Early Years Update looks at the proposed new Ofsted inspection framework

The legislative framework for early learning and childcare detailed in the Childcare Act 2006 removed the legal distinction between learning and care in the early years, reflecting the integrated approach to provision for young children which is the foundation of high-quality practice. The introduction in September this year of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), now provides the opportunity to bring greater consistency to the inspection of early years provision across all sectors. All early years settings in the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) sector providing for children from birth to five will be registered from September 2008 on the Ofsted Early Years Register (EYR). Schools providing for children aged three to five will not need to register on the EYR. However, schools will need to register if they provide services for children from birth up to three years of age. The implementation of the EYFS in schools for children aged three to five will be inspected under the existing Ofsted school inspection arrangements. In the PVI sectors the implementation of the EYFS will be inspected under a revised inspection schedule.

Inspection frameworks
From September 2008 there will be a common early years evaluation schedule in all inspection frameworks. This is intended to ensure that early years provision in both schools and early years settings is evaluated in the same way. The schedule will include the key judgements that inspectors will make and what they will take into account when evaluating all types of early years provision. Judgements on the quality of provision will then be graded using the current scale of outstanding, good, satisfactory and inadequate.

In all sectors inspection reports will include the key judgements accompanied by an evaluation of effectiveness of the early years provision. Inspection reports for early years settings will be shorter and will include the key judgements. Inspection reports for maintained and independent schools will include a separate section on the early years provision. Inspections of maintained nursery schools will be reported in the context of providing for children entirely within the Early Years Foundation Stage.

Key issues for consultation

From November 2007 to February 2008 Ofsted ran a consultation on the proposed new inspection framework for the EYFS. As inspection procedures in both the school and the PVI sectors are already well established changes are to be minimised as far as possible. However, there are a number of key issues which will need to be addressed in order to create the ‘level playing field’ which providers in all sectors would like to see. These include:

  • self-evaluation processes
  • provision judged as outstanding
  • notice of inspection
  • proportionate inspections of early years settings.

Self-evaluation processes Self-evaluation systems currently form a part of the inspection process in both the maintained and PVI sectors, but the degree of detail included is very different in the two inspection regimes. Self-evaluation is well established in schools, involving the completion of an online self-evaluation form (SEF) which is regularly updated, and which contributes both to school improvement and to the efficiency of the inspection. From September 2008 Ofsted intends to introduce a similar emphasis on self-evaluation to the inspection of all types of early years settings. Settings will be able to complete and submit the SEF online, providing a working tool which can be regularly updated as part of the setting’s ongoing process of planning, monitoring and evaluation. Inspectors will then use SEFs to plan inspections based on those aspects of the provision which providers feel are working well, and those which require improvement. The quality of the completed SEF itself will give important messages about how well a setting is led and managed. These proposed changes raise important issues for early years providers. Not all providers in the PVI sector may be able to complete a SEF online and training will be necessary to improve setting leaders’ ability to manage the self-evaluation process effectively. Providers in schools will need to consider whether the questions in the existing SEF adequately cover the full range of the learning and development and welfare requirements of the EYFS. In particular, schools will want to consider how  they can evidence that they are meeting all the welfare requirements of the EYFS, including the implementation of the key person system.

Provision judged as outstanding
Currently, inspection reports for schools and PVI settings differ with respect to the reporting of provision judged as outstanding. In schools, recommendations for improvement are included in the inspection report, even when the provision is graded as outstanding. In the PVI sector no recommendations for improvement are attached to reports on outstanding provision. Ofsted propose to remove this distinction and include recommendations for improvement in reports on outstanding provision in all sectors.

Notice of inspection
Schools usually receive two working days’ notice of an impending Ofsted inspection. Daycare providers normally receive no notice. As part of the consultation process, Ofsted requested views from all providers on the practicality of these arrangements.

Proportionate inspections
Under the existing regime, schools which are achieving well are subject to shorter, less frequent inspections. Ofsted is considering whether a similar system should apply to early years settings in the PVI sector. The first inspection after September 2008 would provide the benchmark for quality. Factors such as the quality of the setting’s self-evaluation and the outcome of complaints and concerns would then determine the frequency and intensity of subsequent inspections.

The outcome of the consultation process will be available from Ofsted in the next few weeks when it will be clearer what the new inspection regime for early years settings in all sectors will entail. The quality of training provided for Ofsted inspectors themselves over the summer term will then help to determine the success of the new inspection arrangements.