Julian is the headteacher of Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Newham, East London and the author of Successful Early Years Ofsted Inspections (Sage, 2016). He is also a National Leader of Education, one of the co-founders of the East London Partnership Teaching School and he works as an additional inspector.
He has previously been the senior Early Years Adviser for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and was headteacher of Kate Greenaway Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Islington. In his school career, he has worked in primary, special and nursery schools across inner and east London.
I’m delighted that Alistair is giving me some space to share an extract from my latest book, Successful Early Years Ofsted Inspections, which came out earlier this year.
During my work with schools, private nurseries and pre-schools over several years, I kept hearing the same sort of lines. “We do it for Ofsted” – “it’s what Ofsted expect” – and so on. I got a little fed up with hearing that. It made me feel that the tail was wagging the dog. Surely we don’t do what we do, every day, with such commitment and passion, just to please the inspectorate?
But I also know that the outcome of Ofsted inspections really matters, and that staff sometimes feel very anxious and low in confidence. So I’ve written a very practical guide to the whole process, which puts the children, their families, and the staff team at the heart of everything.
I think it is hugely important that people stand up for principled early years education, for what’s right for children. Especially what’s right for children with special needs and disabilities; for children growing up in poverty; for children whose families experience racism and discrimination. Principled early years education is about quality, and it’s about equality. It’s about the child’s right to play, to experience sensitive and loving care and to have an appropriate early years education.
Those principles matter – and let’s be honest, Ofsted matters too. It’s the part of education system that parents know about, and turn to.
There isn’t any contradiction between taking a principled approach to early years education, and achieving success in your Ofsted inspection.
I’m sharing a brief extract below, which is about how to be ready for the actual day of your inspection. I’m also delighted to offer a special 25% discount code to all the visitors to Alistair’s site. Buy the book online from Sage and use discount code UK17AUTHOR at the checkout. This offer is valid till 31/12/2017.
Preparing for your Ofsted inspection also means knowing about the impact of all your work, and coming back to a central question to focus your reflections: “what is it like to be a child here?” Leaders also need to be prepared, by understanding the Ofsted inspection framework, and having the essential information ready at hand. The worst type of inspection experience happens when staff are rushing around and reacting to the demands of their inspector. Of course your inspection will be demanding and rigorous, and that means you may find it stressful. But, for the majority of the time you should feel like you are working collaboratively with someone who brings the experience and training to make judgements about quality which are grounded in evidence. In that sense, inspections are an opportunity for our professional development and learning, as well as fulfilling the important role of public accountability: are we spending public money well, and are we making sure that we do our very best for young children at this important time in their lives?
Inspection day: being confident and ready for your inspection
You will generally have some notification before Ofsted actually arrive. If you are in a pre-school, nursery or a school-based EYFS provision you will be contacted half a day before your inspection. Sessional provision, like crèches, will have up to a day’s notice and childminders will have about a week’s notice. However, Ofsted will not give any notice for inadequate provision, or where they are conducting a priority inspection because there is a well-grounded concern.
In practice, what this means is that you should always be ready for inspection – after all, there will not be much you can prepare in just half a day. You should have key documents readily at hand, and be familiar with them all.
The following information will also be appreciated by your inspector:
- A list of your whole staff team, showing names, roles, and which team or class each individual is in.
- The names of your different rooms or classes.
- Routines of the day: what time you open and close, when children have lunch, and any other regular times (e.g. what time afternoon children come in; when you offer particular sessions like music, or Forest School).
- A breakdown of the children on roll, showing the pattern of attendance (for example, how many full time, how many part-time), ages, numbers of boys and girls, main ethnicities, and how many children are eligible for the Early Years Pupil Premium.
- The current rate of attendance and absence (for example, in the last year, the last month, and on the day of inspection).
When your inspector arrives, make sure that you check their official Ofsted identification badge and then sign them in like any other visitor. Inspectors will not routinely carry an enhanced DBS certificate. If you have any concerns or doubts about identity, then phone Ofsted’s National Business Unit on 0300 123 4234. The inspector will briefly talk to you about how the inspection will be carried out, but because time is so short she or he will be keen to start inspecting as soon as possible. If you are in school, the inspector or inspectors will be introduced to the whole staff time at the beginning of the day, and will come into the Early Years Provision at a time of their choosing. They will expect you to keep working as normal.
It is always a good idea to be confident and courteous, and to remember that inspectors are human beings too! They will appreciate a cup of tea or coffee, a confidential room or area to use, and being shown where the toilets are.
A very positive way to start of the inspection is by showing the inspector round the provision. This gives you a chance to explain what is happening, why, and how it reflects your aims and your ethos. Point out features of your provision and explain how they help the children feel safe and secure, and make strong progress in their learning. Always try to talk about impact, just like you have in your Self-Evaluation: so rather than saying “we have a lovely graphics area here, which we always keep well-stocked”, say something like “because we have a lovely graphics area here, children are motivated to try all the different resources. We change them regularly to keep children interested in coming back regularly. Our displays over here show just some of the ways that children make marks and start on the early stages of writing, and I can tell you some more about the progress they make later.”
If your provision follows a particular approach, like Montessori, Steiner, or High/Scope, then make sure your inspector has an understanding of this. Show specific examples of your approach in action and explain the rationale behind them, and how they help children to feel safe and secure, and to make strong progress. If you have permission from the Department for Education to dis-apply aspects of the Early Years Foundation Stage in line with your approach, make sure your inspector knows this and understands the reasoning behind it.
Observing staff together
Your inspector will ask if you would like to undertake joint observations, and you should definitely seize this opportunity. Here are some useful things to bear in mind whilst you are observing:
- What is helping the children to learn? Note down when you see good care routines, a well-organised and planned environment and good deployment of staff. Always comment on the impact of what you are seeing, for example: “Bobbi and Clem are at the snack table. They can help themselves to crackers and independently spread them with margarine, so they are developing their fine motor skills. Dee asks them if they would like milk or water to drink, Bobbi says “juice please” and Clem says “it’s just milk or water, they don’t have any sugar” – children are being helped to make healthy choices.”
- How effectively are staff helping children to make progress in their learning? Note down indications that staff know the different starting points and needs of the individual children. Listen out for times when children expand on what they are saying because of the encouragement of a member of staff, or become engaged in their play because of the help or guidance they receive.
- Especially for babies and young toddlers note down where the key person approach is helping children to develop strong relationships and develop their sense of self and security.
You will know the children much better than the inspector, so you will be able to draw the inspector’s attention to a moment which is particularly significant for an individual child. Where possible, talk about what has happened before: point out the child who has needed many weeks of support to be able to come in calmly, or the child who would only play in one or two areas but is now confidently accessing the whole room.
You will also know if something is not typical: perhaps a practitioner is having a bad day, or a child is not responding to things in their usual way. Think quickly on your feet – what can you offer your inspector to give a more accurate view of how things are over time. Do you have a recent example of when you observed the practitioner, when she or he was working effectively? Can you evidence that a child normally enjoys their time in nursery through their special book? Everyone can have a bad day: what Ofsted are trying to find out is the typical quality and effectiveness of your provision.
If there is a member of the team who is less effective than the others, then be open about this: tell your inspector why you think that, and the steps you are taking to address the situation. If the practitioner’s practice is improving, then give examples. If it is not, explain what you are doing through your capability or disciplinary processes. Tell your inspector how you are minimising the impact on the children. For example, perhaps another member of staff is supporting at key group time to ensure consistent quality, or you are checking Special Books weekly and making changes where necessary. No team is perfect: what matters is that you can show how you act appropriately, decisively and firmly in the interests of the children.
It is very important that you can demonstrate that your judgement is sound. So, if you talk over the observation with the inspector, or if you offer feedback to the practitioner in front of the inspector, make sure that what you say is sound and is informed by what you saw. It is not advisable to try to give a positive spin – feedback accurately what you saw and what you thought. Otherwise, your inspector may come to the conclusion that you do not have the necessary skills to judge how effective your provision is. That will call the accuracy of your Self Evaluation into question, which in turn will make your inspection a more difficult experience.
Ideally, your judgements about how effective the provision is will largely coincide with your inspector’s. Ofsted plan for inspections to be done with you, and not done to you. Your early years expertise and your knowledge of the staff, children and families should help your inspector to gain a rounded view of your provision. This in turn will mean your inspection will serve as a combination of a validation of your work, and an opportunity for professional dialogue and challenge.
However, the process of inspection is never going to be perfect, so there are likely to be at least some points where you and your inspector take a different view. In these cases, you need to be able to put across your view in a way which is professional, calm, and appropriately assertive. Go back to the evidence you have recorded and ask your inspector what they saw. Explain why you have come to your conclusion about the effectiveness of what you saw, if your inspector is taking a more negative view. Draw on previous observations to show typical quality over time, and link those observations to outcomes. Share any previously-completed joint observations with professionals from outside your team – for example, advisory staff from the Local Authority, or experienced and specialist early years consultants.
During the inspection, generally towards the end, the inspector will talk to you about any outstanding or inadequate practice that has been seen. If there are serious concerns which might lead to an inadequate judgement, you will be alerted to these. You will also have an opportunity to raise any concerns you might have about the conduct of the inspection or the inspector. You will be given an opportunity to find out about how the evidence collected will inform the judgements at the end. These areas of discussion are all highly important, so make sure you are calm, collected and in a suitable place. Keep brief notes, and tell your inspector if there is anything you do not do not agree with, or do not understand
If necessary, you could make a formal complaint, and this is discussed below. But it is much better to raise any issues, concerns or points for clarification during your inspection. Try to resolve them there and then. You will often find that there has simply been a misunderstanding, or that some further discussion makes things clearer.
Thank you Julian – A really informative blog post that helps us to keep Ofsted in perspective!