Welcome to the first Tribal Early Years ‘Making the most of…’ blogs, a series of articles to help you to reflect on, evaluate and enhance your early years provision. In this first article, we guide you through the materials that Ofsted publish to inform you of the early years inspection process and consider how you can use these to review your provision and ensure you are ‘inspection ready’ at all times.
Inspectors know that ambitious early years leaders and practitioners aim to make the most of every day for the children and families they serve, including the day of their Ofsted inspection. Yet, I have been told that when the inspection day dawns, nerves and uncertainty affect the quality of your ‘daily’ practice. Those same ambitious individuals do not feel they show their provision at its best, and as they want it to be reflected in the inspection report.
This need not be the case. You can take steps to reduce, or prevent, the anxieties that get in the way of your ability to give the inspector, and those who read the report, an accurate picture of what it is like to be a child in your setting.
Make the most of the Ofsted publications
There is no magic formula to being ‘inspection ready’. Whatever method you use to support children’s care, welfare and learning, you will be better prepared, and make more of the inspector’s visit, if you know what is, and is not, expected.
''Being well-prepared for an inspection is not a short-term or one-off activity.''
Being well-prepared for an inspection is not a short-term or one-off activity. It does not begin with a mad dash when you get the call that the inspector is coming and it is not over at the end of the visit. Effective preparation is an ongoing activity. It is an integral part of your reflective thinking, self-evaluation and continuous development and an important part of the evidence you will need for your inspection, whenever it takes place.
In the words of Francis Bacon, ‘Knowledge is power’. It sounds simple, but the greater your knowledge of the inspection process, the more confident and empowered you will be on the day. To make sure you understand what is expected, you need to make the most of the information Ofsted publish on their website.
''To make sure you understand what is expected, you need to make the most of the information Ofsted publish on their website.''
A good starting point in your quest for knowledge is ‘The common inspection framework: education, skills and early years’. Take time to review this document to ensure that you are clear about the principles and purpose of your inspection. Give attention to the sections that explain the Code of conduct that is required of inspectors, and expected of providers, during the visit. When you know these expectations you can focus your thoughts and actions on how to work effectively with the inspector(s) to make the most of the time available and consider how you will provide evidence to inform the inspector’s judgements.
Next, consider the Early years inspection handbook. Use this step-by step guide to get to the core of the inspection as it will be carried out in your setting. When you understand what the inspector must do to plan, prepare and carry out the visit, you can make well-informed decisions about how you can help to streamline the visit and make the most of every opportunity to provide relevant evidence during a busy day.
''remember that the inspector(s) review all information available to them about your setting before they arrive.''
For example, remember that the inspector(s) review all information available to them about your setting before they arrive. This helps them to form the initial lines of enquiry they will pursue on the inspection. Ensure you are prepared for such enquiries, for instance, being confident to explain and show the progress you have made since your previous inspection (if applicable). Be prepared to provide evidence of:
- How you developed the areas identified for improvement in your last report
- Your early years self evaluation and how you identify priorities for further development
- How you monitor the effectiveness of the provision.
- Observe children playing independently and interacting with staff (particularly if you care for children of different ages who have different routines)
- Hold discussions with you (the nominated person, manager and key staff such as the SENCO or designated lead for safeguarding (as applicable)
- Undertake a joint observation with you (the provider or a representative).
Be sure to use this opportunity to tell the inspector whether you provide funded places, if you receive early years pupil premium funding and if you provide support for children with special educational needs and/or disabilities. Don’t forget you can use this opportunity to check that they have located your website (if applicable) and to ask questions you may have about the inspection.
To be inspection ready every day means not only that you are prepared in practice but that you have all key documents available. We will return to documentation in a future blog, ‘Making the most of inspection activities’. While having specific documentation is a requirement, inspectors will want to find evidence that policies and procedures are not only available, but that they are effective and consistent in practice.
''inspectors will want to find evidence that policies and procedures are not only available, but that they are effective and consistent in practice.''
To feel secure that you have the knowledge that will have a positive impact on your inspection you need to understand the criteria, sources of evidence and grade descriptors of the handbook’s evaluation schedule. Here you also find the definition of teaching that Ofsted inspectors refer to when they evaluate the quality and standards of your provision and assess the impact on outcomes for children. We will return to the detail of this definition in the next blog, but knowing and understanding this from the start will empower you to hold informed discussions about how you, and others in your setting, help children make the best progress possible in their children’s learning and development, whatever method you follow.
The handbook reminds us that ‘inspectors always have regard for how well children are helped and protected so that they are kept safe.’ The additional guidance in the safeguarding publication is essential reading to secure your knowledge of the key points inspectors consider when they inspect your arrangements for safeguarding. Whether you are a sole provider, or the leader/manager of a setting, work through each section of the document to build your knowledge and confidence of effective practice and to consider the evidence you can provide to show that safeguarding arrangements in your setting support the safety and welfare of children.
''consider the evidence you can provide to show that safeguarding arrangements in your setting support the safety and welfare of children.''
I have visited settings where practitioners told me that they have prepared specific paperwork, or do things in a particular way because, ‘Ofsted expect it.’
This more recent guidance aims to eliminate misconceptions that you may have about inspection preferences or requirements. Read this, alongside the handbook guidance, to avoid letting any confusion about what Ofsted prefers in methods of practice, paperwork or management of the inspection stand in the way of your ability to explain and show how you support children’s care, learning and development effectively.
Don’t let your preparation end without closing the circle and knowing how the report at the end of the inspection will reflect the quality and standards of your provision.
Let’s take Francis Bacon’s ‘knowledge is power’ philosophy to the next level, and consider the view of the Russian playwright and author, Anton Chekhov, who wrote, ‘Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.’
''Anton Chekhov, who wrote, ‘Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.’''
Your setting and your inspection are unique. Inspectors know that there are many different approaches to supporting positive outcomes for children. Be sure that you, and others involved in the inspection, are secure and assured to use your knowledge to be pro-active and make the most of an inspection. Take the opportunity at inspection to:
- Engage in professional dialogue
- Articulate your vision
- Show how you keep children healthy and safe; and how the quality of care and teaching enables every child to achieve their potential.
Check back soon for the next in our series of Early Years blogs to consider how you can ‘Make the most of inspection activities’ to help the inspector gather the evidence so they can tell the story of what it is like for a child at your setting.
If you’d like any support from our early years specialists to prepare for Ofsted, or to improve the quality of your early years setting, drop us a line at [email protected]
To find out more, download our early years improvement services brochure.