Ofsted chief writes to inspectors to outline reporting priorities

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Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has written to all early years inspectors outlining how they should report on the effectiveness of teaching and assessment.

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Within the letter, Sir Michael says that, 'Too many reports focus on describing the provision in early years settings rather than on how well children are learning and making progress.'

He goes on to say that, 'Inspectors should focus on evaluating whether children are being adequately prepared for the start of their statutory schooling.'

He also says that inspection reports need to be clear about the extent to which a provider prepares children for school.

Within the letter, Sir Michael lists observations inspectors should make and what they should evaluate and report on. He also stresses that inspectors should apply common sense when observing how well children learn and how effectively adults teach children to develop skills, knowledge and understanding.

The chief inspector claims that too few reports make links between the quality of teaching and its impact on children's progress.

'Inspectors should report on what makes teaching and assessment effective rather than on its style,' says Sir Michael.

'I want to know how well settings help children to catch up when they enter with skills that are lower than those typical for their age.'

He also advises early years inspectors to think carefully before criticising a setting if it does not conform to a 'particular ideological view' of how young children learn or are taught.

This statement appears to acknowledge some of the concerns raised by early years providers through the Ofsted Big Conversation.

Included within a list of actions for Ofsted made by providers during last year's Ofsted Big Conversation weekend was a call for inspectors' own preferences for certain methods not to play a part.

The letter to all early years inspectors follows a similar letter sent to all school inspectors in January, in which Sir Michael emphasised that inspectors should not expect to see a preferred style of teaching.

A spokesperson for Ofsted said, 'This is a letter from HM chief inspector addressed to early years inspectors. Ofsted’s aim is to enhance inspection quality, and emphasise that inspectors should focus on what early years providers are doing to ensure that young children develop to their potential.'

The Pre-School Learning Alliance has raised concerns over the letter's focus on teaching and learning.

Its chief executive Neil Leitch said, 'We find it fairly ironic that Ofsted is delivering further guidance for inspectors when early years practitioner guidance is being stripped back. More concerning, however, is that this latest guidance appears to focus on teaching and learning with no mention of the EYFS.

'A child’s early learning is broad, complex and varied and any inspection process should reflect this; however, the content in the letter could be interpreted as a move towards seriously undermining the intent of the EYFS. It is not the role of the inspectorate to redefine the framework, and we are concerned that this could potentially result in an increase in distorted inspection outcomes.'

He added, 'The letter also raises concerns about the perceived lack of confidence Sir Michael has in his own inspectorate and does little to reassure practitioners who believe every inspector should have the relevant competencies and skills to make these judgements.

Some early years practitioners have also raised concerns that the letter from Sir Michael fails to mention that inspectors should look at children's emotional well-being and safety.

  • More details about Ofsted's approach to inspecting early years will be published in its annual report next month. See the letter here.