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Recent Ofsted Reports: What have Inspectors Focused On? (Part 4)

There has been a pattern emerging of the specific areas that inspectors have focused on from October 2009 to January 2010, and this article is the last in our series, providing you with the information you will need to review and evaluate your EYFS provision. Of course, future inspections may have a change of focus, but this series of articles will give you a base from where you can start to reflect on your provision.

I suggest that you start a self-evaluation exercise by reading through the inspectors' statements, reflecting on your setting and whether or not such judgements would be an accurate reflection of your provision.

The Ofsted reports begin with a brief description of the setting and a small section entitled Overall Effectiveness of the Early Years Provision, which summarises the main findings. The main sections of the report follow:

What Steps Need to be Taken to Improve Provision Further?

This section lists as bullet points, the recommendations that have been made for the setting to improve.

The Effectiveness of Leadership and Management of the Early Years Provision

The following topics were usually covered:

  • Safeguarding, including recruitment of suitably checked staff
  • Risk assessments
  • Partnerships with parents
  • Links with other settings or outside agencies
  • Self-evaluation, including management aspirations for quality provision and capacity for improvement
  • Professional development of staff
  • Inclusion and special educational needs
  • Health and safety policies and procedures

The Quality and Standards of the Early Years Provision

The following topics were usually covered:

  • Children's well-being, behaviour and motivation to learn
  • Settling in procedures and practice
  • Staff knowledge of the EYFS
  • Staff relationships and interactions with the children
  • Descriptions of what the children are engaged in, and how the staff support their learning
  • The learning environment including resources and equipment, indoor and outdoor
  • Healthy lifestyle choices including hygiene practices
  • Inclusion and Diversity

We continue by looking at the theme of Learning and Development. Throughout the reports there was a clear focus on the following:

  • The six areas of learning
  • Self-evaluation

All statements from the reports appear here in italics.



  • provide a broad and balanced outdoor curriculum that includes opportunities for children to explore and investigate including providing flexible resources that can be used in many different ways to facilitate children's play and exploration.
  • further develop the balance of adult led and freely chosen or child initiated activities, delivered through indoor and outdoor play.
  • ensure staff maximise opportunities to challenge and extend children's learning in freely-chosen play activities.
  • extend children's opportunities to problem solve and to be personally independent during snack time.
  • create more opportunities for children to count and solve problems in their play and everyday activities.
  • ensure that opportunities for developing awareness of number are recognised and captured in child-initiated activities as well as in adult-led activities.
  • further develop children's opportunities to take on roles of responsibility in helping others as part of their social development.
  • encourage further the younger children's independence and ability to make choices with particular attention to snack time.
  • review the presentation of some activities, particularly the creative area, to encourage children to express their individuality and ideas.
  • provide materials and opportunities for children to develop their understanding of everyday technology and use information and communication resources to support their learning.
  • to further improve the early years provision the registered person should provide a more structured approach for the learning of letters and sounds initially for the more able children.
  • increase opportunities, during routine activities, for children to enjoy mark making, develop confidence with technology, initiate ideas and increase critical thinking skills through open questioning.
  • extend children's language to enable them to think critically and respond to what they see, hear, smell, touch and feel.


  • review the provision rigorously by focusing more on how well it improves the outcomes for childre.
  • improve the systems for evaluating the nursery to obtain an accurate appraisal of its effectiveness which identifies targets for the future that ensure the individual needs of all children are met.
  • further develop the use of reflective practice in order to bring clarity to the aims and objectives of continuous improvement.
  • further develop the system of self-evaluation in order to gather and respond to the views of parents.
  • implement existing plans for ongoing improvements, for example, increasing the use of technology, improving healthy meal options and reviewing the layout and resources.
  • use self-evaluation to identify areas for improvement and as the basis of ongoing review. Involve staff, parents and carers in the process.
  • develop the self-evaluation process to include consultation of all users to ensure the setting is responsive to their needs.
  • formalise self-assessment, including all staff in discussions.
  • lead and encourage a culture of reflective practice, self-evaluation and informed discussion which includes all staff in order to identify priorities for development and improve outcomes for children.



  • The children's learning journeys have been adapted to ensure all staff and the parents can clearly see the children's next steps.
  • Staff deployment is good, ensuring all children are fully supervised and receive support and encouragement throughout the day.
  • Key workers and room leaders are working hard to ensure that children can easily select and use resources in a variety of ways to support learning under the six areas. They mostly provide good opportunities for choice, increasing independence and participation through the routines of the day.
  • There is emphasis on child-led play in line with the Early Years Foundation Stage. Some adult-led focused activities take place, such as recognising numerals and name cards but these do not effectively build on children's current knowledge and skills, and fully ignite their interest.
  • Although there are many opportunities for children to participate in free play both inside and out, adult led activities are more limited.


  • The manager has a clear vision for the nursery and is continually developing systems and procedures to fully involve the staff team as the setting moves forward.
  • Daily routines, staff performance, records and individual activities are consistently monitored and evaluated to ensure they meet the needs of the children.
  • The manager is skilled at identifying areas for improvement through evaluation and addresses any identified weaknesses as soon as possible.
  • The setting works with early years advisors and utilises various quality assurance documents, including the Ofsted self-evaluation form. This has prompted ongoing improvements to the environment, the systems for recording and sharing children's development and learning, and team working with parents and other childcare providers.
  • The setting has recently updated its system for the appraisal of staff performance and has begun to compile a list of current and future plans for staff training.
  • The manager has begun to use national guidance to reflect on all areas of provision. However, this has not yet included enough of the outcomes for children, areas for development or judgements on how effective the provision is compared with national standards.
  • Self-evaluation systems highlight improvements for the service and plans for the future are imaginative and forward-thinking. The management team has high aspirations for quality and engages in regular cycles of reflective practice, including consulting the staff during regular team meetings and seeking parents' views through questionnaires. It recognises the benefits of a qualified and experienced staff team for promoting the good outcomes and learning for children.
  • Children complete questionnaires at home, and in the setting are consistently involved through discussion about what they would like to do. Parents also complete questionnaires and are invited to comment on the policies that are currently being updated. Identified areas for development are listed on the action plan and are being acted upon.
  • Some improvements have been implemented such as making more resources available for children. However, there are not many well targeted future improvements identified on their self-evaluation form for children's learning and development, which is the main area of weakness.
  • Although a development plan takes into the account some of the findings from other quality checks and identifies a number of targets for the coming year which will have a sufficient impact on children's welfare, evidence is not consistently analysed and there is no meaningful involvement of the staff team in the evaluation process.
  • Managers have consistently high expectations for driving improvement and stimulate the enthusiasm of staff. Throughout the nursery monthly improvement aims are identified by managers and team leaders seeking systematic and continued development in all areas.
  • Morale is very high and belief in the setting's success runs through all levels of staff. Rigorous and extensive monitoring, analyse and self-challenge enable the setting to devise well-targeted plans.
  • They make use of a wide range of methods to monitor the effectiveness of many aspects of their practice. They make full use of their understanding of current research and guidance to introduce new ways to promote the development and learning of children attending.
  • Whilst most aspects of the programme for literacy are well delivered, there is not enough focus on closing the achievement gap between boys and girls.
  • Areas for further development are accurately identified. For example, some staff are trialling an additional system to help them track children's progress towards the early learning goals.
  • The nursery's capacity to make further improvement on an ongoing basis is very strong. Embedding ambition is a key focus of the management to ensure continually good outcomes for all children on roll.
  • Learning experiences are good for the children overall however, self-evaluation tools are not entirely effective in identifying where further improvements could be secured with regard to the learning environment and children's welfare.
  • Suitable systems are in place to identify with staff the areas for improvement and this is supported by monthly action planning. However, monitoring activities are not rigorous, and analysis is sometimes weak.



  • All children in the nursery have fun and enjoy a wide variety of activities and experiences to promote their learning and development is all six areas. Staff are skilled at differentiating the activities to ensure all children gain the most from the experiences.
  • Staff ask open-ended questions to extend the children's learning and encourage the children to think about what they are trying to achieve.
  • Children's interests are followed in the activity planning and staff make time to listen to children's experiences outside the setting, so that all their learning can be built upon and consolidated.
  • These activities were adult-led and there was too little provision to enable the children to choose for themselves what they were to do. Not enough toys, games and other options had been prepared by the staff to provide children with different options that they might wish to choose.
  • A good range of adult led activities are planned for each session to promote certain aspects of the early learning goals, to support certain children's progress or to encourage investigation.
  • Staff are alert to opportunities to 'drop' learning into activities, particularly with regard to language development and social awareness.
  • Because the setting pays good attention to the development of personal skills, language and information and communication technology skills, children develop skills that will be useful to them as they transfer to school.
  • Staff are imaginative and innovative to provide a broad range of play and learning experiences to promote children's all round development. Activities covering all areas of learning are available at each session and are varied to provide ongoing interest and challenge for the children.
  • Staff understand the value of group activities in promoting skills, such as problem solving and working cooperatively. For example, children have fun building dens together and discussing how to improve their projects. These skills contribute towards the children's future economic well-being.
  • The pre-school takes account of individual children's interests and abilities and promotes learning through child-initiated activities, however, adult-led activities are limited decreasing the purpose and focus of children's learning.
  • At particular times, such as large group sessions both indoors and whilst playing outside, staff do not always notice when children require additional support. For example, a member of staff is left alone with a group of children around 'News time'. When a child needs help to put on their shoes they have to wait. Consequently, they lost interest in the group activity.
  • Staff put the emphasis on free play and they join in with play and are actively involved in group games. Good quality resources are deployed effectively to enable children to choose their play.
  • Staff do not always make the most of opportunities to extend individual children's learning through interaction in their freely-chosen play activities.
  • Some opportunities are missed for children to initiate ideas and develop their critical thinking skills through open questioning.
  • Children take initiative, working well independently as well as co-operating with their others. They are active, curious and inquisitive learners.
  • Children are self-motivated and busy.
  • Opportunities to problem solve and to be more personally independent during snack time are sometimes missed which means that children are not consistently challenged in their learning which has an impact on their progress towards the early learning goals.
  • During some of the adult-led group times, some children become inattentive and restless; this is because some of the activities lack challenge for the more able children and do not consistently capture the interest for the different ability children attending.
  • Children show care and concern for each other and are forming good relationships with staff and each other. They are well behaved and respond well to staffs management of their behaviour, enjoying receiving praise and encouragement for their achievements.
  • They make good overall progress in developing the personal qualities that enable them to take responsibility for small tasks and develop skills for the future. For example, children are involved in the daily routine, as they tidy away toys and help to prepare the snack.
  • They are motivated and interested in a broad range of activities and take responsibility for choosing what they do. For example, children access resources freely from the very good variety on offer and use the colourful resources file to identify, through photographs, other activities they would like to participate in.
  • Staff are aware that meeting children's emotional needs is key to their ongoing learning and development. They prepare well and support children to make transitions and change and deal with life events that might cause them disruption and distress.
  • Snacks provided are nutritious and well-balanced. However, they do not always provide opportunities for children to effectively develop independence skills or make choices, for example, drinks are often poured by staff and handed to the children.
  • High emphasis is generally given throughout the session to helping children to become independent and learn skills for the future. They learn to change from indoor to outdoor footwear, put on painting aprons and place their pictures to dry on the rack. This results in children being confident and learning self-care skills.
  • Children have access to mark-making materials in all rooms and practise their emergent writing skills in a variety of ways. For example, they make notes in the home corners, use black boards and white boards and older children are beginning to form clear, recognisable letters on their own work.
  • Staff understanding varies in relation to effective interventions, including the use of key vocabulary and open questions to facilitate and extend children's knowledge and understanding.
  • Throughout their time in the nursery, children are developing their communication and literacy skills. They talk about their ideas, join in role play activities, share books and enjoy mark-making with different media, including sand, paint, pencils and crayons.
  • Older children enjoy listening to stories in small groups and during one to one sessions.
  • Staff consistently talk to the children and ask them open ended question to make them think.
  • Children are able to develop their language skills and understanding about the written word through easy access to books and discussions with staff who interact clearly with the children.
  • Whilst girls make regular visits to the graphics area, boys of preschool age are beginning to show a preference for 'active play' which is not being actively addressed to ensure that they enter school with equal literacy competencies to the girls.
  • Staff talk to children all the time and ask open ended questions to challenge children's thinking, enabling them to express themselves.
  • Children begin to recognise their own names as they self-register, they see lots of labels on storage boxes and everyday objects and displays.
  • Children have free access to writing and mark-making equipment throughout their play. They enjoy listening to stories and follow sequences of pictures and words.
  • A number of children are learning to write their names and to know the sounds of some of the letters. There is not a consistent programme in place to help children learn letters and sounds, that would be of benefit to the older and more able children, in particular, who are at the stage where it would assist their learning and development in this area.
  • Problem solving, numeracy, knowledge and understanding of the world and language and literacy are woven seamlessly into activities by staff who challenge and question children so that they learn new things and make progress in all six areas of learning.
  • Children develop their problem solving skills, working out if they can fit through the crawling space on the climbing frame or what happens when they mix red and white paint together.
  • Children learn to use numbers and to count as they sing counting rhymes and to solve problems in every day situations. For example, a child says the boys tidied more toys away. A practitioner took the opportunity to help them find out why. They counted the boys, then the girls and established there are more boys than girls so it is likely that the boys did tidy more away.
  • Frequent outings are organised throughout the year to places of interest, such as to a local pet shop, the park and library. This complements various topics and contributes to their community links and the local environment.
  • Children also learn about the wider world through addressing and acknowledging other festivities and celebrations, such as black history month and Diwali.
  • Staff allow children to explore and investigate the area, including the mud that has developed as they play on the grass.
  • Children learn about the world around them through a balanced selection of resources that reflect diversity and disabilities, for example, children are observed playing with dolls in a small world wheelchair.
  • Children are developing a real sense of sustaining the environment as they participate in planting a replacement hedge and they maintain concentration whist digging the soil vigorously. They talk with the adult about the difficulty in using small spade and their critical thinking skills are competently promoted due to questioning about how to manage the problem.
  • Planning and photographic evidence shows how the setting celebrates festivals and special events. They ensure children learn to value and respect each others similarities and differences, and develop an understanding of our wider world.
  • The children are involved in recycling items to help develop their understanding of sustaining the earth's resources.
  • Children use electronic toys and have access to the computer, using the mouse and keyboard with ease and confidence.
  • Children's physical development is being promoted well. They free flow in and out of the garden where they have access to wheeled toys, climbing equipment and use balls to develop their hand to eye coordination.
  • Children practise climbing through tunnels and use the adventure climbing frame as they learn to move over, under and around the resources.
  • Creative art and craft work displayed around the nursery provides full evidence of how children explore and experiment using a range of colours and materials for collages, paper mache and various paint work, such as finger and print painting.

How are the judgements on the EYFS areas of learning presented?

In most reports, the EYFS areas of learning are described within a fairly lengthy paragraph and usually all six areas were commented upon giving one or two examples of good practice. Occasionally a lengthier description of an exemplary area of practice was described such as our extract here:

Adult-led activities are well balanced and successfully used to introduce new language and encourage children to share what they think or know. For example, following a recent holiday to Egypt, a member of staff shared a collection of her souvenirs with a group of the older children. She encouraged them to discuss and name the shape of the pyramid, asked them what they thought might be inside the sarcophagus. She jokingly challenged the children that they would not be able to pronounce the word sarcophagus and later on asked them again if they could recall what it was called. She used the discussion about the quartz stone to discuss its colour and invited their thoughts on whether it was light or heavy. During activities such as these staff help children to take turns, listen to and show respect to their peers. Consequently, the positive role models demonstrated by the staff are mirrored by the children throughout the setting.

The following two extracts are examples of how the six areas of learning are often referred to:

Extract 1

There is a good balance of adult led and child initiated activities. Children have fun and express themselves creatively as they make wonderful fire-work pictures with lots of glue and glitter, they freely paint beautiful pictures and play imaginatively with small world resources. Children are clearly developing skills for the future as staff help children to problem solve and reason as they ask questions which help children to think. For example, in the workshop area children consider what they need to add to the wonderful models they are making. Children become engrossed in their play, they concentrate well for long periods of time. They use mathematical language correctly as they count how many pigs they have in the farm yard and talk about the big and small ones. Children are confident speakers, they use language well to convey their needs and express their ideas to each other and the adults. They thoroughly enjoy story time as staff make stories come alive by modulating their voices and encouraging children to participate in the story. Children are becoming aware that print carries meaning as they handle books carefully retelling the story to themselves or each other and using their fingers to follow the print. Children are developing good pencil control and dexterity as they practice writing skills, thread beads on to laces, model with dough and build intricately with small construction sets. Children learn about the world in which they live and the changing seasons as they enjoy trips out into the local area to collect leaves and conkers as part of a theme. Their interest in the natural world is fostered as they observe growth and life cycles as they grow hyacinth bulbs in water and observe the root systems. Children learn to respect and have a positive view of others as they access resources which reflect constructive images of our diverse society.

Extract 2

Children count during number rhymes and use number language during everyday routines. They learn to group, classify and sequence with matching games and number dominoes. Children become aware of the changes in themselves as they draw a self portrait from looking in the mirror. They feel textures and see differences in the play foods and the real foods they use in role-play. Children learn about their local community, as they invite visitors in to talk about different roles and are involved in cultural festivals, special occasions and food tasting. They learn about seasons, the weather, the days of the week and time through daily routines, circle time and news time. Children develop their creative and imaginative skills as they access the paint easel throughout the day; and mix colours of paint. They create their own Christmas collages with a variety of different mediums and materials. Children respond to what they feel, smell and hear with shaving foam, music, sand, play dough and the treasure baskets. They enjoy the exploratory area; feeling different pieces of material, discovering sounds of the musical instruments and using mirrors to identify their own features.

Helen Edwards
Helen was a primary school teacher before setting up and running her own nursery for ten years. She worked as a Foundation Stage advisor for East Sussex local authority before achieving EYPS with the first cohort of candidates at the University of Brighton. She was an EYPS assessor for two providers in the South East, a reflective practice tutor at the University of Brighton and an Ofsted inspector. She is a Director of the Foundation Stage Forum and a member of the Tapestry Education Group.

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