Tuesday, 2 October 2012

EYFS lesson observation with Ofsted judgement criteria

This is an old post which I am leaving online - since it was written the Ofsted framework has changed considerably. There's a more up to date post here on my blog and I'd be delighted if you took a look at my new book, Successful Early Years Ofsted Inspections which is a detailed look at early years inspections under the Common Inspection Framework. If you're still interested in the history read on...

With the new Ofsted framework in place, I have been updating lots of forms and systems in the school where I work, and one of the trickiest has been how to record observations of teaching and learning in nursery. Our current version is available here - you are welcome to download it and use it, or adapt it. Please share your views and any feedback by commenting on this post.

There are a number of dilemmas here. First of all, typical approaches to "lesson observation" rarely feel appropriate to the EYFS. In my previous role as an advisory teacher, I was often finding that headteachers or senior leaders expected to come into nursery and see a "lesson being taught" - in other words, a group of children under the direct instruction of the nursery teacher. This, of course, represents only a small aspect of appropriate pedagogy in the EYFS.

Secondly, Ofsted require schools to have a clear view of the quality of teaching and learning, to be able to answer a question like "what proportion of teaching do you judge to be good?" But within a school, this can easily lead to high-pressure situations, with teachers feeling they have failed if they are observed as anything less than "good" (especially now that what used to be "satisfactory" has been retooled as "needs improvement").

Dr Ben Levin, formerly Deputy Minister for Education
for the Province of Ontario in Canada
I daresay we all want consistently good teaching, or better, for children in the EYFS. But this fixation on grading is not likely to bring about a culture of shared professional endeavour, or encourage teachers to experiment and take risks. I agree with Ben Levin's argument that it is important to create a "learning culture" amongst teachers, and all educators, in schools, in which there is trust and encouragement to share ideas and practice.

When an individual teacher is struggling with something, successful schools provide an environment where it is OK to be honest about what you find difficult, and an environment where colleagues will share their practice. Where there is undue emphasis on the grading of teaching, this type of collaboration may be discouraged, and the ethic of professionalism may be overwhelmed by an individualist desire to be the best, or at least better than the person next to you.

So, whilst it is necessary for observations to result in grading, this should be a subsidiary aim - the main aim of the headteacher or other senior leader must, surely, be to observe colleagues in order to help them to become better teachers. This requires a culture of shared endeavour, not a high stakes, pass/fail culture.

The question of how to judge what the previous EYFS usefully called the "enabling environment" is also difficult. I think that this is where the ECERS-R and ECERS-E scales are useful, as they give some very precise descriptions of quality resourcing and organisation for learning.

Lastly, some sections of this proforma draw on the new EYFS "Characteristics of Effective Learning". [opens as a PDF; see pages 4 to 7]. If teaching is good, then the logic of the EYFS suggests that some or many of these characteristics will be observable.

There are plenty of other interesting approaches to this problem, most notably from Alistair Bryce-Clegg and from Lucky 2212 on the TES Teaching Resources. Both of these require updating to be consistent with the Ofsted 2012 framework for school inspection.


  1. I like the Laevers observation and analysis took, SICS, which as I know you know (!) focuses on examining children's wellbeing and involvement. Learning through Landscapes did a 2 year project with Professor Laevers' team from Leuven Uni and developed observation tools that worked wonderfully well outdoors. this document: http://www.ltl.org.uk/pdf/additional-resources-observation1323431792.pdf gives an overview of LTL's approach to observing outdoor play, and there are other materials available on their website.

    I admit I haven't fully explored the new Ofsted framework yet (on the to-do list, siiiigh) but I think that 'observation' is not as simple as it might at first appear and one of the key outcomes LTL found with the Laevers team was that practitioners needed to practice! Multiple observations, at different times, in different places but of the same set of key children, appeared to help practitioners get to the core of what outdoor play was doing for these children.

    1. Thanks for this. I hadn't come across these materials from LTL. They look very interesting.

  2. "I've just discovered Teaching Stories, used in an action research project in New Zealand. Teachers evaluate their own practice by asking five questions from the perspective of the child, each question linked to a strand of Te Whariki and a learning disposition. In simplified form: Do you know me? Can I trust you? Do you let me fly? Do you hear me? Is this place fair for us? Get the answers to these questions right and we'll be doing our children a great service."

  3. Hi - I agree, teaching stories are really interesting and the NZ curriculum is powerful. I'm not sure that I agree that in addressing those five questions, we can be sure we are doing the best for our children - there must be a need for something more than teachers having reflective questions? But without needing the whole apparatus of Ofsted...

  4. Thanks for this blog post. It's clear and helpful. I would agree that Alastair Bryce-Clegg does a fine job in teasing apart aspects of early years practice and explaining parts of quality provision which sometimes create confusion for practitioners.

    Without doubt, the need to communicate and collaborate with others within a setting or team is so important. I have also found that going online (or visiting centres with excellent practice) and finding out about practice in other places and having professional discussions also very helpful as a form of moderation and learning about what excellence looks like.

    As with all things, my step-father has a saying, "It's very good for the mediocre" Without knowing what constitutes quality, we are in danger of living with mediocre practice whilst thinking it's very good.

  5. Hi Juliet - thanks for your comment. Visiting (real and online) are really useful, though my note of caution is the danger of a sort of tourism, shuffling around a place without being sure of what to look at, or how to look at it.