Sunday, 10 January 2016

Ofsted inspection: thoughts about EYFS lesson and session observations

Ofsted's new Common Inspection Framework marks highly significant changes to their approach to the early years. This brief post isn't the place to run down all of them in detail, but here is a quick list of those which strike me as particularly significant:

  • There is now a consistent approach to the inspection of early years provision, whether in school or in a PVI setting - though of course there is a very different inspection workforce. Ofsted has taken its whole school inspectorate "in house", whilst early years settings will continue to be inspected by private companies under contract to Ofsted. But all inspectors are now looking for the same things.
  • There is a very strong and consistent emphasis, across sectors, on "teaching" - which is going to feel new and uncomfortable to many, especially practitioners working with babies. We need to keep thinking about how we articulate "teaching" in the early years so that it supports appropriate experiences for the children and babies we work with. Ofsted's own discussion of play and teaching is a good starting point for that work.
  • The focus on outcomes, progress, and accurate assessment has many implications - perhaps the most significant is that there will have to be a lot more work between schools and settings. This is especially so at the point of transition. The era of a school or setting building up castle walls and pulling up the drawbridge is, surely, over.
  • Ofsted no longer promote any particular style of teaching - so we really can take on, once and for all, those people who say that they do things "because that's what Ofsted want". Instead, the important thing is for us to demonstrate how our chosen approach makes a positive difference to the children we are working with - is our work effective, or not, is the key question. However, this is slightly more complex in the EYFS than in the rest of the educational world because (uniquely) the EYFS framework sets out approaches to care, teaching and assessment which are legal requirements. It doesn't matter whether you agree with learning through play, or children learning outdoors, or organising care through a key person system - you are legally required to follow those approaches for every child from birth up to the end of the reception year.
  • The expectations around safeguarding are very high, and these are the expected standards for everyone - not standards to aspire to.
  • Early years practitioners are expected to be engaged in Continuous Professional Development (CPD) which is making a difference to the quality of their work, and the experience of the children - and expected to be able to talk confidently about all of that to the inspector during the inspection.
It is also very interesting to see that Ofsted will no longer grade the quality of teaching in individual sessions or lessons. Instead, their judgement is about the impact over time - bringing together what is observed during the inspection, with the evidence from assessment information, transition records, etc, to inform their view. 

In the spirit of sharing practice and building dialogue, the document we use at Sheringham Nursery School for observing sessions/lessons is freely available here on Google Drive. If you decide to use or adapt it, please feedback your thoughts. 

Amongst other aims, we are trying to develop a format which is about professional dialogue. We want to recognise effective practice, and continually to improve our work. So there is no "grade" box, but there is space to record dialogue and to reflect on ways forward. We do not think that "high stakes" observations are likely to be effective in developing practice - constant grading and monitoring probably just puts staff under a lot of pressure. Applying a grade to someone's teaching will not, in itself, do anything to develop the quality of what they are doing.

Instead, we want dialogue, professional learning, and to identify areas where more support and CPD might be needed. We think that staff observing practice should not model themselves on Ofsted inspectors - we should be fulfilling our own leadership functions. We should be supporting and encouraging improvements in practice, ensuring that our ethos and values are in action, and making sure that the children experience high quality care and great teaching. Every child is entitled to the opportunity to develop the characteristics of their learning.

If you're interested to see how my views and Ofsted's approach have changed over time, have a look at this previous post.