Inspection: Account for your actions

Jo Caswell, early years consultant
Friday, September 18, 2020

If Ofsted comes knocking this autumn it is important to be clear on how you have reassessed children's needs and can demonstrate how your actions are linked to meeting EYFS criteria.

Jo Caswell

The word ‘Ofsted’ provokes a multitude of emotions in early years practitioners – anxiety, anticipation, concern and trepidation are just a few. I have carried out hundreds of inspections in my 20-year career with Ofsted and nothing makes me sadder to hear than when practitioners tell me how much they ‘fear’ Ofsted. While I work independently from Ofsted now, it is still one of my professional objectives to help practitioners view inspection and regulation on a more positive basis.

It does not help when rumours circulate through settings and on social media about what ‘Ofsted says….’ Or, what ‘Ofsted wants….’ If ‘Ofsted says…’ or ‘Ofsted wants…’

All guidance used by inspectors is clearly published and available to view on public websites, such as Ofsted and is accessible by googling ‘Ofsted documents’. Therefore, I recommend using these documents to review your provision and ensure that you are consistently meeting all Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) regulations.

Most settings are now actively using the Early Years Inspection Handbook and this helps leaders to fully understand the criteria inspectors use to make inspection judgements. Therefore, keep using the published guidance, avoid listening to ‘rumours’ and ensure you and your staff are consistently delivering high quality provision.

Demonstrate effective leadership and your ability to evaluate provision

I worry about services which encourage managers to be ‘ready for inspection…’ Settings should be ‘ready for inspection’ every day. Children do not deserve a better standard of provision just because an inspector is visiting.

You should be confident about the provision you offer. Check that you are consistently meeting all regulations and demonstrate to the inspector that you meet the ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ grading criteria. This way, you can approach inspections with pride and positivity and embrace the opportunity to ‘show off’ what you do.

It is totally understandable for individuals to be nervous about an inspector being present. Inspectors recognise this. They are human too and will do all they can to put staff at ease and make sure they see the best of your setting. If the visit is a routine inspection, use the notification call to establish a professional working relationship with the inspector. Explain the context of your setting to him/her. If you are a newly appointed manager, explain this.

If your setting has been through a period of significant change and disruption, aside from the coronavirus pandemic, make sure the inspector understands this. If you know there are weaknesses in some aspects of your provision which you are currently addressing, do not hide these. Be open and frank with the inspector about what you are doing about them.

This demonstrates effective leadership and your ability to evaluate your provision accurately. Inspectors are not there to ‘catch you out’. They are there to assess the quality of your setting. They need to make sure that EYFS requirements are being met and that the provision remains suitable for continued registration.

‘Do not fear inspections’

Of course, human nature dictates that people always remember the negative stories and these are the ones which fly around social media. How many posts do you read about positive inspection experiences? They are not so interesting! Before you get distracted with the horror stories, remember all the routine inspection work carried out by Ofsted each year.

Take account of the increasing number of settings being judged to be good or outstanding and do not be distracted by the fewer number of inspections which did not go so well. Remember, Ofsted is a regulatory body. It has a duty to take relevant action if legal requirements are not being met. It would not take this action if children were not put at risk. We all strive to be good or better practitioners, but sometimes things go wrong, and enforcement action is necessary. This is to safeguard children, and this is a duty we all share.

So, my advice is, please do not fear inspections. Be confident about your practice. Prepare your staff well so that they also view the inspection process as a positive one. Help them to become familiar with the grade criteria for good and outstanding so they know what is expected. Offer them relevant training and support if there are aspects of their practice which would not meet these criteria. Ensure they are continually good or better teachers, day-in-day-out, and consistently offer high quality provision whether an inspector is present or not.

‘Embrace the opportunity to demonstrate how well you evaluate the quality of your provision and how accurately you support ongoing improvement. Be confident in your discussions with the inspector and use examples to exemplify your practice’.

Targeted next steps

Following lockdown, practitioners need time to review their practice and prioritise the needs of children as they return to settings. The Government has confirmed that no routine inspections will take place during the autumn 2020 term. However, regulatory visits are still being made. Necessary action will still be implemented should Ofsted have any concerns about the suitability of a provider.

On 6 July 2020, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector (HMCI) announced that Ofsted will support the Government in finding out how well settings are supporting children after a long break in their learning during the lockdown period. To do this, inspectors will carry out visits to settings. These will not be graded and will start in the autumn term from October, following a pilot programme with volunteer schools.

The Government is keen to ensure that children who need more support with their learning are helped to catch up quickly following the lockdown. Children's experiences of learning at home will vary between families and what support and resources have been available to them. Some children will have had more positive support with their learning than others.

The process of assessing children's development has never been more important. Practitioners will need to re-assess every child's abilities as quickly as possible. Some children may have made significant progress in their learning, based on the experiences they may have had during lockdown. Others, however, may not have made much progress and this must be targeted quickly.

The targeted next steps you made before lockdown will need reviewing now. Work closely with parents, and any other settings children may attend, to establish a collective knowledge of what a child can now do and what they need to learn next.

Some children will be starting new at the setting. They may or may not have benefitted from the usual settling-in and ‘pre-start’ visits which typically take place. What other measures can you now use to support children and parents with the transition from home process?

Separation anxiety may be a factor for both children and parents following lockdown. A gentle, reassuring approach is needed to help parents become confident in settling their children after such a long period at home.

How might you have to adapt your ‘usual’ start routines to settle new children, and those returning to the setting?

While routine inspections have been suspended during the autumn term, there will still be regulatory visits.

Revisit your safeguarding training

Alongside addressing children's learning needs, significant time must be given to assessing children's emotional needs. What has happened in a child's life during the lockdown period? A new sibling may have been born. Some families may have suffered loss and been adversely affected by the virus. All children will have experienced separation from extended members of their families and friends. These are significant events and ones which children are unfamiliar with. Practitioners will need to reflect on each child's experiences and provide relevant emotional security to make sure every child is supported appropriately.

An equally important priority is to ensure that all children have remained safe during their time away from the setting. What has changed in children's home lives? Have children who were known to be vulnerable before lockdown been kept safe? What is their behaviour demonstrating now? What about children who were not classed as vulnerable before? Are other children now vulnerable? What indicators might suggest this?

Make sure you assess these factors thoroughly and rigorously. Take account, as usual, of what children tell you, or how they are playing and behaving. Do these factors cause you any concern? If so, follow your setting's safeguarding procedures and make sure children are fully protected. Consider the non-verbal babies and children. How can you assess that these children have not been exposed to risk, or are not still at risk? Re-visit your safeguarding training and make sure you act on any concerns that you have. Document your concerns thoroughly and follow up with the relevant professionals promptly, if necessary.

Maintain a professional dialogue

If an inspector carries out a visit to your setting during the autumn term, make sure you can demonstrate clearly how you have reassessed children's needs. Explain your processes and rationale for decision-making. Be clear about what action you have taken and why. Link your actions to demonstrate how you are meeting EYFS criteria and ensure you consistently meet the grade descriptors for good and outstanding. Remember to continually refer back to the Early Years Inspection Handbook.

During inspection, and any other visits carried out by Ofsted, it is important that managers maintain a professional dialogue with the inspector. Take a full and active part in the inspection process. You will be invited to carry out a joint observation. Embrace this opportunity to demonstrate how well you evaluate the quality of your provision and how accurately you support ongoing improvement.

Enter discussions with the inspector with confidence and use examples to exemplify your practice. For example, if you have supported staff in their professional development to gain additional qualifications under your leadership, demonstrate this. If you have been focusing on a specific aspect of practice, such as improving children's language skills, explain why you have done this, what you have done and what impact it has made.

Explaining your processes

Remember the Education Inspection Framework (EIF) focuses on ‘intent’, ‘implementation’ and ‘impact’. Always be ready to explain why you have done something and evaluate how effective it was. For example, are children making faster progress in this area now? How do you know? Remember to share this evidence with the inspector.

To conclude, please do not fear Ofsted. Inspectors are early years professionals themselves. They are as dedicated as you are to making sure children are safe, well cared for and prepared well for future learning. Embrace inspection positively. Be proud of what you do.

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