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Under Threes

First impressions of the new OFSTED framework and handbooks

Christine Merrick (Lead OFSTED Inspector - retiring; Director, Sightlines Initiative)  19 June 2015

This month OFSTED have published a new common framework for inspection which covers all remits including early years providers, schools, FE colleges alongside specific, separate handbooks for each of these. Whilst it is in draft form until September 2015 when they will be in general use, it is expected that only minor amendments will be made in the final versions. For non-maintained settings the framework and the new early years inspection handbook replace the 2013 handbook “Conducting early years inspections’ and accompanying evaluation schedule.

In line with the common inspection framework inspectors of early years settings will make judgements on the same areas as in other remits. These are:

* overall effectiveness

* effectiveness of leadership and management

* quality of teaching, learning and assessment

* personal development, behaviour and welfare

* outcomes for children.

These constitute a major change from the 2013 early years evaluation schedule where the areas judged were how well provision met the needs of children, the contribution of provision to the children’s well being, the effectiveness of leadership and management and overall quality and standards.

Inspectors will use the same four grades of outstanding (1), good (2), requires improvement (3) and inadequate (4). It is made clear in the new handbook that it is up to inspectors to use their professional judgment in early years settings when interpreting and applying grade descriptors to the setting they are inspecting.

Practitioners in all settings will need to look closely at the new requirements. The new documents for early years settings provide significantly more detail under the four new headings and success in these contributes to the judgement on overall effectiveness. For instance, in the 2015 document, assessment is covered in the Teaching, learning and assessment section and the criteria for outstanding assessment includes a suggestion that ‘Where appropriate, children are involved in the process.” In the 2013 document, the outstanding criteria relating to assessment, under provision, had no statement relating to children’s involvement. Similarly the 2013 criteria about engaging all parents in their children’s learning now has a phrase added ‘including those from different groups’. There’s also an additional criteria for inadequate which appears under personal development, behaviour and welfare which refers to ‘children having a narrow experience that does not promote their understanding of people and communities beyond their own or help them to recognize and accept each other’s differences’. This is no doubt related to the government’s British values agenda and a similar statement appears in the inadequate section of the grade descriptors for early years effectiveness in schools. Where criteria in the 2013 early years evaluation schedule have been carried through to the new framework there are often very nuanced changes to the language used, for instance in the old framework, in the outstanding section for contribution to

welfare, one criteria starts with the words ‘Children increasingly show high levels of self control’ whereas in the 2015 document under personal development there is a statement that “children demonstrate exceptionally positive behaviour and high levels of self control’. There is a difference between ‘increasingly show’ and ‘demonstrate’, which suggests much more embedded and consistent behaviours.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the new framework and handbooks are the implications for staff in the maintained sector who, despite having a section on early years effectiveness are being judged on more generic statements that relate to schools and are applicable whether they are nursery, primary or secondary schools. There is a similar statement in the Section 5 document to that in the early years document, which states that ‘the evaluation schedule is not exhaustive. It does not replace the professional judgement of inspectors. Inspectors must interpret grade descriptors in relation to pupils’ age, stage and phase of education.’ In addition paragraph 184 in the Section 5 handbook states that:

“In order to achieve comparability with the way in which registered early years providers are inspected and judged under the common inspection framework, the grade descriptors… reflect those in the early years handbook”

These statements are unlikely to allay the fears of practitioners, particularly in maintained nursery schools, who are subject to the criteria relating to schools rather than those to early years settings.

From September 2015, Ofsted will contract directly with inspectors for maintained schools, academies, non-association independent schools and further education and skills inspections – but not early years inspections which will remain with an external provider. Presumably the school inspectors will have training related to the inspection of early years but it is likely that this will relate to the section 5 schools criteria not the early years handbook since they will not necessarily be inspecting this sector. This is problematic if the aim is to achieve comparability. In the EY handbook there are clear indications as to what inspectors should consider when observing interactions between staff and children. They include how well staff:

o Engage in dialogue with children

o Watch, listen and respond to children

o Model language well

o Encourage children to express their thoughts and use new words

o Support independence and confidence

o Encourage children to speculate and test ideas through trial and error

o Enable children to explore and solve problems

o Behave as an excellent role model for children to copy

o Support children to recognize and respond to their own physical needs

o Attend to children’s personal needs

o Deal with children’s care arrangements

Such guidance is to be applauded but there is no similar guidance in the early years section of the Section 5 remit other than in paragraph 188, which states that, ‘When observing provision for two year olds inspectors will assess whether practitioners are…’ followed by a list of statements including ‘being knowledgeable about the typical development and characteristics of learning for two year olds’ and ‘aware of the large difference in development between children who are ‘just two’ and those approaching their third birthday’ as well as ‘focused on teaching through the three prime areas of learning’, (my italics). The difference in development between a child in Foundation Stage and in KS1 is never mentioned. Similarly, Paragraph 153 of the early years handbook states that:

‘The main evidence comes from inspectors direct observations of the way in which children demonstrate the key characteristics of effective learning:

o playing and exploring

o active learning

o creating and thinking critically.

There is no such clear statement of the key characteristics of learning in the early years section of the school handbook. The nearest reference is when it states that inspectors will consider ‘the extent to which children are active and inquisitive learners who are creative and think critically’. Should we assume the omission of play is deliberate? Surely not, but without it how will inspectors interpret the statement?

There is, however, a statement in the early years section of the school handbook, under ‘Inspectors will consider’, which relates directly to the quality and impact of phonics teaching. In addition, the grade descriptors for both outstanding and good teaching, learning and assessment clearly state that ‘for younger children in particular, phonics teaching is highly effective in enabling them to tackle unfamiliar words’. There is no reference to phonics in the teaching, learning and assessment criteria in the early years document yet a maintained nursery and an independent nursery both cater for children up to entry to school.

There are other differences, for instance the Early Years Foundation Stage is not actually mentioned in the schools document other than in relation to comparisons between the schools EYFS profile and national results, but there are also many commonalities. For the non-maintained sector the changes move the non-maintained sector inspection criteria much closer to those of the maintained sector. This is significant but the differences may be critical. It would have been good to see Early Years inspections applied to all settings where the Early Years Foundation Stage was statutory. The differences may have implications both for maintained nurseries and Reception classes who will be judged by inspectors who will have no need to refer to the early years inspection handbook and whose training, and possibly experience of the Foundation Stage may be limited.



We intend to develop this commentary as an advisory leaflet, demonstrating the capacity ofmeeting and exceeding thecurrent framworks via a reflective, co-constructive, creative pedagogy.