In this second part in Nursery World's series on the revised Ofsted inspection framework for early years registered providers, I am focusing on how providers can improve the overall quality of their provision to ensure that children enjoy the very best learning experiences.
The driving force of the Ofsted inspection process is to improve outcomes for children's learning and to ensure that providers take their responsibility for delivering quality services very seriously. Inspectors will give an overall grade during feedback based on the judgements that they arrive at through assessing each of the following three areas: the quality of the learning experience; the contribution to children's well-being; and the quality of leadership and management.
Providers need to evaluate their practice and strive towards achieving the highest possible grades in each judgement. The new Self-Evaluation Schedule guidance on the DfE website is very helpful to consult in connection with these expectations.
Overall, the aim is to make the inspection process less stressful for those involved and to ensure that with better preparation, providers and practitioners can be proactive in their commitment to improving outcomes for children's learning.
How well does the early years provision meet the needs of the range of children who attend?
To be prepared for this judgement, providers should evaluate how well their teaching strategies:
- promote children's learning and development;
- meet the needs of each child who attends;
- and help each child enjoy their learning and make progress towards the early learning goals.
Providers must ensure that the educational programme and the support of adults enable children to develop good educational outcomes across the seven areas of learning in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). By the time children reach the end of Reception at five years or a little older, they should be well equipped to meet the challenges of the National Curriculum and to meet the demanding expectations of Key Stage 1.
This responsibility is not an easy one, but it means that providers must focus on the importance of seeing the EYFS as a strong foundation for the National Curriculum and for future learning.
It is evident that over the past few years, there has been some confusion in schools, in particular about the purpose of the EYFS and how it can be developed in a school context to offer a smooth transition for children from Reception to Year 1.
The revised EYFS and the reduced statutory guidance allow schools to tackle these ideas and to make the most of the early years curriculum to teach children a range of quality skills that will prepare them effectively for the next stage in learning.
WHAT PROVIDERS CAN DO
To deliver good-quality learning, providers need to deliver a service that engages children both intellectually and socially. This means that:
- Educational programmes should have depth and breadth across the seven areas of learning in the EYFS with a good range of challenging and interesting activities - this involves analysing each aspect of the early learning goals and identifying the skills and attitudes that need to be taught to the children. Practitioners need to use child development guidance to ensure that they plan programmes according to the expected level of development for each age range. So, for instance, to develop the gross and fine motor skills of babies aged ten to 18 months, they should have lots of experience of building with large Duplo and stacking cups. Adults must support the activity by talking with the children and describing what is going on. They must use mathematical language, such as: 'Put the biggest blue one at the bottom; let's find the next size to go on top; yes, that is the red one ...', etc. With these firm foundations for learning, children a year later, at 2.5 years, will find comparing size and ordering objects a natural part of their play. They will be more likely to comment as they work, still supported sensitively by adults to use specific and correct mathematical terms. This is the sort of detail that practitioners need to commit themselves to with young children. It means they need to have the knowledge and the intent to make all interactions meaningful, and to extend children's vocabulary.
- Quality teaching has to be consistently good and providers need to have a good overview of the capability of staff and to take responsibility for supporting them to access certificated training as well as continuous professional development. Providers should build in opportunities to observe and assess what is going on for children and how staff interact with them to promote good learning outcomes.
- Conscientious practitioners require the skills and expertise to ensure that all children benefit from the programme of learning, including children with special educational needs and/or disabilities and those children learning English as an additional language. Providers need to engage help from local authorities and health services to ensure that the children with additional needs receive the attention and the support they are entitled to. Providers must make sure that all staff value the cultural and linguistic diversity of children, and that parents are appreciated and contribute to children's learning; for instance, by visiting the nursery and reading and speaking to children in their own home languages.
- Quality provision must be delivered within a well-organised and stimulating environment that is safe for children, and allows them access to the resources that they can explore and investigate. When adults set expectations for children's behaviour and give them spaces that reflect each of the areas of the curriculum, it is much easier for children to become confident and independent learners.
- A fully comprehensive assessment and planning system ensures that children's skills and attitudes to learning are monitored and that there are challenges for them to extend their knowledge and expertise.
- A good key person system should ensure that children are well attached to specific adults and that these help engage parents to work purposefully as their children's first educators. Parents want to do the best for their children and they rely on experts (the nursery practitioners) to help them through the ups and downs of parenting.
BOOSTING CHILDREN'S LEARNING EXPERIENCES
Providers should review their practice and see where they can make improvements to promote better learning outcomes. Any day could be inspection day, so there is never time for complacency. There are four aspects to consider here:
- Providers need to be influential leaders and delegate responsibility to staff members so that they have ownership of the curriculum and planning. Regular staff meetings are useful to ensure that there is clear and comprehensive communication about what goes on and what needs to done to develop children's skills and knowledge. Similarly effective staff appraisals and performance targets help encourage practitioners to strive to achieve their personal best.
- A thorough knowledge of the early years curriculum is not only achieved through reading the EYFS document and supporting guidance. It is also essential that practitioners have time to discuss the early learning outcomes across all areas of learning, to talk about what they mean, and figure out how the curriculum can be implemented in the context of the setting's ethos and beliefs. This is emphasised because good teaching is not just about individual practitioners making personal efforts to fulfil their job roles, but also how they are guided to work together to create, promote and maintain the richest and most consistent educational environment for learning.
- The assessment of children's knowledge and skills starts with the practitioners' earliest engagement with parents to understand and support their children's learning. Parents know their children and what they can do, and it is important that they have the chance to observe and record development and thereby contribute to their children's progress files.
- Finally, assessment systems should be clear and show chronological progress in each area of learning. This will enable practitioners to be focused on what they need to teach children and where the gaps are in their learning.
The inspection process challenges providers to do their best for the children in their care. Providers should develop a service that they are proud of and that promotes quality teaching and quality environments. These are the significant elements that positively promote children's learning.
The Evaluation Schedule for Inspections of Registered Early Years Provision, www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/evaluation-schedule-for- inspections-of-registered-early-years-provision
Part 3, to be published on 24 March, will examine how to promote children's health and well-being.