Open letter to Ofsted raises concern over claims of 'harrowing' and 'confusing' early years inspections

Catherine Gaunt
Monday, November 29, 2021

Nearly 600 people have signed an open letter to Ofsted raising concerns about the negative inspection experiences of early years settings, maintained nursery schools, and schools, amid claims they are leading to a severe impact on the confidence, morale and wellbeing of practitioners.

Schools and early years settings have raised concerns about the way early years inspections are being carried out
Schools and early years settings have raised concerns about the way early years inspections are being carried out

The claims are set against the background of the introduction this term of the revised EYFS, the new Reception Baseline Assessment in Reception classes, and the ongoing Covid pandemic.

Signatories including leading early years experts, organisations, teaching unions and a growing number of individual settings.

According to the letter, providers say they are being inspected on aspects of pedagogy which are not a statutory duty, such as creating curriculum maps and schemes of work.

Claims also include that some inspectors have expected to see particular approaches to teaching, such as requiring young children to sit still for long periods of time with an adult delivering a lesson.

The letter’s authors say they have ‘substantial evidence’ and case studies to back up their concerns.

They say that some of Ofsted’s ‘confused approaches’ have led to ‘harrowing’ early years inspections and led to some practitioners and managers resigning or taking long periods of sick leave due to stress.

High profile signatories include Wendy Scott, honorary president, TACTYC; Dame Alison Peacock, chief executive, Chartered College of Teaching; Daniel Kebede, president, National Education Union; Professor Chris Pascal, Research Director, Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC) and Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education.

The letter also describes concerns about some inspectors’ views that early years’ approaches do not apply to children in Reception classes.

It also cites ‘some inspectors’ misunderstanding of young children’s development and how they learn’, alongside Ofsted’s definitions of the early years curriculum which take ‘a limited view of how young children develop, learn and progress’.

In addition to the initial signatories, the letter is now gaining online signatures from across the early years sector in schools and nurseries, and as of Monday morning, the letter had received 584 signatories.

Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, said ‘We have been concerned for some time that Ofsted was overstepping its brief and promulgating particular approaches to teaching, planning and assessment, despite an explicit commitment not to. This is an issue both systemically within the Education Inspection Framework and on an ad hoc basis through the comments of individual inspectors.  

‘Now more than ever, an Ofsted inspection should be a respectful dialogue with settings and schools that seeks to support and enhance children’s educational experiences, not a source of stress and trauma for hardworking staff.’

Ofsted has been approached for a comment.

 

The letter is published in full below:

Inspections in the Early Years Foundation Stage: An open letter from the sector to Ofsted

 

Dear Ofsted,

We are concerned at the number of negative Ofsted inspection experiences that have been shared by many across the sector in both schools and PVI settings, which have had a severe effect on the confidence, morale and well-being of the very people who are tasked with implementing high quality pedagogy and practice.  This is especially concerning in the midst of enormous challenges brought by the pandemic, a new EYFS Statutory Framework, new Baseline Assessment and various ‘catch-up’ programmes.

We summarise these concerns as follows and would welcome the opportunity to discuss these with you so that we can work towards more positive inspection experiences which are collaborative, respectful and meaningful for everyone involved.

  • Schools and settings across the sector are implementing the EYFS Statutory Framework but are being inspected on aspects of pedagogy which are not a statutory duty, such as creating curriculum maps and using schemes of work.

  • Whilst the addition of a ‘myth busting’ Ofsted online page has been helpful, we believe that these myths are a response to a lack of clarity and mixed messages from Ofsted, as well as some inspectors’ misunderstanding of young children’s development and how they learn. For example, there have been conflicting messages about progression and sequencing of learning in the EYFS.

  • Ofsted have used definitions of the early years curriculum which have taken a limited view of how young children develop, learn and progress, as well as of critical foundations which go beyond knowledge recall. This is creating a disparity between practice informed by child development and methods based solely on teaching knowledge.
     
  • The Ofsted Definition of Teaching, which appears in both inspection handbooks (Early Years Inspection Handbook, 185 and School Inspection Handbook, 333), is a valued description of high-quality teaching and learning in the EYFS. Clearly articulated and informed, it is understood by all in the sector and has not perpetuated any myths or confusion; however, it now seems to be ignored by inspectors and rarely discussed.

  • Some inspectors have expected to see particular approaches to teaching, such as requiring young children to sit still for extended periods of time with an adult delivering a lesson. This is not a requirement of the Statutory Framework nor the Ofsted EIF [Education Inspection Framework], and is contrary to the NHS Guidance for children’s healthy development.

  • The EYFS Statutory Framework covers and includes the whole Foundation Key Stage, including Reception classes, prior to Key Stage 1; however, some Ofsted Inspectors have ignored that fact, with comments such as 'Don’t think of YR as part of EYFS, think of it more as Pre- KS1'.

There is substantial evidence, including case studies, which underpins these concerns. Some of the confused approaches within Ofsted have led to quite harrowing early years inspections and have resulted in valued practitioners and teachers resigning from the profession or requiring long periods of sick leave due to stress.

There is a growing culture of fear of inspections and their outcomes where managers, leaders, teachers, and practitioners look for management strategies to minimise the possibility of a negative outcome, rather than focusing on good practice and confidently discussing this through professional dialogue with the inspector.

We would like to have a dialogue with you to understand together the causes and solutions to Ofsted inspectors giving mixed and erroneous messages.

We look forward to your response and working with you to make inspection the informed and worthwhile experience it should be in the Early Years Foundation Stage.

  • Wendy Scott, OBE, Honorary President, TACTYC
  • Dame Alison Peacock, Chief Executive, Chartered College of Teaching
  • Daniel Kebede, President, National Education Union
  • Prof Christine Pascal OBE, Research Director, Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC); Chair, British Early Childhood Education Research Association (BECERA)
  • Beatrice Merrick, Chief Executive, Early Education

And more than 579 others, including nursery owners and managers.

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