Education inspection framework 2019: key changes for early years

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Nursery World looks in detail at how Ofsted plans to change early years inspection.


Ofsted's Gill Jones

  • New draft framework puts less emphasis on data
  • ‘Quality of education’ is a key new judgement area

Ofsted has set out its plans to overhaul the inspection system, moving away from a reliance on data to determine performance to an emphasis on teaching and the curriculum.

The new framework proposes a rebalance, so instead of taking exam results and test data at face value, Ofsted will look at whether a nursery, school or college’s results have been achieved via broad and rich learning, or by ‘gaming’ and ‘cramming’ for tests.

Alongside a draft of the common inspection framework, Ofsted has published separate handbooks for early years, schools, further education and colleges, which are out for consultation until 5 April.

The final framework and handbooks are due for publication in summer and implementation in September.

Key changes

The revised Education Inspection Framework includes a new judgement on the ‘quality of education’ and has put behaviour into a separate judgement.

Inspectors will continue to use the same four-point scale to make all judgements.

In line with the changes, inspectors will make the following judgements about early years settings:

  • overall effectiveness
  • the quality of education
  • behaviour and attitudes
  • personal development
  • leadership and management.

In her foreword to the consultation, chief inspector Amanda Spielman says, ‘Our aim is to bring the inspection conversation back to the substance of education and training to treat providers as experts in their field and not as data managers, so that inspection complements rather than intensifies a focus on achievement and progress measures… It is proposed that the new framework will no longer include the standalone “outcomes” judgement.’

A key new judgement is that on ‘quality of education’, focusing on the curriculum, which replaces ‘teaching, learning and assessment’.

Inspectors will evaluate how well:

  • leaders assure themselves that the setting’s curriculum (educational programmes) intentions are met and it is sufficiently challenging for the children it serves
  • leaders use additional funding, including the Early Years Pupil Premium where applicable, and measure its impact on disadvantaged children’s outcomes
  • practitioners ensure that the content, sequencing and progression in the areas of learning are secured and whether they demand enough of children
  • children develop, consolidate and deepen their knowledge, understanding and skills across the areas of learning
  • the provider’s curriculum prepares children for their next stage.

Early years settings will also be evaluated on ‘cultural capital’, that is ‘how well leaders ensure that the curriculum they use or create enhances the experiences and opportunities available to children, particularly the most disadvantaged’.

Ofsted said, ‘Some children arrive at an early years setting with poorer experiences than others in their learning and play. What a setting does, through its curriculum and interactions with practitioners, potentially makes all the difference for children. It is the role of the setting to ensure that children experience the awe and wonder of the world in which they live, through the seven areas of learning.’

Inspectors must use their professional judgement to consider the ages and stages of children in the setting when judging the quality of education.

In order to achieve Outstanding on this judgement, providers must meet all the criteria for quality of education ‘securely and consistently’.

Inspectors will also look at ‘intent’ in the curriculum, its ‘implementation’ and its ‘impact’.

To gain Outstanding, settings need to show that:

  • The impact of the curriculum on what children know, can remember and do is strong. Children demonstrate this through being deeply engaged in their work and play and sustaining high levels of concentration.
  • Children consistently develop vocabulary that enables them to communicate effectively. They speak with increasing confidence and fluency, which means that they secure strong foundations for future learning, especially in preparation for them to become fluent readers.

The second key new judgement is ‘behaviour and attitudes’, previously part of one judgement on ‘personal development, behaviour and welfare’. ‘Personal development’ is listed as a separate judgement.

Inspectors will consider the ways children demonstrate their attitudes and behaviours through the key characteristics of effective learning:

  • playing and exploring
  • active learning
  • creating and thinking critically.

Although attendance is not mandatory, inspectors will particularly look at the attendance of children for whom the provider receives the Early Years Pupil Premium.

Under grade descriptors for ‘behaviour and attitudes’, to meet Outstanding settings must also show:

Children have consistently high levels of respect for others. They increasingly show high levels of confidence in social situations. They confidently demonstrate their understanding of why behaviour rules are in place and recognise the impact their behaviour has on others.

Children are highly motivated and very eager to join in, share and co-operate with each other. They have consistently positive attitudes to their play and learning.

Children demonstrate high levels of self-control and consistently keep on trying hard, even if they encounter difficulties. Where children struggle with this, leaders and practitioners take intelligent, swift and highly effective action to support them.


Ofsted said it would also be looking at the way leaders manage their workload.

Ms Spielman said, ‘When reaching the “quality of education” judgement, inspectors will continue to consider the outcomes that learners achieve, using valid, nationally collected, data. However, inspectors will focus on what is taught and how, and will draw the outcomes that learners achieve into that education-focused, rather than data-focused, conversation. Too often internal assessment can be carried out in ways that create unnecessary burdens on staff and learners.’

She added it was important that leaders and staff understood ‘the limitations of assessment’ and avoid ‘misuse and over-use’ because it could create extra workload. Moreover, settings will be penalised by Ofsted if assessment is not used properly.

One of the descriptors for an ‘inadequate’ grade in ‘quality of education’ states, ‘Assessment is overly burdensome. It is unhelpful in determining what children know, understand and can do.’

Gill Jones, Ofsted early education deputy director, said, ‘Some of the poorest-paid staff are working and having to produce data outside their working hours, and they’re not given a professional value for doing that.’

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