22nd August 2023 Leadership & Management All Posts

Preparing for an Early Years Ofsted Inspection: The Learning Walk

Part 2 of the insider interview with Julia Maynard, Childcare Director of Happy Orkids Ltd

In the realm of early years education, the quality of provision plays an essential role in shaping the foundation for a child’s learning journey. To ensure that early years settings maintain high standards, regulatory bodies like Ofsted conduct inspections where inspectors will evaluate the childcare’s quality of education, the effectiveness of leadership and management, the outcomes for children as well as the safeguarding policies and procedures in place to ensure children are safe from harm and how well staff identify and respond to potential risks and concerns. 

In this blog, Julia Maynard, Childcare Director of Happy Orkids delves into what an Ofsted learning walk is, its purpose and how nursery managers and early years educators can prepare and benefit from them.

What is an Ofsted Learning Walk?

An Ofsted learning walk is a component of the inspection process carried out by Ofsted inspectors in early years settings, such as nurseries, preschools, and childcare providers. During the inspection, the Ofsted inspector will invite a senior member of staff to complete a learning walk, during this activity, they must be able to demonstrate how the setting’s curriculum supports every child’s development. The overall aim of the learning walk is for the inspector to gain insights into the quality of provision, teaching practices, and how well children are supported in their development.

Linking back to part 1 of our Preparing for an Early Years Ofsted Inspection series, it’s worth noting that the inspector will formulate the focal points of the inspection based on what they learn during the initial phone call. During the learning walk, inspectors will seek to identify and explore these areas further.

Tip: if you’re not available for the learning walk it is important that you train other senior staff to feel confident in completing this.

Purpose of an Ofsted Learning Walk

The primary purpose of an Ofsted learning walk is to provide a snapshot of what opportunities are available for children in your setting, the inspector will be focusing on the learning and engagement of both children and staff. This activity allows inspectors to observe how well the early year’s provision meets the requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework. The learning walk helps inspectors identify strengths, areas for improvement, and whether the setting is delivering an inclusive, stimulating, and nurturing environment for all children.

What to Expect During a Learning Walk

During an Ofsted learning walk, inspectors will focus on the following aspects:

  • Observation: Inspectors will observe activities in classrooms, outdoor spaces, and other learning areas. They will pay attention to interactions between staff and children, engagement levels, and the appropriateness of activities for different age groups.
  • Learning Environment: The quality of the learning environment, including the availability and accessibility of resources, will be assessed to determine if it supports children’s learning and development.
  • Teaching Practices: Inspectors will assess the effectiveness of teaching strategies, the level of differentiation to meet individual needs, and how well practitioners support children’s language and communication skills.
  • Behaviour Management: The approach to behaviour management and how staff promote positive behaviour will also be observed during the learning walk.
  • Safeguarding: Inspectors will ensure that safeguarding practices are robust and that staff are vigilant in identifying and responding to potential risks.

Bear in mind, throughout the learning walk the Ofsted inspector is judging the information they are being given. According to Julia, the big question inspectors ask when out on inspection is “Why this? And why now?” This enables inspectors to determine whether you know what you are saying or if it is just for show, they want to see and experience what you know.

Tip: Don’t be afraid, be proud! You know and understand your childcare setting better than anyone, this is the time to let your knowledge shine.

Preparing for an Ofsted Learning Walk

Julia recommends the following steps to prepare for an Ofsted learning walk:

  • Familiarise yourself with the EYFS Framework: Ensure that you have a good understanding of the EYFS framework and how it guides early years practice.
  • Use the Early Years Inspection Handbook to revise the grading criteria: it is crucial that nursery managers and directors really understand the grading criteria to understand what is expected of them to be graded a minimum of good in an inspection.
  • Reflect on practice: reflect on your own practice and consider how it aligns with the EYFS principles and guidelines.
  • Collaboration is key: work closely with your staff to ensure teaching approaches are consistent and to create a positive learning environment.
  • Be willing to make improvements: be proactive in implementing improvements based on feedback received from internal assessments and previous Ofsted inspections. Have you completed risk assessments or made any changes following any complaints or incidents?

Tip: highlighting instances where practices have been adapted and enhanced shows growth and willingness. It’s important to mention any existing plans to address weaknesses, rather than just ignoring them. Honesty is the best policy- a true professional is always looking for ways to improve and grow.

Top Tip: Maximise Your Ofsted Inspection with Display Boards

A helpful tip for a smooth Ofsted inspection is to incorporate display boards as a point of reference. Display boards can help both you and early years practitioners build knowledge and understanding, instilling confidence in high-pressure situations. Some suggestions for useful display board content are tops such as: outlining the curriculum, British values, culture capital and the characteristics of effective learning.

Benefits of an Ofsted Learning Walk

Although the thought of an Ofsted learning walk may seem daunting, it can provide some benefits that can have a positive impact on your early years setting.

  • Gain insightful Feedback: the feedback from the learning walk can provide valuable insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the provision, defining key areas to target for improvements.
  • Professional and personal development: the learning walk encourages continuous professional development for staff, enhancing teaching practices and raising overall standards across the setting.
  • Improved outcomes for children: the focus on quality and the emphasis on providing the best learning experiences can lead to improved outcomes for children in your setting.

To conclude, an Ofsted learning walk in early years education serves as an opportunity for settings to showcase their commitment to providing high-quality care and education for children. By being prepared and embracing the process as a chance for growth and improvement, early years practitioners can create an environment that truly fosters children’s holistic development and sets them on a path of lifelong learning and continuous development.

Look out for part 3 of our ‘Preparing of an Ofsted Inspection’ series coming up in September. In part 3, Julia will discuss the core component of children’s educational experience- the curriculum and the importance of this in your Ofsted inspection.

Ofsted Inspections: A Helpful Guide for Early Years Providers

In this guide, we discuss how to prepare for an Ofsted inspection, the 3 I’s, Ofsted’s key focuses in 2023 and more to help you carry out the day as normal to reduce additional pressure on you and your staff to perform.
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About the Author

Content Marketing Executive at Connect Childcare