Ofsted finalises new inspection handbooks

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Ofsted has made some changes to the Early years inspection handbook and the School inspection handbook, which come into use from September with the new Education Inspection Framework.

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  • Draft EIF guidelines tweaked to reflect feedback
  • Some sector concerns dealt with but others remain

Ofsted has made some changes to the Early years inspection handbook and the School inspection handbook, which come into use from September with the new Education Inspection Framework.

The inspectorate said it had received strong support from three-quarters of consultation respondents for refocusing on the substance of education.

Here we highlight some of the key changes for early years, and Ofsted’s Gill Jones shares the thinking behind them.

Early years

Ofsted said it had received a number of responses, including from early years organisations, saying the judgement criteria for early years provision in the School inspection handbook did not align with the criteria for registered early years settings.

‘They felt that the criteria for schools were too focused on Reception-age children and did not take enough account of schools with two- and three-year-olds,’ the report on the consultation responses said.

Ofsted has amended this to make sure there is emphasis on early years provision for younger children, while clarifying where criteria apply to Reception-age children.

The language in the School inspection handbook has also been amended, with a section on inspecting provision for two- and three-year-olds removed.

This had included references to inspectors assessing whether staff were ‘gently talkative with children and are not put off where there is no response’, and ‘not reactive when children display a tantrum’.

Cultural capital

The introduction of a reference to ‘cultural capital’ in the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) and drafts of the handbooks had raised questions and concerns. One was that the definition of ‘cultural capital’ – briefly summarised as values, beliefs, skills, tastes and knowledge acquired through being part of a particular social class or cultural group – might be narrowly middle-class.

Ofsted has changed the wording in the draft early years handbook from ‘some children arrive with poorer experiences than others’ to ‘different experiences to others’.

The final version states, ‘Cultural capital is the essential knowledge that children need to prepare them for their future success. It is about giving children the best possible start to their early education. As part of making a judgement about the quality of education, inspectors will consider how well leaders use the curriculum to enhance the experience and opportunities available to children, particularly the most disadvantaged.’

A reference to Ofsted’s understanding of cultural capital matching ‘that found in the National Curriculum’ has also been removed. Instead it states, ‘Some children arrive at an early years setting with different experiences from others, in their learning and play. What a setting does, through its EYFS curriculum and interactions with practitioners, potentially makes all the difference for children.’

Early years consultant Helen Moylett said, ‘Ofsted has slightly tweaked the wording on cultural capital so that it no longer appears to be quoting the NC directly, but it is still linked in the School inspection handbook to the highly contested “essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said and helping to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement”. This applies to all early years provision in schools.

‘However, in the early years handbook, which applies to all other registered early years providers, we are told that cultural capital is about giving children the best start in life and that providers should “enhance the experience and opportunities available to children, particularly the most disadvantaged”. Why the difference?

‘And why does Ofsted continue to insist on misusing a term with an intellectual and research history which makes clear what a complex concept it is? Those of us involved in the education of children and young people should be proud of our great thinkers and resist moves to turn their ideas into accountability soundbites. Ofsted is motivated by a desire to see more disadvantaged children succeeding. However, to be inclusive we could be more explicit about the differences and richness that children bring rather than casting some of them as disadvantaged.’

Maintained nursery schools

A section has been added to the school handbook on maintained nursery schools (MNS). This is in response to feedback that said around half of nursery schools would like to be inspected using the early years handbook, which is not possible because they are legally constituted as schools.

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, said, ‘The new schools handbook is a distinct improvement on the draft, but its one-size-fits-all approach is still a poor fit for the early years. The language of the EIF is often out of kilter with the EYFS; for example, references to learning as “alteration in long term memory” or “coherent sequencing” of the curriculum – and all providers will have to find ways of articulating how good early years practice delivers on the underlying principles behind the Ofsted framework, while not necessarily wanting to adopt its language.’

She added, ‘Under the new EIF, MNS will continue to face more onerous inspections – typically two days for a maintained nursery school versus half a day for a PVI. Even a so-called “short” inspection will take a day – two if there are more than 150 children on roll. It seems a little perverse that the most highly graded part of the sector is the most heavily inspected.’

  • Nursery World is running a one-day conference on the new education inspection framework on 9 July in London. For more information and to register go here
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