Ofsted's new inspection framework: Aiming for a two-way process

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Susan Gregory, national director education, Ofsted, maps out the changes which will encourage providers to take stronger ownership of their inspections in the future.

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Following the recent review of the Early Years Foundation Stage, Ofsted will soon be publishing its new framework for the registration, inspection and enforcement of early years provision, which will be introduced in September.

We will be looking even more closely at children's learning and their personal and emotional development and will give greater attention to how practitioners help children get the good start they deserve.

Inspection will focus more on interactions with children, and less on paperwork. Observation of activities to develop children's knowledge, understanding and skills in the main areas of learning, as well as care practices, will continue to be at the heart of inspections and providing feedback to those working with children will continue to be a high priority.

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Early years providers will be given a judgement on their overall effectiveness that will take into account how well their provision meets the needs of the range of children who attend - how well they identify any particular needs children may have and arrange appropriate help; the contribution practitioners make to the well-being of children; and the effectiveness of leadership and management. In particular, inspection will consider the extent to which all children are supported to acquire the skills and capacity to develop and learn effectively and be ready for the next stages in their learning, especially school.

The current inspection grades - outstanding, good, satisfactory, and inadequate - have been retained. However, due to the small number of consultation responses we received on the wording of the current 'satisfactory' grade, there are plans to consult further on this in the near future.

We recognise that improvement starts with a provider's own knowledge about the quality of what they provide. That is why we aim to retain a shorter and simpler optional self-evaluation form so that providers can capture the outcome of their evaluation. Whether or not providers choose to use it, they must demonstrate to the inspector how they evaluate their provision and use the information from that evaluation to plan for improvements.

We also want to give those looking after children more freedom in managing their own service. We will no longer routinely use conditions of registration, such as the number of children providers may care for. Instead we will draw parents' and providers' attention to the relevant legal requirements set out in the EYFS. This means that when providers want to do something such as change the number of children they can look after, they simply need to check if the EYFS allows them to do this.

USER-FRIENDLY REPORTS

Parents rely on Ofsted inspection reports to help them choose good quality childcare that will meet the needs of their children. In order to improve the information we give to parents, we will be making our reports more user-friendly. The new reports will include a front page summary that will outline the main findings from the inspection. We will also list the recommendations we make as well as any actions we require providers to take.

To ensure that parents get more information about the quality of provision for their children, we are also changing the way we investigate concerns. In most cases where we receive information that raises concerns, instead of simply investigating the issue, inspectors will carry out a full inspection and publish the report on Ofsted's website. This will allow parents to have a fuller picture of the provision and also gives providers more opportunity to set the concern in context of the overall quality of provision. This means that some providers will be inspected at times other than during their scheduled inspection. Where concerns suggest there are, or could be, risks to children, we will carry out that inspection as quickly as possible. We will continue to ensure children are kept safe by strengthening registration and maintaining rigorous enforcement for those who are not complying with requirements.

We are strengthening registration, particularly for childminders, by not carrying out registration visits until training is complete. The EYFS now requires childminder applicants to have completed training before registration and they must do so before we interview them to see if they are suitable for registration. This will allow them to demonstrate to the inspector that they are ready and able to help children make good progress from the first day they are registered.

Although it feels as if there have been a lot of recent changes to early years, I really do think that the changes Ofsted is making will help deliver the things that are really important. These are better quality early years provision and better outcomes for children, simpler inspection and regulation for providers, and improved information for parents.

CASE STUDY: FIRST CLASS CHILD CARE

Last autumn the First Class Child Care Group, (FCCC) which has nine nurseries in the north of England, volunteered a setting in each of its regions to take part in an Ofsted pilot inspection. This resulted in its Dill Hall site in Lancashire undergoing a full inspection in April, at just a few days' notice.

Managing director Andrew Clifford reports that when the inspection took place, the group had yet to roll out its internal training around the revised EYFS, at its annual summer conferences. However its self-evaluation form and action plans had been updated as part of its rolling process.

'We decided to use the pilot inspection as a learning experience and it is fantastic that we have been able to gain this experience in this way,' he says.

The inspection involved staff discussing with the inspector their work around a chosen child in their group, demonstrating everything they knew about the them. The inspector also carried out dual peer observations with the nursery manager and discussed what they had seen.

Mr Clifford says, 'The inspector was keen to understand from the staff what involvement they had in the development of the setting and the standards of provision, including their evaluation of their own practice. A small amount of time was spent with the manager on policies/procedures but this wasn't at all onerous.'

The manager, Dawn Mitchell (supported by Judith Gannon, early years director for the pilot), and her staff team felt that the inspection had been very positive and a two-way process. They felt that it was 'their' inspection as much as it was Ofsted's. They also found the opportunity to discuss with the inspector their current work and excellent knowledge of their individual children refreshing.

'The two-way dialogue helped engage the practitioners with the inspector rather than making them feel as if they were being watched over,' says Mr Clifford. 'Staff were very pleased that the inspector was focusing on their knowledge of, and work with, the children and less so on the amount of paperwork they had completed.'

Mr Clifford believes that the whole approach of expecting the setting to help 'lead' the inspection, and also giving periodic feedback during the day, will allow strong teams of staff to really take ownership of the process. 'I think all settings should support their staff teams to view the inspection in this way and have a positive mindset - we certainly have done,' he says.

Quality of inspectors under the new framework will remain key.

'Our particular inspector has a lot of respect within the region we operate in. However, the challenge for Ofsted will be as ever ensuring the consistency and fairness of approach across all the contracted inspectors,' Mr Clifford says. 'If we are to have a truly respected and robust inspection system the judgements and outcomes must be consistent. Our experience across nine settings in five local authorities is that this hasn't always previously been the case and I know this is something that Sue Evans, manager of Ofsted's National Provider Scheme, has worked very hard to address.'

FCCC is confident it will be ready for the new-style inspections in September. 'We are glad to have had the benefit and learning experience of the pilot and feel the new Ofsted Inspection Framework is not about radically amending our fundamental principles and practices within our settings.'

CASE STUDY: MICK McGEOWN

As NCMA national policy forum members, childminders Mick McGeown and his wife Sally were pleased to volunteer for a pilot inspection. Based in Watford, their last inspection was in 2010 when they were graded outstanding.

'As it turned out we were having one of "those days" when the inspector came in March,' he says. 'The children didn't want to participate in any of the activities we had planned, so we went with the flow and this was something the inspector noted as a positive.'

He reports that there was more of an emphasis on talking about procedures around outings and safeguarding, rather than producing copious paperwork.

However, the inspector did make an observation that there was not a record of who had compiled the learning journeys.

Mr McGeown says, 'Feedback from other childminders involved in the pilots suggested that inspections were going to be less laptop based, but ours sat with her laptop open throughout. She didn't really interact with the children. She said she generally inspected on the basis of complaints so perhaps she wasn't representative.'

According to Mr McGeown, one thing she did remark on was that there needed to be more work around phonics. 'However, she must have blinked at one stage because we had a playdough activity out and the children were shaping the dough around letters on phonics cards.'

He adds, 'Overall there is certainly nothing to fear and we welcome the child-centred emphasis. But it's important that all inspectors are singing from the same hymn sheet.'

Further information www.ofsted.gov.uk

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