Why do we work in the early years sector?
There are many possible answers to that question, but I expect there’s a common denominator. We all enjoy seeing young children being curious and learning new things about the world as they develop. That’s why we’ve chosen to devote our professional lives to helping them.
We all want young children to develop and progress from day to day, gaining new knowledge and understanding about the world around them, so that they are ready to be confident learners when they start school.
An important part of having the confidence to learn is that young children must be and feel safe. Of course, a young child’s sense of risk is very different from an adult’s. So that means early years leaders have to do all they can to support children’s growing understanding of how to keep themselves safe and healthy.
It goes without saying that the safety of their child is paramount for any parent; and providing a safe environment is at the very core of all early years provision.
But we should be measured about potential risks to that safety. To take one example, in the last few months I’ve heard of a myth arising in the sector about socket covers.
Late last year a childminder said she had heard that Ofsted early years inspectors wanted socket covers in their homes - to protect little fingers.
This is not true. The statutory framework for the early years foundation stage (EYFS) says you must take steps to assess and manage risk. But how you do that is up to you. So Ofsted does not have a preferred way for you to manage any dangers associated with electrical sockets and equipment.
In the last few years, my Ofsted colleagues and I have worked hard to stress that we are not wedded to particular ways of doing things. We focus on outcomes for children, not the means by which those outcomes are achieved.
By all means use socket covers if you wish. However, from my point of view, it’s up to childminders and early years leaders and managers to reduce these kinds of risks in the way they believe is most appropriate.
I understand how myths like this can circulate. But if you hear of any other dubious rules that we’re alleged to insist upon, then please let me know. Or, better yet, take the opportunity to raise it at one of the many Ofsted Big Conversation meetings taking place across England.
In her first year as HM Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman has emphasised that we expect early years leaders and managers to take risk seriously and be alert to potential risks when supervising young children.
However, we do not expect children’s opportunities for physical exercise to be cut in the name of health and safety. Of course, young children, who are full of energy anyway, need to climb, swing and balance to develop their muscles and motor skills. So it is vitally important they have time to be physically active, get out of breath and to develop their understanding of how to manage risks and challenges for themselves.
Early years provision varies greatly. And one of the joys of working as an early years inspector is the difference in settings where we can spend our working day.
That could mean a morning or afternoon at a childminder’s home, an independent village hall with several young children, or one of the bigger nurseries, owned by a chain, caring for more than 100 young children.
Whatever the nature of the setting, inspectors always refer to the criteria set out by the Department for Education’s EYFS. These are the government standards for early years providers.
In every case, inspectors expect the premises to be suitable for young children. When it comes to safety, early years leaders and managers have to take reasonable steps to make sure that children in their care are safe.
The phrase "reasonable steps" is an important one. We do not expect early years leaders and managers to scope out every possible scenario, but they must have identified the main risks within the setting and taken steps to manage them. They must also ensure their staff are ‘on alert’ to risks while they’re working with children, because being aware of any potential risk means staff can be vigilant and intervene before accidents happen.
The EYFS sets out that early years leaders and managers must also assess risk before taking young children on an outing. But that risk assessment does not have to be produced in writing, unless the provider finds it helpful to do so.
Ofsted sets out what we will inspect, and how we will do that, through our framework.
Inspectors do not want to see paperwork about risk for its own sake. As our early years inspection myths document states, each inspection is unique. Inspectors only ask to see evidence that is appropriate to the individual nursery or pre-school
I do hope this is reassuring. In all situations, I urge you to trust your own professional judgement and do what’s right for young children, not what others say is right for Ofsted.
Rebecca, The Foundation Stage Forum Education Advisor and Website Content Editor, has added the following documents and links which may be of use
Information regarding the use of plug socket covers (an FSF thread and resources)
Edited by Rebecca