Exemption from registration
Although most out of school clubs are legally required to register with Ofsted, some clubs are exempt from compulsory registration. This is usually because the club meets one of the following conditions:
- is open for no more than 14 days per year
- only takes children over the age of eight
- offers adult-led or taught activities from no more than two categories from a prescribed list (typically these are clubs offering teaching or coaching in a particular subject area such as drama or football or Chinese, etc)
- no child attends for no more two hours per day in total
All the exemptions from Ofsted registration are set out in Annex A of the Early Years and Childcare Registration Handbook.
Why register on the Voluntary Register?
Although most providers are very happy to avoid the cost and hassle of Ofsted registration (and inspection), some clubs that are exempt from registration nevertheless choose to register voluntarily. These clubs join the Voluntary part of the Childcare Register (often referred to as the Voluntary Register).
Advantages of voluntary registration:
- If your setting is Ofsted-registered it enables eligible parents to access the various government subsidy schemes for childcare: eg childcare element of Working Tax Credit / Universal Credit, childcare vouchers, and Tax-Free Childcare.
- Some parents see Ofsted-registration as confirmation that certain standards are being met in your setting, and that your club is therefore more ‘legitimate’
Disadvantages of voluntary registration
- Registration on the Voluntary Register costs £114 per year.
- Your club will be inspected against the statutory requirements for settings on the Voluntary Register.
Note that the option to register your club on the Voluntary Register is not available to clubs that a child attends for less than two hours per day - unless that club runs immediately before or after school. So for example, you could register your breakfast club that is only open for 1.25 hours per day (because it runs immediately before school), but you could not register your art class that runs for 1.5 hours on a Saturday morning.
The requirements that childcare settings need to meet are set out in Appendix C of the Early Years and Childcare Registration Handbook. The good news is that the requirements for the Voluntary Register are the least strict of all the Ofsted registers, and are not too difficult to meet if your club is well-run.
You will need to state that you can meet all of the requirements as part of the registration process. There is no pre-registration visit for settings applying to join the Voluntary Register.
Inspection and grading
Once your registration on the Voluntary Register has been approved, you will receive your Ofsted registration number which eligible parents will then be able to use to claim the subsidies on childcare costs (as outlined above) from that date onwards.
Your club will be inspected at some point, but the inspection cycle is much longer for settings on the Compulsory and Voluntary parts of the Childcare Register compared to the Early Years Register. Ofsted’s target is to inspect 10% of settings on the Childcare Register every year. In theory this means that you could wait ten years to be inspected, but in practice they do tend to prioritise inspecting new settings rather than leaving them to languish for years on end.
As with settings on the Compulsory part of the Childcare Register, clubs on the Voluntary Register are just judged to have ‘met’ or ‘not met’ the requirements. There are no grades such as 'requires improvement' or 'outstanding', etc.
The application process for the Voluntary Register is handled entirely online via the Ofsted Online portal, just like for settings on the Early Years Register and the Compulsory part of the Childcare Register. Your first step will be to obtain a new DBS check via the Ofsted portal.
Ofsted no longer publishes a target for processing applications to join the Voluntary Register, but you should expect it to take up to 12 weeks.