In our sector, the ‘O’ word is often met with groans from managers and practitioners alike, and the mere mention of Ofsted initiates feeling of dread and a shiver down the spine.

But why is that? Ofsted and their role are an exceptionally important part of Early Years practice and ensuring that the welfare requirements and learning and development needs of children are met – why is this to be feared?

With impending amendments being made to the inspection framework and these changes also causing anxiety and concern throughout the sector, we have decided to explore the topic of Ofsted, their role and inspections a little deeper, drawing on our previous experiences, interactions and inspections.

Private sector settings and those within home-based childcare roles alike, often feel heightened levels of anxiety when an Ofsted inspection is due and this scare culture is often cascaded to new and less experienced staff and practitioners whom as a result then spend their careers living in fear of Ofsted and their inspections.

Is this how we should feel? Are Ofsted to be feared? Or should we use the inspection as an opportunity to demonstrate the high level of care and learning and development we provide within our settings.

In both of our previous roles, we have had positive and negative experiences of Ofsted inspections, and so feel that we are able to speak candidly and unbiasedly about Ofsted, their role and the way in which they are perceived and responded to within the sector.

There are countless myths that circulate frequently about Ofsted; what to say, how to greet them, whether to offer them a cup of tea and ultimately how to behave and interact with them during your inspection.

Whether you are a home-based childcare provision or a day nursery or preschool, the underlying answers are the same; check their ID, ask them to sign your visitors book (if that is part of your policy and procedures), make them aware of health and safety procedures (fire drills and exits etc.)  and in terms of offering them a cup of tea – is it in your policies and procedures that your staff/setting have hot drinks available/in playrooms? If so, then go ahead and ask. If not, don’t go against your normal policies in order to be polite; offer a drink and make the inspector aware of when and where it is suitable to drink a hot drink should they require one.

Another myth is that Ofsted want to see reams of paperwork in order for you to demonstrate learning and development, planning and self-evaluation, in our experience, this isn’t the case. Whilst many settings feel that by providing endless amounts of paperwork will prove to Ofsted the things they say they are doing. However, we have experienced that as long as you can adequately prove, whether it be verbally, through paperwork or through demonstrating through your practice and provision, then this is more than adequate.

An over-arching theme throughout our first inspection in September 2017, was the emphasis Ofsted place on practitioners knowing their children, their learning and development needs, next steps and demonstrating the progress they have made within the setting and provision.

Similarly, safeguarding, prevent duty and knowing how and when to report concerns about a child are paramount to a successful Ofsted inspection and demonstrating how you safeguard and protect the children in your care, is key.

Obviously each inspector is different and will inspect in their own way and so doing research on your inspector or speaking to other colleagues who have been inspected by your inspector before, rarely helps or improves your outcomes. Inspectors inspect each setting and practitioner as individuals and it is rare that they will inspect you in exactly the same way and ask you the exact same questions as your previous colleagues, and so go into your inspection with an open mind and no pre-determined expectations or ideas of what your inspector will be like or that things they may ask as this will only put you even more on edge and may even affect your inspection.

Recently, we were honoured to be asked to pilot the new inspection framework for Ofsted, and this entailed having a mock inspection. Here’s what Bridgit had to say about the inspection and what it could potentially mean for the new framework:

“I had a very pleasant morning with Sheena from Ofsted. She conducted her inspection in the normal way, laptop open, but engaging with the me and the children. Our bird feeder activity didn’t go ahead as the children were too engrossed in the their play, and it was the normal hustle and bustle that we experience every morning! She wasn’t able to share the outline of the new inspection framework and only really shared what we already know. When delivering her feedback though she made it quite clear that there is another drive to eliminate unnecessary paperwork as evidence of effective teaching and learning will be observed during the inspection and based on the children’s achievements (summative assessments and summaries etc). Also, the new framework won’t instigate a new cycle of inspections. The next cycle starts in 2020. For anyone due an inspection, know your children, their next steps, their interests, adapt the play and learning experiences to meet those interests, reflect on your own practice (doesn’t have to be in the form of the SEF) know where and how you want to improve the outcomes for children in your setting, and the service you provide to your families, be yourself, don’t change what you normally do, and just be yourself.”

Ofsted inspections are essential within early years practice to ensure that the quality of care and provision for young children in the UK does not falter and that their needs are consistently met throughout the sector.

Ofsted should not be feared, but instead welcomed as an opportunity to showcase your incredible practice and provision and demonstrating the amazing learning opportunities and experiences you provide. Be confident in yourself, your practice and provision. Don’t change anything or behave in a different way as this will negatively affect your inspection and not only the inspector, but your children too, will pick up on this.

Do what you always do, tell your inspector what you do, why you do it and how you do it and your grading will reflect this.

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