For groups in pre-opening ‘Ofsted’ and ‘readiness-to-open’ can be quite daunting words to hear. But with good preparation, you can confront these crucial pre-opening milestones and be well on your way to opening your new free school. For event three of our principle designate series we reflected on the Ofsted pre-registration inspection and readiness-to-open meeting (ROM).

Don’t worry!

Firstly, it is important not to panic about either Ofsted or the ROM in the pre-opening phase. Both milestones are not necessarily a separate work stream. You should be on track for a successful Ofsted pre-registration inspection and ROMA as long as you have been following: Department for Education (DfE) guidance; the guidance of your lead contact; and the oversight of your project manager. These instruments have been designed to prevented significant problems emerging. As a result, it should be relatively smooth sailing by this stage. As always, it is crucial that you keep on top of your documentation and policies; they will be extremely helpful to you, through these stages.

Ofsted pre-registration inspection

So what is it? The Ofsted pre-registration inspection is a check-up to confirm that your school is fit to open; by evaluating whether your free school will meet independent school standards two to eight. The inspection typically consists of: a visit to your school site; an analysis of your plans and policies; and a discussion about your knowledge of the local area. Ofsted’s checklist outlines what you need to do to prepare in advance. Even if your site is unfinished, site health and safety will be assessed.

When will it be? Inspections typically take place in May or June of your opening year. You will be given a couple of days’ notice before your inspection and there is no flexibility around the given date.

What happens next? Following the inspection, Ofsted’s findings will inform a DfE action plan, outlining the measures that you need to take before opening. If meeting the independent school standards are conditional on completing any measures, Ofsted might revisit to ensure these actions have been taken. These arrangements will need to be resolved through the summer holidays, so plan carefully and make sure you have a break!


What’s this then? The ROM is your final checkpoint meeting to show that your school is ready to open and will be Good or Outstanding. Financial and educational viability are the key focus of the ROM, alongside community cohesion, risk identification and mitigation.

When will it be? The timing of your ROM is dependent on your project, but they typically occur in May or June of your opening year, following your Ofsted pre-registration inspection.

What do I need to do? Alongside compiling all of your plans and policies, you need to complete and maintain an updated risk register prior to your ROM, outlining any risks to your project and mitigating actions to prevent delays to opening. In addition, your financial plans will be tested, so it is crucial that you keep your budgets as updated as possible and in the most recent DfE template (which is updated each May!).

To find out more about NSN events, keep an eye on our events pageNSN is always on the lookout for fantastic free schools to share their journey with others. If you are preparing to open and would like to share your experience with others, then our Events Team would love to hear from you – contact