This is the second of two articles about one nursery's experience of an Ofsted inspection with the new framework. You can read part one here, which explains the preparations being made by the team in their daily practice and discussions, leading up to the moment the phone call came at 12.20 on a Wednesday lunchtime early in the Spring Term. This is where we rejoin Rebecca and her team!
Pre inspection afternoon
The management team took time to complete a full ‘walk through’ the nursery – front to back, inside and outside. We had a close eye on presentation and took the opportunity to clear away/tidy extraneous items. First impressions count and we knew that we would be quizzed on everything we had ‘out’ in the nursery, so we made sure everything was in the right place and ready to go.
We checked that all our statutory documents were securely displayed (Ofsted cert, insurance docs). We didn’t want to risk a breach of requirements due to poor Sellotape!
All staff were able to review their key children’s records making sure they had important details to hand. This was mostly an exercise in reassurance, giving staff the opportunity to have ‘on paper’ what they generally keep in their head in case their mind went blank when they were nervous. As manager, I downloaded a few of the tracking screens I use on a daily basis so that I would have assessment data at my fingertips if I needed it, guarding myself against a ‘Wi-Fi’ issue on the day. Of particular importance were the summative screens for this term as I use these in my cohort tracking and so have data and explanations going back 5 terms.
Staff also agreed with each other what the groupings for the inspection day would be and what activities/resources they wanted (so that there was a broad range of things for the inspector to see that reflected our ‘usual’ provision and also so that staff knew they would have the equipment they needed).
We made sure that our Tapestry details were up to date and reflected our knowledge of children’s age/stage at that particular time (rather than within a longer assessment period, as this would be covered in our cohort tracking).
Before staff went home (and people didn’t stay after their expected finish time) we made sure everyone was clear about what they were doing, unqualified staff felt confident and were ‘buddied up’ and all staff were working in areas where they felt happy and relaxed. We also asked that our ‘work experience’ student didn’t come in – not because she wasn’t valued but because she was being closely supported by senior staff and they felt they had a lot to think about and would not be able to give her the focus they would like to on the day.
Statutory policies were collected together and staff quickly read them through to be sure they felt confident talking about them. I made a quick Q+A sheet for all staff, reminding them of key policy headlines. Staff took the ‘crib sheet’ home if they wanted to.
The management team reread the setting’s development plan and the management action plan – we knew we would be talking about this at length so we wanted to be sure we felt confident.
Finally, we used Tapestry to let parents know about the inspection (this is a requirement) and we took the opportunity to ask them to email in anything they wanted to tell the inspector about our setting. I sent parents the section of the inspection handbook that detailed the judgement on partnerships with parents. It was vital that parents knew this was important and that they knew what the questions from the inspector would be. This is the Tapestry message I posted:
We have just had a phone call informing us of an Ofsted inspection tomorrow, we are obliged to tell you that it is taking place.
In addition to informing you, we are asked to give you the opportunity to give feedback to the inspector about the nursery. If you have points you would like to share with the inspector they will be used to "contribute to judgements about how well the provision works in partnership with parents to support children’s learning and development, and the promotion of their well-being".
This means you might want to comment on how you settled your child when they started, how you talk to staff about your child, how you know how your child is getting on at nursery (e.g at drop offs, pick up, through Tapestry etc).
If you would like to speak to the inspector she will be here from 8am, or you can leave a note for her marked for her attention. Alternatively you can put a comment on Tapestry or drop us an email.
The consequence of this was that we received 10-15 long emails from parents which were to be given to the inspector. On the day, these proved to be massively important for two reasons: firstly, it boosted our confidence to know that our parents fully support us and appreciate everything we do for the children; and secondly, they showed the inspector from the start that this was an area of our provision that was extremely strong.
The day of…
Having not had a huge amount of sleep, the team gathered early. The inspector had said she would be with us at around 8am. By 8.30 she had arrived and ‘we were very much off!’ We started with a brief discussion of how the day would map out and we were told that if there were things we wanted the inspector to see then she should be told and she would move to see them. We identified a few things that we felt we wanted her to observe, trying to select staff at different stages of their training, a range of age groups and a range of activities. The arrangements we had planned the previous day were helpful as staff knew what they were doing and were mentally prepared. Once this program had been explained I went to each room and let staff know approximately when the inspector would be with them – it was important that they didn’t feel they had to be ‘on parade’ all day. I also told them about going to get the inspector if they wanted to show something off. I reminded everyone too that questions from the inspector are not a Mastermind quiz: they could help each other out, fetch policies and explain, show documents that they find useful – be ‘a team’. Afterwards, staff told me that this really helped.
While I did this the inspector was watching children arrive and introducing herself to staff. It helped that the inspector was smiley and personable and worked hard to put everyone at their ease.
The next task was to show the inspector round. Under the ‘old’ framework this ‘tour’ was more to do with familiarising the inspector with the setting. Under the new framework it is a ‘learning walk’ and an opportunity to show, explain and justify absolutely every aspect of the provision. Our setting is quite big so we did it twice – the first time was more of a ‘whizz round’ explaining how and why the rooms and staff are organised as they are. During this walk we discussed how we manage transitions into nursery, between groups and to school. We discussed how staff are deployed in each room and how different qualification levels work together. We discussed free-play, free-flow and focused activity times. We discussed mealtimes and the provision of self-care spaces.
You’ll notice that I used the word ‘discussed’ a lot here. It was very much that – throughout the inspection we discussed as professionals the decisions we had made, why we had made them and how they had impacted on the children in our care. We talked about how we tried things and changed things and reflected on our provision. It was seen as a strength (in our subsequent feedback) that we were always evolving, reviewing, adapting, watching and evaluating to be sure that we are meeting the children’s needs. As a manager it was exhausting but exhilarating to be able to explain our philosophies and demonstrate how and why we do things.
Following the first quick walk through we had a more intense tour of each room looking closely at how staff were working with the children, what equipment they were using, how resources were stored, what was available for children to freely choose and use. Some challenging questions about CoEL came in here as we discussed the continuous provision resources we have out.
During this second walk through I made sure that I explained how were had interpreted Cultural Capital in our setting, by showing a display of all our community visits with children the inspector could see and talk with in the setting (so, not something we had done once, years ago!). I made sure that I brought up the 3 i’s and explained how we, as a team, had worked together to reach a point of confidence in all staff. I showed her our development plan and our staff meeting notes to demonstrate the ongoing nature of the work. I raised them myself to show the inspector that my knowledge is current, relevant and working for the benefit of the children. I found out afterwards that all the things I raised with her as having been part of a collaborate process with the team were ‘checked out’ with individual staff of differing qualification levels to make sure what I had said was correct. We spent a long time in our gardens discussing the developments we had made since our last inspection. The development of the outside area was a recommendation from last time. I explained the training that staff had had and the inspector told me that she had seen the videos I had posted on our nursery Facebook page. I was pleased that the inspector had done her research before coming to us.
During this time we were interrupted by staff wanting to show the inspector their activities – one wanted to show off a new yoga initiative she was introducing across the nursery. Another wanted to show their ‘Risk Rangers’ work they were doing in the pre-school room where we are helping children to manage their own risk by being able to confidently identify what might go wrong. Incidentally, both of these activities were ‘name-checked’ in the final report, much to the delight of the associated staff!
One important part of the inspection is the ‘Joint Observation’. This observation, involving the inspector and the setting manager, can be of any member of staff doing any activity. It is an opportunity for the inspector to evaluate the effectiveness of the manager. Looking to see how well the manager can identify 'outstanding', 'good' or practice that 'requires improvement', the inspector will discuss afterwards how practice could be improved, staff developed, children better ‘planned for’ etc. We had already decided to observe an outside planting and growing activity. Following the activity we discussed the staff member’s use of open and closed questions, their responses to children’s ongoing learning and her ability to plan ‘in the moment’ as particular learning points evolved.
Following this busy morning I met with the inspector for a ‘what have we seen so far?’ conversation. This was a crucial part of the inspection for me. It really gave me a chance to know exactly what the inspector was thinking and what we needed to be sure to demonstrate and discuss in the afternoon. I left this meeting with a list of things I wanted to remind the staff about so that they could be sure to show them during the afternoon. Among the things I asked the staff to make sure they were showing were how we support children’s problem solving skills and critical thinking. Knowing that the inspector felt she hadn’t seen enough evidence to make a judgement in this area was really helpful – it gave us the opportunity to ‘tweak’ our afternoon activities to ensure that we were giving the inspector a picture of everything we do. The meeting also let me know which children the inspector had been ‘tracking’ and so gave me time to organise time away from their group for the respective key people and also gave me time to sort their records ready for discussion later.
The inspector then took a short lunch break. Despite us offering her a space in the nursery to use, she went and sat in her car. This gave everyone a chance to prepare themselves for the afternoon.
At the busy end of lunch / going home / arrival time the inspector positioned herself in the centre of the nursery and watched as we did what we always do in terms of parent handovers and welcoming children in. As in a ‘normal’ nursery day I was answering the door, and a grandparent I didn’t recognise came to collect his grandchild. As per our policy I didn’t let him in and went to find the child’s key person to confirm their identity. All this under the inspector’s nose. When we did let the grandparent in he was a bit cross that we’d not given him immediate access, but we followed our policy and explained to him why and that the safeguarding of the children was paramount. He went home a bit grumbly. It wasn’t quite the smooth ‘change over’ that I would have hoped for and I knew it would be discussed at the manager’s meeting.
For the next couple of hours the inspector spent her time in the classrooms talking to staff and children. Reports from all staff were very similar and the following themes were discussed:
· How staff planned for their key children and decided what to do next (the 3 i’s question!)
· Staff knowledge and understanding of safeguarding – both signs, symptoms, nursery policy, reporting arrangements and Prevent
· Staff wellbeing – workload, management support
· Behaviour management – how our policy worked in practice and how it was adapted for children of different ages
· Reflective practice, CPD and support for further qualifications
The inspector talked to children about their play and asked them about being at our nursery: the ‘what’s it like to be a child in this place?’ question.
The inspector then asked me and my co-manager to walk through the nursery together again and she asked questions about how resources were stored and presented to children, how routines were managed and how staff were deployed. Again, this was a discussion and felt like an opportunity to explain our philosophy.
Mid afternoon was the ‘Leadership and management meeting’. My co-manager and I sat with the inspector and discussed the full extent of our provision. We made sure we had all our documents to hand and our Tapestry pages ready to discuss. In the meeting we went back over many of the points we had already touched upon during the day and we were able to use our paperwork to ‘back up’ and evidence what we had been saying. We were asked to discuss any safeguarding referrals and the inspector reviewed our documents. We spoke at length about our cohort tracking – how we did it, why we did it in the way we did and how we used it to plan interventions and monitor progression. When we were talking about this I used my Tapestry tracking screens to show how observations linked to assessments, which linked to further observations or Reflections. The inspector was impressed by the way in which we ‘joined up’ the information about each child, whether that was from parents at starting, baseline assessments, snapshot observations or longer more focused observations. She asked in-depth questions about the SEND support we have in place and asked detailed questions about additional funding and how it is used. She asked about complaints we had received and any notifications we had made to Ofsted since our last inspection. We had had a complaint made about us and the inspector looked closely at how we had managed it. It had been a complaint about an accident and the inspector looked at the notes from the related meetings, the risk assessments we had completed after the event and the policy and procedure changes that had been put into place as a consequence. She was happy that we had managed the complaint appropriately. My co-manager is also our SENCo and DSL and she was ‘quizzed’ about referrals she had made and how we work with outside agencies. The situation with the grandparent at lunchtime was discussed at length and the inspector listened as we explained about our safeguarding policy and our duty of care. She asked us if we thought our staff team would feel similarly confident to challenge a grandparent on the doorstep and we said that we were sure they would – she agreed with us and told us that actually she had already asked them!
At the end of the meeting we were asked if there was anything else we felt we needed to tell the inspector or show her – we asked for a few minutes just to chat together and go through the inspection handbook to make sure we felt we had covered everything. The inspector was happy to give us this time.
And then feedback …
“I’m delighted to tell you that you have maintained your outstanding judgement” I didn’t really hear anything after that!
The inspector was on site for 9 hours ….
Reflecting on the experience
This was my fifth early years inspection as an owner/manager and it was by far the most challenging. It was the 'discussion' nature of the inspection that was so challenging – and that was definitely a good thing. Throughout the inspection we had the opportunity to share, explain, justify and evidence everything we do. Staff felt fully involved and were very much part of the process rather than just being ’on display’. That we involve staff in all decisions, cascade training and involve the whole team in reflective practice made the process very much easier. All the staff understand and contribute to the philosophy of our setting and this was a shared inspection during which everyone was keen to show off what we do.
We have already got an action plan to take us through to the next inspection … onwards and upwards!
Edited by Jules