In April, Ofsted published this statement, ‘Childcare providers do not need to produce any self-evaluation documentation, but managers and staff should be able to discuss the setting with the inspector. Inspectors will ask staff about the quality of care and activities they provide, and how well the setting is meeting the learning needs of all children.’
I would urge all leaders and managers to assess the risks before gleefully ditching your self-evaluation documents, and here’s why. Even with the Ofsted self-evaluation form (SEF) in place, my analysis of actions and recommendations of more than 2,000 inspection reports across the past three terms shows there are a significant number of settings that find self-evaluation challenging. It therefore doesn’t seem sensible to get rid of something that helps us to understand the effectiveness of what we do across areas of policy, procedure and practice.
Self-evaluation regularly lets settings down because:
- It is not robust enough to identify all areas where improvement is needed
- Related procedures do not effectively identify key strengths and weaknesses to secure continuous improvement
- The management team does not effectively use self-evaluation to improve outcomes for children
- It does not address previous inspections actions and recommendations
- The management team does reflect on practice, but this is not rigorous enough
- There is evidence of it, but actions are not consistently taken to drive improvement
- It does not include the views of staff, committee members, parents and children.
So, my question is, can we honestly do justice to these areas if we are not systematically recording our strengths, weaknesses and progress against priorities for improvement?
The Early Years Inspection Handbook says, ‘Leaders and managers of settings should have an accurate view of the quality of their provision and know what to improve. Inspectors will consider how well a setting evaluates and knows its own strengths and weaknesses and how it can improve or maintain its high standards.’
To have an accurate view of the effectiveness of our provision we need to be able to answer the following questions:
- Where do our strengths lie? What evidence do we have to show that these areas are a strength?
- Where are our weaker areas of practice? How do we know which ones to prioritise first?
- What actions do we need to take? What difference did our actions make?
- How do we know that practice is consistent across our staff team?
- How do we know that any changes to practice are being sustained?
- Have we addressed the actions andrecommendations from our last inspection report?
- How do we know that practice in these areas is being sustained so it won’t be an issue at our next inspection?
Leading and managing an early years setting is complex, so we need to find ways to make life less complicated. It therefore makes sense to have a place where we can gather together all of our monitoring and evaluation materials. Physically bringing everything together several times a year will enable us to look at the quality of our provision holistically and make appropriate decisions about improvement priorities. Generating self-evaluation documents is therefore not something we do for Ofsted, it’s something we do to understand what’s working well and what isn’t, where there’s a lack of consistency, where practice needs to improve and where our staff need training, which will ensure that practice continues to move forward.
We produce summative assessments for children, so why wouldn’t we want to create opportunities to summarise what we know about the quality of our provision?
DIY self-evaluation frameworks
If you like the thought of moving away from the Ofsted SEF and developing something bespoke, now is a good time to do so. It doesn’t have to be complex, it could be as straightforward as using a folder to gather all your monitoring information together, then maybe once a term looking through your evidence for areas of strength and those for development. Once you have identified your weaker areas, you will then be in a position to decide which areas need immediate attention and which can be addressed at a later date. Your priorities for improvement can then be moved into an action plan.
If you want to create something that looks a little more like a framework, you could start by identifying key areas from the inspection framework such as safeguarding, performance management and the quality of teaching and learning. These types of headings will enable you to review areas of practice in more depth rather than just using the key judgement used by Ofsted (which are large areas to unpick). Using the types of questions we used earlier will enable you to identify where your strengths and areas for development lie.
Most importantly, we need to remember to identify the actions we have taken and the impact or difference that those actions have made. It’s the impact of what we do that will ultimately improve the quality of the experiences that we provide for our children.
- Next month’s focus is on meeting the needs of children
For more news and in-depth articles on inspections, see our dedicated Nursery World page here https://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/inspections