4th September 2023 Leadership & Management All Posts

Preparing for an Early Years Ofsted Inspection: Understanding the Curriculum

Part 3 of the insider interview with Julia Maynard, Childcare Director of Happy Orkids Ltd

Welcome to our latest article in our ‘Preparing for an Early Years Ofsted Inspection’ series. Throughout this blog, Julia Maynard, Ofsted Inspector and Childcare Director of Happy Orkids explores a topic of great importance for early years education – understanding the curriculum to help build your confidence during an Ofsted inspection. 

As any educator or childcare provider knows, Ofsted inspections are pivotal moments that can shape the future of a setting. In this article, we aim to demystify the intricacies of how Ofsted assesses the curriculum in early years settings, shedding light on what inspectors are looking for and providing you with valuable insights to help ensure your curriculum not only meets but exceeds expectations. Whether you’re a seasoned practitioner or just starting in the field, join us as we navigate the landscape of early years curriculum assessment in the context of Ofsted inspections, empowering you with the knowledge and confidence to excel in your Ofsted inspection

What is the curriculum in early years education, and why is it so crucial?

Early years education is a combination of learning experiences that sets the foundation for a child’s lifelong journey of discovery. At the heart of this journey lies the curriculum, a term often heard but not always fully understood in the context of early years education. 

The early years curriculum is essentially a framework that outlines what and how children will learn during their early years in an educational setting. This framework is designed to create a rich learning environment that promotes holistic development encompassing social, emotional, cognitive, and physical aspects of growth.

The Ofsted Early Years Inspection Handbook explains that the EYFS provides the curriculum framework that leaders build on to decide what they intend children to learn and develop. Leaders and practitioners choose how to implement the curriculum so that children make progress in the 7 areas of learning. Leaders and practitioners evaluate the impact of the curriculum by checking what children know and can do.

Components of the early years curriculum include

Play-based learning: Play is the natural language of children, and it’s through play that they explore the world, build social skills, and develop cognitively. The curriculum embraces this by providing a variety of play opportunities.

Child-centred approach: Each child is unique, and the curriculum recognises this diversity. It tailors learning experiences to individual needs, allowing children to progress at their own pace.

Key learning areas: The curriculum typically covers several key learning areas, including literacy, numeracy, expressive arts, physical development, and more. These areas are carefully integrated into activities and play to support comprehensive growth.

Observation and assessment: Assessment in the early years is not about testing but about observation. Educators watch how children engage with activities and each other to understand their development and provide appropriate support.

Parental involvement: Effective early years curricula involve parents as partners in their child’s learning journey. Parents are encouraged to engage in their child’s education building strong relationships between the parent and the setting.

Top Tip:

Familiarise yourself with the Ofsted Early Years Inspection Handbook so that you are prepared for what the inspection will involve, and what an inspector might ask.

Understanding the 3 I’s:

Ofsted doesn’t have any preferred pedagogy, the Education Inspection Framework (EIF) refers to the ‘Intention’, ‘Implementation’, and ‘Impact’ of the curriculum.


When making judgements about a childcare provider’s quality of education an inspector needs to evaluate how well the curriculum intentions are met. When Ofsted talks about ‘intention,’ it’s not limited to the early learning goals outlined in the EYFS framework. Instead, it encompasses a broader vision that considers the individual learning needs of each child. In essence, it’s about defining what skills and knowledge you aim for children to acquire during their time in your setting.

Curriculum intentions vary based on the age group of children in your setting. For instance, what you intend for toddlers will differ from what you aim to achieve with preschoolers. This customisation ensures that learning experiences are developmentally appropriate.

Curriculum intentions should align with the current needs and interests of the cohort of children in your care, fostering their readiness for the next educational steps. Curriculum intent allows leaders to build upon the EYFS by deciding whether they’re going to take a ‘topic’ approach, a ‘child-led’ approach or a mixture of the two. Leaders should have a comprehensive understanding of their chosen approach and be able to articulate it effectively.

For example, if you adopt the Curiosity Approach, explain to the inspector your rationale behind this:

  • What made you choose this method? How effective is it? 
  • What impact does it have on children’s learning? 
  • How do you monitor the quality of teaching?

Ofsted doesn’t suggest a specific, prescribed curriculum. Instead, inspectors value a curriculum that is well-aligned with your setting’s ethos and the unique needs of your children. 


A seamless transition from curriculum intentions to classroom implementation is what truly sets the stage for effective learning. We’ve discussed how leaders bear the responsibility of shaping the curriculum’s intentions, but it’s the practitioners who breathe life into it. 

Curriculum intentions outline what children should learn and achieve during their time in the setting. However, it’s the practitioners who play a vital role in translating these intentions into practical, enriching experiences.

Implementation isn’t merely about following a set plan; it’s about understanding the unique needs of each child and planning accordingly. It involves selecting activities that foster learning, creating a stimulating learning environment, and crafting engaging experiences that ignite curiosity. Successful implementation of the curriculum doesn’t just teach facts; it nurtures ambition. It encourages children to dream, explore, and aim high. It instils a love for learning that extends far beyond the early years.


Impact refers to the difference that your setting is making. These examples, such as observations and assessments for each child, provide a window into the learning journey of each individual.

Knowing your children inside out: During an Ofsted inspection, it’s not enough to say that you care for the children; you must show it by discussing their likes, dislikes, and milestones achieved since they joined your setting.

Sharing breakthrough moments: Highlight the breakthroughs and milestones your children have experienced since they started attending your setting. It could be a child’s first steps, a breakthrough in language development, or newfound confidence in interacting with peers.

Demonstrating deep understanding: Show the Ofsted inspector that you have a profound understanding of each child’s unique needs, preferences, and potential. This demonstrates not only your expertise but also your genuine commitment to the children’s well-being and development.

Demonstrating this impact is not only beneficial for Ofsted inspections but also a testament to your dedication to nurturing the next generation. So, as you prepare for your next Ofsted inspection, keep these insights in mind to showcase the remarkable difference your setting makes each day.

In conclusion, the early years curriculum guides the educational journey of the children in your care. It’s not a set of rules but a flexible framework that promotes individuality and curiosity. Understanding its components and significance empowers educators, parents, and caregivers to create nurturing environments where children can thrive and embark on a lifelong love for learning. 

Stay tuned for more insights on this fascinating journey! Coming up in October, we’re excited to bring you Part 4 of our ‘Preparing for an Ofsted Inspection‘ series. In this instalment, Julia will discuss the pivotal role of leadership and management and its significance during your Ofsted inspection

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To discover more about what parental engagement best practice looks like, download our free and dedicated guide on the subject.
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About the Author

Content Marketing Executive at Connect Childcare