Coronavirus: More details of return to early years inspections set out

Catherine Gaunt
Monday, March 8, 2021

Gill Jones, Ofsted deputy director for schools and early years, has set out Ofsted’s plans for ‘a phased and safe return’ to early years inspection.

Routine graded Ofsted inspections are set to re-start in the next few months
Routine graded Ofsted inspections are set to re-start in the next few months

Speaking on the second day of Nursery World’s Business Summit, she said that the date to return to inspections under the Education Inspection Framework (EIF) was not yet confirmed, but that it would be the education secretary who would decide when they would start again.

Ofsted inspections have been paused since the first national lockdown last year.

The date for inspection return is under review and the sector would be informed ‘as soon as we know more,’ said Ms Jones.

Ofsted will be carrying out pilot work to test out some of the EIF and make any amendments, she said.

The inspection handbook will be re-published after Easter to take the Covid context into account.

Inspectors will also be re-trained, in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

When inspections return, Ofsted will move to an inspection window, rather than a cycle.

This means, for example, that if a setting is inspected in May 2021, you could expect to be re-inspected five or six years later, Ms Jones said.

‘We think that it will be better for providers to get a graded judgement. Assurance inspections were something we were going to do in the interim. But there appears to be a more positive outlook out there for getting back to routine inspections, so we think it will be a bit confusing,' she said, in response to a question about inspections.

A return to full inspections will involve guiding principles. These are:


Inspections will be sensitive to the challenges presented by Covid-19, and will always take context into account


The safety and welfare of everyone involved in any on-site activity is Ofsted’s priority. Ofsted will follow the most up-to-date guidance from Public Health England

Principles for on-site visits

Ofsted will continue to be guided by existing guidance and principles for carrying out compliance and enforcement work.

Ms Jones also spoke about some common myths about Ofsted.

For example, it was a myth:

  • that submitting a notification to Ofsted about a confirmed case of Covid-19 would prompt a visit from Ofsted
  • that notifications about confirmed cases of Covid-19 would adversely impact the setting’s relationship with Ofsted
  • that a setting’s next inspection grading would be impacted by the number of Covid-19 notifications that have been submitted.

All of the above examples are untrue, she said.

First aid

Regarding the DfE’s EYFS disapplication for first aid, she said, ‘We’re very aware that it’s been problematic to get first aid training,’ but she said that inspectors would want to know about first aid, and will be asking about the steps settings have taken and the barriers.

Asked whether nurseries that weren’t inspected in the last cycle be prioritised when inspections begin, Ms Jones confirmed that they would.

Asked about whether inspectors do lateral flow tests before they go into settings, Ms Jones said that they currently do for regulatory work and they will follow Government guidance on testing when they return to inspections.

Asked when newly-registered settings could inspect their first grading inspection, Ms Jones said that at the moment the policy is within 36 months, ‘We usually like to give providers that are totally unknown to us a very early inspection, within the window, within the first year. Those that we know better because they’re newly registered and they’ve changed their registration details etc. if they’re known to us, it might go up to the 36-month window.’


Ms Jones also spoke about what catch-up means for the youngest children and inspection.

‘Even without the world that we’re living in now, there has always been a very wide variety in children’s communication and language skills in particular,' she said. 'Some children will have very, very limited experience and opportunities to talk.

'That’s why the pre-school programme is so vital. For some children during lockdown the disparity will have increased, and there are some children that will far higher risk of falling behind more than others. That’s why early years providers staying open is so important.

‘Few would argue that the root of catch-up is communication, how we help children to learn about the world around them, to navigate it, make friends, play, learn new skills,  and to develop the ability to articulate their hopes, thoughts and dreams.’

Speaking about the importance of vocabulary size relating to later success in life, which Ofsted has highlighted, Ms Jones referred to a programme called NELI (Nuffield Early Language Intervention), which is funded in Reception classes by the Department for Education and has been taken up by about half the schools in the country.

Although not rolled out for early years providers, Ms Jones said the programme could be useful for early years settings to think about their curriculum, because it highlights the role of everyday vocabulary.

‘Children are taught very specific vocabulary that they will need for later life. I suppose one way to define it would be general knowledge vocabulary, things like farm animals. We’re all familiar to introducing children to those concepts through baby books.’

She added, ‘I think it’s probably worth having a look at the website and considering how we can help in early years settings get children to where they need to be and to have that language. [The website] shows a headteacher talking about the gap in primary school and how they’ve tracked it back to a language and communication deficit in early life they are trying to fill. As I looked at it, I thought, “I wonder if we’re doing enough in early years settings to ensure that children remember and learn the basic vocabulary for later life?”'

She urged early years settings 'to consider the impact, how we know that children have learnt what you intended them to learn, from the resources that you have there.’

More information

NELI (Nuffield Early Language Intervention)

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  • Find out more here

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