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Ofsted’s Evolving Approach to Early Years Inspections: a closer look

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Change can be unsettling, but it can also be the catalyst for positive transformation. In the early years sector, a shift appears to be underway as Ofsted introduces more updates to its Early Years Inspection Handbook, effective from January 19, 2024. These changes have been prompted by the tragedy surrounding Ruth Perry, do they signal a new era in the way inspections are conducted? You can read the summary of changes here

What are the changes?

At the centre of the revisions is a profound emphasis on professionalism, respect, and empathy. Inspectors are now encouraged to engage in professional dialogue with early years leaders and staff members, being mindful of their encounters throughout inspections and this is repeated throughout the handbook, you can read the whole document here . This shift isn’t just about ticking boxes; it’s about inspectors having a deeper understanding of the challenges and successes within each setting. Some of us might wonder if it’s truly achievable. The effectiveness of this approach may depend heavily on the inspectors’ backgrounds and their ability to empathise with the daily challenges faced by early years practitioners and leaders.

One notable change is the focus on child-centred inspections. While inspectors will continue to assess the quality of education and care provided, the spotlight is firmly on children’s experiences within the setting rather than individuals working in the settings. Inspectors will be looking at how individuals are able to work within the setting together and assess the leadership and management of the setting.

Transparency has also been woven through these updates like a thread. Inspectors are encouraged to communicate openly with staff, leaders, and parents. The process begins with the initial notification call, during which inspectors enquire about support needs and concerns, having all of your key information together has always been advised and there are documents that can help with this. This transparency also includes issues being discussed throughout the inspection, we now have an opportunity to rectify small issues on the day that will not impact the overall grading as we are all human, but this hopefully refers too not having an inclination of how your inspection has gone and being served an inadequate grading without any initial concerns discussed or shared, unfortunately, I know managers and owners that have experienced this unexpected blow.  

 

Wellbeing moving forward

Wellbeing is now a central consideration. Inspectors are instructed to be mindful of the wellbeing of staff and leaders throughout the inspection process. If someone appears distressed, adjustments are made, and support is to be offered. This is a significant step towards recognising the pressures faced by those working in the early years sector and ensuring their mental and emotional wellbeing. In 2019 when the early years inspection framework transitioned from the common inspection framework the word wellbeing was introduced. This was following the Mind Matters survey in 2018 the report of the impact of working in the early years sector on practitioners’ mental health and wellbeing, this would have been an ideal time for inspectors from all sectors to receive training so they could measure the wellbeing they were judging and been given more skills to consider the impact of their conduct on the wellbeing of others. The changes to this recent document and the clarification of training for inspectors is evidence that the process is evolving in terms of wellbeing.

The changes also provide clarity on the feedback process. It’s not just about delivering judgments; it’s about engaging in conversations that help providers understand their areas for improvement. This feedback is given sensitively, with opportunities for providers to raise concerns or seek clarification.

Introduction of Paused Inspections

Perhaps one of the most significant changes is the acknowledgment that inspections can be paused in exceptional circumstances. This recognises the real-life challenges that settings may face, such as significant events or concerns about leaders’ welfare. These situations will be assessed on a case by case basis with the Ofsted inspector and the duty office.

Ofsted EIF Inspection 563666

Have inspections actually changed?

These updates to Ofsted’s Early Years Inspection Handbook represent a significant step towards a more compassionate, collaborative, and transparent approach to inspections. They acknowledge the vital role early years settings play in nurturing our children’s future while ensuring that the wellbeing of all involved is a top priority.

Let’s remember that although significant changes have been made the judgement areas and the descriptors have remained the same, so the expectation for the quality of education, leadership and management, behaviour and attitudes and personal development remain high, these changes may give support to those who need it and possibly a more pleasant overall experience but we still need to ensure to be meeting the requirements to get the grading we want. 

Wellbeing for you?

Protecting your wellbeing and taking care of ourselves is just as crucial as nurturing the development of our settings. This is an ongoing journey that involves taking a moment to distinguish between what we can control and what’s beyond our reach. It’s natural to sometimes find ourselves bogged down by worries and start overthinking things, but dwelling on these matters rarely leads us to where we want to be. Instead, shifting our focus to aspects we can influence can do wonders for our wellbeing. This means adjusting how we respond to challenges, setting clear goals and boundaries, and being selective about where we invest our energy. Seeking support when needed is perfectly normal, this approach closely aligns with strategies often used in cognitive behavioural therapy sessions. It’s a path to gaining clarity, moving forward with purpose, and improving our self-esteem, whilst safeguarding our mental wellbeing.

We’ve introduced a new wellbeing section into Preparing for our EIF Inspection Training that can be delivered in your setting. We also have a Wellbeing course and future webinars planned. 

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