. The feedback received from Ofsted and the feedback that was shared during our visit by students and schools has already helped to shape how we develop our service in future. – ACADEMY21

Our priority has always been the highest standard of education for our students, and so this has not changed with our accreditation, but it does validate to us, and our families, that the quality of education we offer is comparable to a ‘live’ UK school. In the short-term, it has meant that we are now able to offer Local Authority Alternative Provision to those students for whom online school is a lifeline. Moving forward, we will begin our A-Level journey in 2024/25 and accreditation has given us the opportunity to attract high-calibre teachers to support this. – SOPHIA HIGH SCHOOL

We constantly reflect and develop our provision. This process has led us to expand our opportunities for group learning and peer engagement at the beginning and end of the day with a breakfast club before the first lesson and wider choice of enrichment opportunities. We have also expanded our teacher base for wider specialisms and developed the platform that we deliver our lessons through to offer more opportunities for interaction. – TCES

What was the experience of being visited by Ofsted like? What did you think upon reading the report for the first time?

We have strongly advocated for the accreditation of online education and were especially pleased with the rigour and forensic nature of the two-day accreditation. We believe that this rigour will ensure that only providers who have the children at the very centre of their provision will be successful in gaining accreditation.  Reading the report was an incredible experience for the whole team. Seeing recognition of our ‘strong moral purpose’ and acknowledgement that we ‘work tirelessly to identify, reduce and often eliminate the barriers to learning’ was uplifting for everyone concerned, particularly the teachers who work remotely and miss out on some of the natural team building experiences that you would expect at an onsite school. – TCES

We love an inspection! We value feedback in all forms, and this gave us the perfect opportunity to show inspectors what we do every day. Our visit involved the two inspectors being hosted at our physical Head Office, and then being given access to live online lessons, and video recordings of live lessons, via our secure platform. As expected, there were online surveys for students, parents and teachers, followed during the visit by confidential discussion sessions with these groups. Throughout the visit, Q&A sessions were scheduled with the leadership team for clarification of points, evidence-building and further discussion. The anticipation of the final report was palpable with the team, and when it finally arrived we were thrilled to have such a comprehensive validation of the work we do, and felt that it did capture the essence of what life is like at Sophia High School. – SOPHIA HIGH SCHOOL

We were delighted with our report, it captured many of the strengths of our provision – our expertise, our people and most of all the student experience delivered live by engaging teachers though a bespoke system. We were pleased to see the impact of our provision recognised too. For example the inspectors recognised that we ensure students do not drop out of education and enable them to make academic progress. Equally, the team picked out that our approach leads to reintegration back into ‘bricks and mortar’ schools. We were also appreciative of the rigour of the inspection team. The 2-day visit was conducted with a genuine spirit of inquiry by the Ofsted team but the questions asked were rigorous – as they should be. We ended feeling like our provision had been thoroughly understood and evaluated. – ACADEMY21

What tips would you give to other online education providers who are considering whether to apply for accreditation? Is there anything you wished you had known in advance?

We urge all online education providers to consider applying. The OEAS documentation is clear. It gives guidelines, expectations and non-negotiables. If your practice is solid and follows the guidance then you have nothing to worry about. For our team, working through it with rigour gave us clarity in what we do and where we know we are going, and so we felt well-prepared.  – SOPHIA HIGH SCHOOL

Preparation is key. The standards are detailed and give the opportunity to really evaluate your service. It is worth making sure you have worked through the initial guidance thoroughly. It is important to use your whole team to ensure you capture everything your provision offers but also demonstrate the strength in depth and whole range of expertise. – ACADEMY21

Don’t view applying for accreditation as an easy route to proving quality of provision! The accreditation process, including the two-day visit, is rigorous and detailed and you need to be providing a high-quality, full-time online education that expertly supports children and young people. – TCES

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