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11 Ways Nurseries Can Get Ready for Ofsted

Don’t let silly mistakes or misconceptions wreck your hard work when the inspector comes to call…

  • 11 Ways Nurseries Can Get Ready for Ofsted

During my time as an Ofsted inspector for early years I had the privilege of visiting some fantastic settings.

The dedicated, hardworking practitioners were a credit to their profession – however, it was often apparent how stressed and anxious they felt when I knocked at the door, and how they were sometimes disappointed with the judgement they received when it was obvious they were trying their hardest to provide the best practice for children in their care.

So, what is the best way to prepare for Ofsted, to avoid the pitfalls that may lead to an unfavourable outcome? Often, the practice is good or very good or even outstanding, but it may be let down by some silly mistakes… 

Be prepared

Preparation is the key and, by this, I mean that leaders must start by reviewing the previous inspection. But please, not the day after!

Give yourself and your staff time to celebrate success. True leadership is inspiring and motivates the workforce, keeping morale high. Even if the judgement is disappointing, it can change for the next inspection.

There is a commonly believed myth that a setting cannot achieve a judgement more than one grade above its previous inspection outcome, and can never get an ‘outstanding’ grade at its first inspection.

This isn’t the case – a setting can improve by more than one grade and receive a judgement of outstanding at its first inspection.

The main point to clarify is that inspectors do not want you to fail. They enter an early years setting wanting to see best practice.

Your aim, therefore, should be to present a setting confidently sharing its vision and celebrating its achievements.

Don’t believe the gossip

It is essential that you dispel any rumours about what an Ofsted inspector might allow or frown upon. Ofsted have published a document that it hopes will offer some reassurance.

As it points out, “Inspections are not designed to catch staff off guard, nor do inspectors prepare a list of trick questions to ask providers.”

I welcomed a cup of tea during many of my visits (and received many very well-made cups of tea!). However, if a setting has a ‘no hot drinks’ policy, inspectors will not expect the rules to be broken on their account (Myth 6).

The most essential factor is to ensure that the Statutory requirements are adhered to and the changes to the EYFS have been addressed, that all children are learning and developing, and their individual needs are met, and they are cared for and kept safe.

If this is your practice daily, there should be no reason for a poor judgement.

Follow your procedures

Often, when Ofsted arrives, anxiety levels are high, but whatever you do, don’t forget the basics.

It’s vital for providers to follow the same procedure they would if any other visitor came to the setting.

So, politely ask the inspector to show you their ID, sign in (and out) and turn off their mobile phone. Show them the fire procedures.

Sometimes practitioners make the mistake of thinking that the inspector should know all this. Well, the inspector does know all this but wants to see if you, the practitioner, follow your own procedures.

Your inspection begins when the inspector knocks at that door.

Stay up to date

All setting should be aware of changes to the EYFS, and it’s imperative that practitioners keep up to date and update their training.

For example, the rules regarding first aid-trained practitioners state that all newly qualified practitioners at Level 2 and above must gain a full or emergency paediatric first aid qualification within three months to count in the setting ratios. (3.25)

Meanwhile, paragraph 1.5 includes a link to the Chief Medical Officer’s guidance on physical activity for children. Although this is only guidance, it is necessary that settings highlight what they are doing to support children’s physical development.

Policies are often reviewed annually; however, changes to law may take place which will need policies updating with immediate effect. This is especially important for safeguarding issues.

Prevent duty guidance and how to safeguard children means that safeguarding policies may need to be reviewed and updated as new issues arise. Leaders must ensure that staff are updated on their knowledge and understanding of safeguarding to keep children safe.

Training should be continuous and ongoing, and establish that all staff should have a clear understanding of prevent and concerns that may arise from it, such as FGM, exploitation and extremism.

One of the main aims when supporting children’s personal development and welfare is is to help children “understand how to keep themselves safe from relevant risks such as abuse, sexual exploitation and extremism, including when using the internet and social media”.

This means all staff. New staff, part-time staff and and volunteers need to be just as up to date with safeguarding and what to do if they have a concern as experienced staff and management.

Know your strengths

Childcare providers do not need to produce any self-evaluation documentation, but managers and staff should be able to discuss the setting with the inspector.

Inspectors will ask staff about the quality of care and activities they provide, and how well the setting is meeting the learning needs of all children.

A self-evaluation form or reflection of a setting that includes the parent’s voice as well as the voice of the child shows how effectively parents and children are supported and included in the setting.

Although a self-evaluation form is not needed, it is good practice to know the strengths and areas for improvement of the setting.

How does the setting ensure that the voice of the child and the voice of parents are listened to? This needs to be evidenced as an inspector will only be able to talk to a few parents and children.

An inspector will talk to parents and children during their visit and, if parents are picked by practitioners, an inspector will usually ask those who have not been picked, so ensure all parents know who the key person of their child is, how to complain to Ofsted if they are unhappy and how they access their child’s learning.

Inspectors want to know the thoughts of as many parents and children as possible.

Address previous recommendations

It might sound obvious, but you must ensure that any previous recommendations or required actions from Ofsted have been fully addressed, and that you are able to provide evidence of this for the inspector.

It may have been a good few years since your last inspection took place and if that is the case it is likely that you will have some new members of staff, so make sure that everyone is kept up to date with your setting’s plans, aims and initiatives, so that nothing gets forgotten about on the day.

Have a responsible pedagogy

Responsible pedagogy is evident when practitioners have a good understanding about how children develop and because of that they can accurately assess the child when they demonstrate their learning and development.

A responsible pedagogy enables each child to demonstrate learning in the fullest sense.

Knowing the language of the EYFS changes makes it evident that, as a setting, you have discussed and reflected upon the best way for your setting to observe, assess, record and share achievements and progress with parents.

Be honest

If your setting has received a complaint it, and how it was dealt with, needs to be recorded and shared with the inspector – remember that they will already know about any complaints.

Don’t paint an inaccurate picture of your practice for the inspector’s benefit.

Take outdoor play – children need to be outdoors and have access to fresh air daily, but if settings only do this on the day of an inspection, children usually give the game away.

A setting that ensures all children have appropriate clothing and footwear for outdoors demonstrates that the children in their care access outdoor play every day.

(In my experience, often a childminder that has her business in a flat on the second floor will give her children more opportunities for outdoor play and exercise than a setting with wonderful gardens and outside space!)

Don’t forget the details

It is easy to overlook small details, but if you do this may well count against you. You should ensure you record evidence of the following to show the inspector:

  • Fire drill practices (dates, times, and how many children were present).
  • Visitors, evidenced in your signing-in book (make sure you have seen and noted the DBS and identity checks of assessors, agency staff or any visitor that will be in the room where children are playing).
  • Evidence of trips, outings or celebrations children have partaken in. Every setting could list many events, but having evidence of this is crucial.
  • Ensure the Ofsted complaints number is available to all parents. This means, not only displaying the number, but ensuring all parents know where they can find the number and the procedure for complaints.

Childminders also need a record of their car insurance details (if they use their car for business purposes).

Focus on children’s interests

Mud kitchens are a delight to see when you observe children enjoying playing with them, but what an inspector does not want to see is a mud kitchen that is not being used.

Often, when settings read other inspections, they mistakenly view the positive comments and examples written by the inspector as the best example of good practice and rush out to recreate the newest trend.

The children in their setting may not have shown any interest in mud kitchens and so do not play in the beautifully designed area.

Instead, be confident in exhibiting how well you know your children by creating an enabling environment around their needs and interests. This includes celebrating diversity.

A setting needs to know its community, celebrating the festivals and events that matter to them. This is what makes a setting unique.

It is good to celebrate wider community events too, but settings sometimes fall into the trap of marking major festivals that have little impact on families and forget to celebrate the cultures and religions that makes up their setting that will have a much greater impact.

And finally…

Be confident! Once you have received your judgement, take time to celebrate the positive comments from the inspector and then reflect on the recommendations or actions that you need to take. As you do so, keep the following points in mind:

  • Do not apportion blame – come together as a staff team and discuss what you need to do to address the inspector’s recommendations or actions.
  • Remember, ‘good’ is good – don’t dismiss your judgement, even if it’s not quite what you were hoping for. Of course everyone would like to be ‘outstanding’, but a positive leader needs to inspire and motivate their staff to help them improve, not deflate them.

The majority of settings that I inspected during my time at Ofsted were ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and that is something that early years providers all over the country need to be proud of.


Julia Gouldsboro is an author, early years lecturer and education consultant supporting and advising settings and practitioners on achieving best practice.

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