Inspections must be tailored for the early years

Leading early years organisations have given a positive response to plans for a single inspection framework, but urged Ofsted to ensure that inspections are designed for the early education sector.

Plans for a new common inspection framework for early years settings, schools and colleges, were put out for consultation yesterday.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said a single framework must standardise quality and benefit the whole education inspection system.

But she warned, ‘The features of good provision are the same whether it is in early years or college. Strong leadership, learning and assessment are universal inspection targets; it is then vital inspectors are specifically trained for each sector.

‘The actual inspection process must be tailored to the sector.’

Commenting on Ofsted’s intention to bring in specific inspection handbooks for each stage, she said it was important to have ‘detailed, thorough and robust' training alongside this.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, also welcomed the plan for a single inspection framework, but agreed that inspectors for early years must view early years as a separate stage for children.

‘The devil is in the detail,’ he said. ‘Inspectors carrying out inspections under the new common framework must understand that early years is a unique stage of education. 'Inspection criteria such as quality of teaching, learning and assessment and outcomes for children have very different meanings in an early years context, and this will need to be reflected in the inspection judgements.

‘It will be vital, therefore, that these inspections are carried out by qualified, knowledgeable inspectors who possess a good understanding of early education.'

Ms Tanuku added, ‘A single framework would also benefit the early years workforce, putting the quality of FE provision under scrutiny. Based on Professor Cathy Nutbrown’s review and feedback NDNA has had from the sector, there are a number of improvements that need to be made to improve the quality of FE delivery.’

As already announced, schools will no longer have to register provision for two-year-olds separately, under changes proposed by the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill and subject to Parliamentary approval.

Should this go ahead, schools’ provision for two-year-olds that is on the Early Years Register would now be inspected as part of a school inspection using the new common inspection framework.

Ms Tanuku, who is giving evidence to the Bill’s committee next week, said, ‘It would mean a school inspection rather than an in-depth more rigorous early years inspection. We would question how a fair and consistent inspection process can be implemented with this inconsistency.’

Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY, said she was also concerned that the move to lower the age of children that exempts schools from registering as early years providers would threaten consistency across early years inspections.

‘We would call on Ofsted to clarify how it intends to ensure parity of school inspections against those delivered by dedicated early years inspectors. Above all it will be important to make sure that inspection evaluation criteria across all early years settings remains firmly rooted in the EYFS framework for a consistent approach to quality improvement and to help children become ready for a lifetime of learning,’ she said.

‘A consistent inspection framework will help parents to recognise high quality care across the entire education spectrum and has to be a positive step. We are particularly interested in the framework including a stronger focus on the professional training and development available to staff. The evidence is clear, the better qualified and more up to date the practitioner, teacher or tutor is, the better the outcomes for children. Inspection is an infrequent tool to drive up quality; ongoing training and development of staff is essential to drive up quality.’??

On Ofsted’s intention to ‘harmonise’ inspection notice across all provision, Ms Tanuku said the inspectorate must make the routine inspection process consistent.

She also questioned Ofsted’s decision not to bring in shorter, more frequent inspections for good early years settings, as it proposes to do for schools and FE providers.

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