Nursery Management

How is Ofsted judging early years settings?

  • How is Ofsted judging early years settings?

Dr Helen Edwards shares her thoughts on how the new Education Inspection Framework is being implemented in practice…

If you have managed to survive unscathed one of the first inspections of the new framework, well done!

Nobody wants to be inspected in the first few months; inspectors are getting used to the new framework and Ofsted’s quality assurance processes are still being firmed up.

Reviewing 100 Ofsted early years inspection reports from September has shown me that there are patterns emerging.

So, how can settings prepare for their next inspection? It’s always hard to predict, but here is my analysis.

The learning walk

Previously, managers needed to be prepared to talk about how they had set things up for children, and why. Now the language is about aims and rationale – intent, implementation and impact – and the responses required will need to go further.

For example, previously a manager might have said, “We set up the water table with cups and jugs so that the children could pour from one to another.”

Now it might be more like, “We set up the water table with cups and jugs to support the children’s hand-eye coordination skills and to help them develop an understanding of volume and capacity.”

To prepare for the learning walk, think about the structure and routines of the day, the layout of the environment and the resources. Practise talking about how you do things, and why. Coach your staff to do the same.

Cultural capital

This was much discussed when the framework was published earlier this year. However, the phrase does not appear in any of the reports I have read. 

In the previous framework, inspectors assessed how effectively the manager supported staff to promote children’s learning and development. This is still included, but reports also talked about how leaders provided a focus for professional development activities that impact children’s learning.

Think about how your curriculum enhances the experiences for children, particularly the most disadvantaged – how do you introduce young children to experiences that they may not get at home?

Partnerships with parents

Settings have always been required to work effectively with parents to support children’s learning, but in this new inspection framework, there is a special reference to literacy. When reflecting on your partnerships with parents, think about what else you could do to support learning at home.

Assessment and progress tracking

Although Gill Jones, deputy director for early years at Ofsted, has announced a diminished focus on assessment, inspectors will still need to see that children are making progress, that assessment is used effectively, and that staff are taking the children’s learning forward.

Assessment does not need to be an onerous task, however. It’s essential that any system a setting has for observing and assessing children is quick, easy and effective.

Behaviour and attitudes

This aspect has its own inspection judgement now, signalling the importance of behaviour and attitudes to learning in the new framework. This may be a cause for concern in settings where the behaviour of some children is very challenging.

Hopefully, inspectors will be more interested in how the staff support and encourage children to behave positively, through consistent guidance and expectations and excellent modelling of the required courteous interactions.

Staff wellbeing

Staff wellbeing is a welcome and significant addition to the new framework. Reports show inspectors are investigating how staff wellbeing is supported in good settings. There are also numerous references to workload too.

Self-evaluation and reflective practice

There is increased emphasis on the need for efficient, regular reflective practice and how this connects to everyone in a setting having a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the provision.

There’s a greater focus on having a distinct vision for your setting and ensuring effective reflective practice leads to an accurate evaluation of provision.

There are also lots of recommendations based on reviewing the organisation and routines. It’s clear that settings must strive to consistently improve their provision and involve both leaders and staff.

Final thoughts

Whether you have been inspected or not, the first 100 reports provide invaluable insight into the focus so far.

Of course, this will change and evolve as the new framework beds in. Being inspected is always daunting but there is lots to learn from the reports – happy reading!


Dr Helen Edwards, is founder of Tapestry and Foundation Stage Forum. You can read more about her analysis of the first 100 Ofsted reports under the new framework here.

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