An Ofsted inspection walk-through
EYFS Series Part 8:
Welcome to part 8 of the EYFS Series we are running to support you with the EYFS reforms which come into play in September. Today we chat to Jo Caswell who talks us through what to expect when Ofsted visit and how to build a confident team.
Catch up on:
- Part 1 – ‘Beatrice Merrick on using Birth to 5 Matters’
- Part 2 – ‘A whistle-stop tour on Self-Regulation with Sue Asquith’
- Part 3 – ‘Don’t worry about the reviewed EYFS: Make it Work For You’
- Part 4 – ‘Feel prepared for the revised EYFS with Sue Asquith’
- Part 5 – ‘Some thoughts on pedagogy and curriculum’
- Part 6 – ‘Implementing the revised EYFS in your setting’
- Part 7 – ‘Inclusion and equalities in early years’
With over 20 years’ experience as an Ofsted inspector and HMI Early Years, Jo is keen to ‘bust some myths’ and really help providers and practitioners become inspection confident. We should deliver the best for children EVERY day, not just when an inspection is due….
Just the word ‘Ofsted’ appears to send even the most professional, competent and experienced practitioners and providers into a frenzy. We need to be more confident about what we do and ready to show this off when an inspector comes to visit.
It saddens and frustrates me when I read posts on social media which generate so much panic, anxiety and worry. Often, the vast majority of published content is a misinterpretation of what Ofsted expects to see and how an inspection will be carried out. The stress this generates and the worry it causes is too much. We need to focus on the published Ofsted guidance and fully understand the inspection framework. These are the documents which will help us be the most confident.
Aim to give children the best possible care - every single day
I always steer clear of the phrase ‘preparing for inspection’. Take a step back. Who are we trying to be the best for? The children we look after every day and who rely us on to keep them safe and nurture their development? The parents who trust us with their most precious bundles of joy? Or Ofsted who may visit at least once every six years? Let’s put this in perspective. Practitioners should aim to be their best and give children the best possible care every single day.
I absolutely understand an Ofsted grading, whatever that may be, has huge weighting on an early years business. I fully recognise the stress involved in an inspector being present in a setting and the extra pressure this puts on practitioners. What I aim to do is help practitioners always be ‘inspection confident’. Every day a practitioner sets foot in a setting, they should aim to deliver their best quality practice. We know there are bumps and challenges along the way, but in a well-organised setting, these should not detract from the quality of care and the experiences children have every day a setting is open.
Myth busting - What do inspectors ‘need to see’
One of the many myths I often hear associated with inspection is the type, range and format of documentation an inspector will ‘need to see’. I can confirm that Ofsted does not expect any particular format or record-keeping style. Paragraph 59 of the early years inspection handbook, which can be accessed from www.gov.uk/ofsted sets out examples of documentation an inspector may wish to look at. These do not need to be in a file labelled ‘Ofsted’. But they do need to be easy for you to locate. For example, an inspector is highly likely to ask how you check that all practitioners are suitable to work with children. Therefore, create a system which means you can quickly provide evidence that all practitioners are DBS checked and offer proof of other vetting procedures you have completed, and continue to complete to ensure an individual’s ongoing suitability. Make sure you can find evidence of practitioners’ qualifications, including first aid training, easily. Reduce the stress on yourself by knowing where to find relevant records if asked.
Inspectors do not arrive with a prescribed list of records they want to look at. Each inspection is individual and unique to the setting. Inspectors will follow up on any lines of enquiry and issues which may emerge following their observations and discussions with practitioners. For example, an inspector may notice variations in how different practitioners manage children’s behaviour in a setting. If there are concerns surrounding this, an inspector may follow this up by asking to see a copy of the setting’s behaviour policy and a record of incidents. In another setting, there may be no concerns about behaviour and how it is managed, so this would not be a line of enquiry an inspector would pursue. Therefore, when you read posts on social media about different inspection ‘experiences’, remember there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
Reducing paperwork whilst exercising caution
The revised EYFS framework makes it clear that there is no requirement for excessive paperwork. However, records around safeguarding are important and any concerns noted about a child’s welfare must be documented and followed up appropriately. We know that the pandemic has placed a great deal of stress on families and, in some cases, impacted negatively on children’s emotional well-being. If practitioners note concerns about a child, they must record these in line with their setting’s safeguarding policy. This should include any low-level concerns too. For example, practitioners may notice that a parent is struggling in their emotional well-being and appears more stressed or anxious than normal. There may be subtle changes in a child’s demeanour which are not red flags for making an immediate referral, but are different from usual and there is no immediate cause. By noting these low-level concerns, a picture or trends may start to appear. For example, a child may always be anxious returning to a setting after a weekend, or time spent with a specific family member. We need to exercise caution here as this may be totally unrelated to any safeguarding issues, but it is worth noting and checking for any small concerns which start to build into larger, more obvious issues.
Forming the bigger picture
If a setting adopts a culture of robust reporting of any welfare concerns, however minor, practitioners create a clear audit of how concerns have developed over time. These are essential records which may play a significant part in any multi-agency involvement later. Always note patterns in children’s attendance. If a child is regularly absent without explanation, record this and follow it up. What might this be telling you? Is the child, and their family, safe? I often describe safeguarding information as the pieces of a jigsaw. We may record crucial evidence in many different places. For example, a child may have been absent without notice for a long period. They may arrive with existing injuries which are recorded in an ‘existing injuries’ book. The child may have frequent accidents in the setting and these are recorded in the accident book. Often, the child arrives without a packed lunch, or the contents of his lunch are insufficient, or lacking nutritional content. The child’s key person has noted the child frequently displays aggressive behaviour in his play. The child often arrives at the setting without a warm coat and poorly-fitting shoes. Mum is often late at picking up and the child always arrives half an hour late at the beginning of the session. These observations are noted by practitioners, but are they ever linked together to form a bigger picture? What is happening in that child’s home life? Are parents managing effectively? Do they require extra help or signposting to parenting support? Is the child safe?
Employing effective safeguarding arrangements
We need to exercise caution here again, as these issues may not suggest a child is at risk. However, we do need to be mindful about what different indicators are showing and how we link them together. The designated lead practitioner for safeguarding in each setting should always monitor the information known about every child. Practitioners should discuss safeguarding issues regularly at every team and supervision meeting and flag up any concerns they may have. Always be ready to discuss your safeguarding policies and procedures with an inspector. Practitioners must be able to confidently explain what action they would take in different scenarios to keep children safe. For example, do they know who to contact to report concerns about a child if the designated lead does not take appropriate action? Do they know how to raise concerns about a colleague’s practice if they feel it puts a child at risk? What would they do if a child made a disclosure to them? How would they know if a child was subjected to extreme views and radicalisation at home? Leaders can test this out through regular discussions and quizzes, but the proof is do staff demonstrate competence in their knowledge of how to safeguard children? An inspector will need to feel confident that the setting’s safeguarding arrangements are effective, and that relevant action is taken to report any concerns about a child in a prompt, timely manner.
The learning walk
At the start of an inspection, an inspector will invite a senior member of staff to complete a learning walk. This is a new feature of the Education Inspection Framework (EIF). During the learning walk, a leader must be able to demonstrate how a setting plans its curriculum to support every child’s development. For example, what skills does the leader want babies to develop in the baby room? What progression will there be into the toddler and preschool rooms? The curriculum is the framework for the activities you provide. There is no prescribed way of doing this – this is the provider’s choice.
‘intention’, ‘implementation’ and ‘impact’
Ofsted does not have any preferred pedagogy. The EIF refers to the ‘intention’, ‘implementation’ and ‘impact’ of the curriculum. The leader must be able to explain the ‘intention’ behind the curriculum. For example, what do you want children to learn? What skills do you want children to develop? Why are you planning specific activities? This is where leaders can demonstrate their high expectations of what they want children to be able to achieve. Are these age-appropriate? Are they challenging? Will they support children’s development and progress towards the early learning goals?
The ‘implementation’ aspect is how you teach children these skills. The activities you provide. The learning environment you create. The ways you choose to ‘teach’ children. How you reflect the characteristics of effective teaching and learning, inside and outside, every day.
The ‘impact’ is the difference it makes to children. Are children making progress? Are they reaching typical development milestones for their age and ability? Are any gaps in children’s learning closing?
Take pride in everything you do
When you show an inspector around your setting, be proud of your work, your team, and your children. Give examples where you have changed practice and made improvements. If you are still in the process of making changes, explain these to an inspector. They need to be sure that leaders know exactly what is happening in a setting and can make the necessary changes. Do not try to ignore issues. Flag them up with the inspector and discuss what plans you have in place to address any weaker points. If you have action plans in place, show these to the inspector. We rarely achieve the ’end product’ and there will always be areas you want to work on. Make sure you convince the inspector that you have a realistic view of what is happening in your setting. You know where the strong practice is, you know how well the curriculum is supporting children’s learning, and you train your staff well to be the best practitioners they can be.
Don’t be scared. You’ve got this.
More from the EYFS Series
- Part 6 – ‘Implementing the revised EYFS in your setting’
- Part 7 – ‘Inclusion and equalities in early years’
Next up…we take a look at the pivotal role parental collaboration plays in helping to create a positive and more holistic learning experience for children – Stay tuned!