Tuesday afternoon, the call comes: ‘Hello it’s Ofsted’. Panic rises from my toes to my head - ‘Ofsted! Oh my God it’s Ofsted!’ She gives her name and asks me for my identification information. I answer robotically, still saying my mantra in my head: ‘Ofsted! Oh my God it’s Ofsted.’ She asks me what days I’m working and the times. She informs me that she will be visiting for my inspection within the next 5 days. We end the conversation, I put the phone down, and my mantra changes to ‘within the next 5 days, within the next five days!’
‘Action stations!’ I shout to the team. ‘Ofsted are coming within the next five days!’
We check our paperwork hoping and praying it’s in order. Thankfully, my fellow childminder is hot on all the admin, so I can breathe a sigh of relief.
I go home that evening with Culture Capital, curriculum, Prevent and safeguarding on repeat in my head. I eat, sleep and dream policies.
Wednesday comes and goes... no Ofsted. I feel disappointed. I am ready, like a matador about to face his first bullfight!
Thursday: it’s Christmas dinner and party day! I arrive at work in full elf costume and the staff and children are buzzing. We have games and activities all planned and a full Christmas dinner ready to cook.
I answer the door, my hand is sweaty, and I suddenly feel really sick.
‘Hello, I’m from Ofsted’, she smiles.
‘May I see your ID?’ I ask, trying hard to stop my voice and my hand from shaking.
She shows me her ID on her lanyard, and I welcome her in. I introduce myself and my fellow co-workers.
I ask her to sign in and then I ask how she wants the day to go. I had already put all the paperwork in the lounge and all other documents I thought would be of interest. We had asked the parents to send us feedback and I had printed off all their e-mails. The responses flooded in and the parents had written some lovely things about the setting.
The Inspector says she will go through the main paperwork first then she will just observe while we get on with the day, as well as doing a joint observation with our apprentice. I explain that our apprentice is just 17, very nervous and quite shy. The Inspector says she will take this on board when she speaks with her.
I offer her a tea or coffee and then we go into the lounge to look through all the paperwork. She asks to see everyone’s DBS numbers which I very confidently give to her, only to find out that we have made a typing error on a bank staff surname: my confidence now plummets. She needs to see proof. The actual DBS isn’t held in the setting and I can’t get hold of the person in question. I feel desperate, but she tells me not to worry and we can come back to that later. I frantically ask my fellow childminder to sort it out. She then looks at everyone’s qualifications and certificates for Paediatric first aid, Designated Safeguarding Lead, SENCO training, and Prevent. She also looks through certificates for FGM and the other courses I’ve completed over the last 3 years. She looks at our safeguarding policy, whistle blowing policy and medication records and she seems happy with all this paperwork. Phew, so far so good.
We then do a Learning Walk. This is a new part of the inspection and is a general look round the house and garden explaining what we do and why we do it. I show her the playroom, talk her through our planning, how we observe the children and how we encourage home learning with the parents’ input. I talk about our curriculum and how we have adopted on-the-spot planning which allows us to be child led. I tell her about our online learning journeys on Tapestry and how this helps to facilitate parental engagement and outside agency involvement, such as the nurseries who we do shared care with. I told her that parents can also add observations onto Tapestry which we can then put into their learning journals. I find it easy and much more relaxed to walk and talk answering questions as I go. We talk together about individual children and I suddenly feel myself talking to her like a prospective parent. She asks about Cultural Capital and what my understanding of it is. I mention the ‘50 things to do before you are 5’ pack, explaining we make sure every child has the same opportunities regardless of their background. She seems happy with our discussion and smiles at all the children’s artwork we have displayed on our board. We talk about the garden and how we encourage the children to go out every day. She asks me questions and I answer confidently. It’s a two-way conversation that flows much more easily than sitting down answering questions as I’ve had to do previously.
The Inspector then asks me to carry on with my daily routine and says if she needs me, she will call me and explains that she will now just observe. At first I feel myself panicking again, but within a few moments I am engrossed in play with the children and almost forget she’s there. We have painting out and the children are enjoying painting a rocket we had made the previous week. We talk about all sorts of things as we play: space, counting and colours. We even manage to get some colour mixing into the play when one child tells another not to get the colours mixed up! Snack time is fast approaching, so I decide to show her how we do our snack. I talk about encouraging the children’s independence by allowing them to cut, spread and pour. She asks me questions as I go along, asking me to explain the learning intentions of all that we do. At this point I feel relaxed enough to enjoy showing off a little and encourage the children to show the inspector how independent they are. They don’t let me down and do everything perfectly. I am enjoying myself now.
After snack has finished and we have cleared away, she asks to do the joint observation. It feels strange sitting with an Ofsted Inspector watching my apprentice leading an activity. My apprentice is at the sensory table which has oranges, pinecones, fir tree, Christmas tree, cinnamon sticks and metal hoops on it. She has a small group of children with her. I am desperate to help as I can sense how out of her depth and awkward the apprentice is feeling. I explain to the inspector how I felt the activity went and how I would improve it. We have a lovely chat and again she makes me feel relaxed. She speaks to our apprentice and, keeping to her word, is very patient and understanding knowing that she is very nervous. This makes me feel good and I am sure it helps my apprentice relax too.
I then continue with the usual routines while the Inspector observes. Then she says she will go back into the lounge so she can have a look at the remaining paperwork and the bank staff DBS which we have finally sorted and given to her.
She then asks me if I can join her in the lounge for feedback. I follow her in, and we sit down together. She goes through each point explaining what she has observed: she is very positive and makes me feel proud of what we do at the setting and how well we know all our children and their families. She only has one improvement, which is during snack to interact more with the babies so that their learning opportunities are supported effectively. We discuss this together and I explain that we always interact with the babies on a normal daily basis but as I was so keen for her to see how independent the other children were, the babies’ snack was delayed slightly. She listens and takes this on board. She finishes by giving me my grading, which is ‘Good’.
She says she has enjoyed her visit and I tell her that I am very happy with how it has gone. I explain that for the first time in all my encounters with Ofsted I have felt relaxed and found her easy to talk to, rather than being scared to talk for fear of saying things wrong, as I have found many other Ofsted Inspectors have made me feel in the past. She thanks me for my feedback.
The Inspector then says she will write the report, and have it sent to me via Email within the next four days. She says I can tell the staff my grading, but to wait for it to come through officially before letting parents know. She says goodbye to all the staff and all the children. I ask her to sign out before she leaves.
The inspection had taken 3 hours and I can honestly say it was the most relaxed inspection I have had. I did it, and next time I won’t be so nervous.
In my view, a positive improvement to the early years inspection framework!