London OBC – Discussing Big Issues That Matter

June 12th 2024

The London OBC was held on the 24th of May and attended by Caroline Dulon (London Regional Director), Linda du Preez and Christine Davies (both Early Years Senior Officers at Ofsted), and Sam Sleeman-Boss(Early Education Policy and Practice Lead).  The meeting focused on changes that have been introduced, amendments to the complaint’s procedures, a summary of good practice in 10 steps and a wider conversation about inspection wellbeing and the power to pause the inspection if you feel overwhelmed.  

Whilst we had a lively audience; it was very ‘light’ on representation from the 5,000 nurseries in London. I know people are busy and we had a lot of apologies, but it took a lot of effort to get this level of representation with our regulator and to maintain it.  For those new to the sector and before we had the OBC, we had NO representation with our regulator. So please don’t take it for granted! Two late afternoons per year to get this level of engagement is beyond important 

On Friday, June 8, 2024, the Labour Party made a significant statement regarding changes to Ofsted, outlining a plan to reform the current school inspection system. Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson announced that Labour would replace the existing Ofsted grading system, which currently uses terms like ‘outstanding’ or ‘inadequate’, with a new ‘report card’ system. This new approach aims to provide more comprehensive information about a school’s performance, covering various aspects rather than a single-word judgement. The goal is to offer a clearer picture for parents and to reduce the high-stakes pressure on staff and they are ken that the inspections are led by experts.  There was no mention of Early Years specifically, but as they are keen for us to work in schools it may prove more relevant in the long term. 

There may be more changes so please make the effort to show that we are interested and engaged and together as a sector. That’s the only way we can keep an open door with Ofsted especially in times of change.  

New changes to note include: 

Ofsted’s complaints consultation
In summer 2023, Ofsted consulted on proposals for changes to our complaints process. The outcome published in November 2023 and new guidance about submitting complaints published in April 2024.  The flow chart simplifies the process and main details are available on the Ofsted website. I have just tested this on an inspection we had in March.  We disagreed with the recommendations as being unreasonable and inaccurate. We also queried the competence of the inspector. We had three of our complaints upheld and three were not upheld.

I am sharing a summary of the complaint response with you as you might find it helpful. You will notice that Ofsted now provide a much more thoughtful response, not the cursory response we had in the past. They took time to review the outcome. Whilst they did not change the grade descriptor, they explained the reasoning more carefully, and we understood their rationale. Overall, it was a much more respectful response.

It’s a bit long, even though I have shortened it, but if I remove everything, you will miss the context. If it is too much to read, just read the underlined bits and jump to the end to the quality research top 10. 

“In considering our concerns, Ofsted included the evidence recorded at the time of the inspection, the final inspection report and the draft report review process. The early years inspection handbook has also been considered.  

  1. We challenged the recommendation relating to online safety because we were surprised on the basis there was no indication about this being an issue during the inspection and that, when questioned, what was meant said the inspector  was for the setting to work out. We explained that the manager informed the inspector that we had advised parents, in line with ‘Internet Matters’ guidance about how to protect their children, limit use of computers at home. We also explained that there are safety locks on our tablets and that we keep time on tablets to a bare minimum in line with the World Health Organisation guidance. The review of the evidence showed that the inspector spoke with our Room Leader about the opportunities children have to engage with technology, asked about how staff teach children to keep themselves safe when they are online, including when at home. The inspector spoke with our manager during the leadership and management meeting regarding children’s engagement with technology. They concluded that there was no evidence to support a weakness in opportunities for children to begin to understand how to stay safe online. I find that the evidence does not support the recommendation raised and therefore, it has been removed from the report.
  2.  We challenged the recommendation relating to providing support for older children’s acquisition of complex vocabulary, and state that it came out of the blue. You are of the view that the inspector does not know enough about how children learn new words and explain why you consider this to be the case. A review of the evidence shows that the inspector gathered a wide range of evidence around the intent, implementation and impact of the curriculum for communication and language. This evidence was used to report positively on many aspects of the curriculum. The evidence also indicates some inconsistencies in the implementation of the curriculum and the impact of this on children’s learning. However, the wording regarding this weakness in the report and subsequent recommendation does not clearly explain the inspection findings. Therefore, some amendments have been made to both the recommendation and the report. Please accept my apologies for this inaccuracy. 

    The recommendation will be changed from: ‘Provide consistent support for older children’s acquisition of complex vocabulary so that they always demonstrate the understanding they are capable of.’ 
    To: ‘Create more consistency in the implementation of the curriculum for communication and language so that staff check and build on older children’s understanding of the complex vocabulary they hear.’ This aspect of your complaint is upheld.

  3. You challenge the judgement awarded and state that a sensible outcome would be an increase in the judgement from good to outstanding. You state that as the inspector described parent partnerships and special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) provision as exceptional and talked about outstanding leadership, it is reasonable to assume that the setting would be judged as outstanding. In order to complete a comprehensive investigation of the concerns raised as part of our complaint, a full review was completed of the evidence gathered during the inspection. Following this review and looking specifically at the evidence relating to this aspect of your complaint, it has been identified that some of the report text is not a true reflection of the evidence gathered. The evidence shows that the inspector identified an emerging concern around an incident involving the care arrangements of a child attending with SEND. Following up on this area of inspection focus, the inspector spoke with your manager, the child’s key person and the child’s parent. The evidence shows that although the incident was resolved, there were differing and inconsistent views and understanding of the child’s needs between your manager, the key person and the child’s parent. This indicates a gap in partnership working with parents. Therefore, it is not an accurate reflection of the inspection findings to report on this area of practice as ‘excellent.’ This further impacts on some of the reporting of the practice to support children with SEND, for the same reason. Although there is evidence of very good practice within some aspects of partnership working with parents and provision for SEND, which is reflected in the report findings, we must ensure our reports consider all evidence collected during the inspection and that all parents and children are represented. As such, it has been necessary to make amendments to the report to more accurately reflect the evidence gathered during the inspection. 

    Will be changed to: ‘Overall, there is good support in place for children with SEND. The knowledgeable special educational needs coordinator (SENCo) knows children well. She ensures that children with additional needs have learning plans with clearly identified targets. The SENCo works tirelessly to ensure that additional funding is used effectively. As a result, children receive effective one-to-one support from adults who know them well. This helps to ensure that children make the best progress possible.’ ‘In the main, staff work well with parents. Leaders offer moral and practical support for sensitive family situations. Parents come into the nursery and staff provide comprehensive handover information. Some of the parents spoken to describe the nursery as having a ‘family feel’. They feel that staff teach their children essential skills for starting school.’ 

    With regard to your suggestion of changing the judgement to outstanding; following the changes set out above, the report is now more reflective of the inspection findings and better explains the judgements awarded.  While there is evidence of particularly strong practice in some aspects of the provision, this is not consistent across all areas and does not meet each criterion for the good and outstanding 5 judgement. I find that the grades awarded of good are supported by the evidence. This aspect of your complaint is not upheld

    You raise concerns that the inspector’s feedback during the inspection does not match the report. A review of the evidence shows that while the inspector did share many of her inspection findings with you, this lacked detail regarding the areas to improve leading to the recommendations, the impact on children as well as the judgements awarded. As a result, it is clear the report is not fully reflective of the feedback that was provided on the day of the inspection. This is not in line with the inspection handbook. Please accept my apologies for this omission. I will ensure this is passed to the inspector’s line manager to inform professional development discussions. This aspect of your complaint is upheld. 

    Your concerns that the inspector’s knowledge was not up to date with practices in early years, how children learn and ‘hot topics’ such as sequential learning. You state that, as referenced in your response to the draft report, that the inspector did not understand the concept of transient art and asked the manager to explain it. You state that the inspector’s comment about vocabulary makes you question how up to date the inspector is with her pedagogical knowledge. You also report that when a staff member was playing a cello for the children, the inspector stated she did not like classical music. You consider that because the inspector does not like classical music, her view was biased. 

    Ofsted inspectors receive a wide range of training to ensure they are up to date with changes in policy and educational developments. However, it is important to point out that the focus of early years inspections, specifically when making a judgement on the quality of education, is on the effectiveness and impact of the curriculum. It is for leaders and practitioners to decide how to implement the curriculum so that children make progress, and therefore, the choice of teaching methods is a decision for providers. For this reason, it is not practical or necessary for inspectors to have working knowledge of every pedagogical concept. Rather, inspectors will work with leaders and managers to understand how the curriculum as a whole is structured and seek evidence that the quality of education criteria are met. I am unable to make a comment on any conversations that took place around the inspector’s view of classical music. However, a review of the evidence shows that the inspector placed value on children’s exposure to classical music and their experiences with musical instruments. This was also included in the report where the inspector writes positively about the good opportunities’ children must develop an appreciation of classical music sounds. I find that that inspector explored the pedagogical choices appropriately and carried out the inspection in line with the inspection handbook, as is required. This aspect of your complaint is not upheld

    You state that there was limited conversation with children and staff, with most permanent members of the team not being spoken to at all. You state this left staff feeling demotivated and sad that they did not have opportunity to share their knowledge, skills and passion. You also state that the inspector made offhand comments such as ‘I’d like to see more of the routine, as what I am seeing is very piecemeal.’ You state that this surprised and shocked the manager who was conducting a learning walk to highlight what the nursery does well. You state that the manager did not want the inspector to miss the opportunity to see these in action, as having to repeat the process later would impact on children’s usual routines. I am sorry that the inspection left some of your staff feeling demotivated following not having an opportunity to speak to the inspector. I also acknowledge your concerns over the inspector’s comments regarding her observations of the routine. Inspectors must ensure that inspections are carried out in line with the inspection handbook and that all inspection activities are completed. This requires mindful planning and careful use of the inspector’s time to enable a wide view of the provision and to help inspectors understand what it is like for a child to attend the setting. As a result, it is not always possible for inspectors to speak to every member of staff or to observe every activity available. Rather, inspector’s use their time to follow their areas of inspection focus and decide where they need to gather evidence. The evidence also shows that prior to feedback, the inspector provided your nursery manager and area manager with the opportunity to share anything else they wished the inspector to see or consider. This aspect of your complaint is not upheld.

    You state that Ofsted has failed to provide fairness and transparency in addressing your response to the draft report. You state that the process of an inspector responding to a provider’s response to the draft report is not satisfactory or conducive to producing a fair and transparent outcome. You are of the view that under 2% of appeals being overturned in the early years sector is a biproduct of inspector’s ‘marking one’s own homework’. 

    For inspections that took place before or on  April 2024, it is part of our standard procedures that at the draft report review stage, the inspector who conducted the inspection must consider all post-inspection comments and concerns. It is standard practice for the inspector to respond to these comments; they were involved in the inspection, so are the most suitable individual to resolve matters of concern quickly, appropriately and informally. If it is not possible to resolve concerns during the inspection or through submitting comments in response to the draft report, the next stage is to lodge a formal complaint, which you have done. 
    Having reviewed the final report cover letter, I am satisfied that the inspector correctly followed Ofsted’s guidance in addressing the challenges raised in your response to the draft report. The letter clearly confirmed that all comments had been considered and made necessary amendments to the report. She also explained why the setting was not awarded an outstanding judgement and that your comments had been shared with her line manager as part of our normal process of improving inspection and inspector practice. To clarify, the draft report review stage is not an opportunity for the inspector to respond to each individual point raised. Therefore, the inspector’s response met Ofsted’s requirements. This aspect of your complaint is not upheld. 

    You state that members of staff reported that the inspector was ‘frightening,that she would sit down at an activity without saying anything and never smiled. You state that the inspector was not caring and did not take all reasonable steps to prevent anxiety and minimise stress. You report that there were no conversations about the well-being of the manager and staff, and no indication of additional support from the inspector should it have been needed. You state that there were no attempts to put staff at ease and the only interactions were of a cold exterior and standoffish. You describe the inspector’s approach as ‘old school’ as she watched from a distance and operated with a regulatory tone. You state that the inspector looked to find failure rather than celebrating the setting’s great practice. You state that Ofsted needs to understand the impact such inspections have on a fragile sector with low staff morale. In addition, you share an example to support this and consider that the inspector did not meet the expectation around building an appropriate rapport with children in Ofsted’s code of conduct. You raise concerns that the inspector asked for feedback on her conduct before informing you of the judgement. You state that the power dynamic meant that you did not want to challenge her conduct and did not feel able to do so. You are of the view that recent training on well-being has not impacted on this inspector. 

    I am sorry to learn of your experience of this inspection. I would like to reassure you that we are committed to doing all we can to minimise stress and anxiety when we inspect. We have already made strides to do this, including, as you mention, training for all inspectors on recognising and responding to visible signs of anxiety and what they should do if a pause is needed. Sir Martyn Oliver, the new Chief Inspector, is also carrying out a Big Listen, marking a determination to hear from parents and professionals about strengths and weaknesses of Ofsted’s current approach to inspection and regulation. We aim to continue our work in supporting inspectors to minimise stress and anxiety. Ofsted’s approach to handling any concerns about conduct is to refer them to the individual’s line manager to take forward as part of our internal performance management arrangements. I can confirm that your concerns have been passed on in this way. As such, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the outcome of this process. 
    I regret that aspects of the inspection gave you cause for concern, and I hope that this response has served to explain matters. I would like to reassure you that your concerns have been considered thoroughly that they have been noted and that any appropriate action has been taken. Please note that your inspection report will now be published on our website five working days from today. refer to Ofsted’s complaints procedure, which is available on the. Ofsted takes complaints very seriously and endeavours to handle concerns objectively, fairly and efficiently. We would appreciate you taking time to provide feedback on how you feel we handled your concerns. We will use your feedback to improve our complaints handling process and improve the quality of our review. 

Finally, we finished with a summary of learning from the Best Start reports and a promise that babies will feature in the next one.  The comment from the new Chief Inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver  sets the scene with his quote below and I have put the ten top learning points into the table below.  

 

Top 10 key takeaway points from Ofsted research for you to reflect on 
1  High-quality early education benefits all children. 

26,400+ Children Cheering Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock | Happy children cheering

It particularly benefits the most vulnerable and is too important to be left to chance. 
2  Don’t make tasks too complicated. 

Confused Child Vector Art, Icons, and Graphics for Free Download

Children, like all of us, can only hold a few things in their mind at any one time. When there is too much going on around them, children’s working memories are quickly overloaded.  

When children’s working memory is overwhelmed, they can suffer a calamitous loss of all the information they were trying to work with. 

3  Choosing the best pedagogical approach. 

Kids Play" Images – Browse 3,281 Stock Photos, Vectors, and Video | Adobe Stock

Play-based learning and direct instruction are both important for young children.  

Research suggests that the most effective settings combine both approaches. 

4  Activities alone are not enough. 

Free Vector | Group of children learning

If we want all children to learn important knowledge, then merely setting out what they might ‘experience’ is not adequate. This will not make the best use of the available time. 
5  Interacting with children is key. 

31,575 Preschool Teacher Stock Photos - Free & Royalty-Free Stock Photos from Dreamstime

Finding out what children know and can do, is more useful than standing back and doing observations.  

Ongoing assessment can take place while practitioners are playing with children and teaching them new things. 

6  High-quality interactions with adults are vital. 

Child Speak Vector Art, Icons, and Graphics for Free Download

These include caring interactions, and interactions that promote children’s thinking.  

Interactions might include talking about past events, developing narratives, wondering and questioning and thinking out loud together. 

7  Developing executive function is crucial for all children. 

Kids focus Vectors & Illustrations for Free Download | Freepik

Three core areas that children need to develop are: 

  ▪focusing attention on what matters and screening out anything that is not relevant.  

  ▪holding information in mind to work on it  

  ▪being able to focus on a goal and work out when it is necessary to change approaches to achieve that goal. 

8  Sequencing the curriculum. 

Teacher Thinking Clip Art

Practitioners need to think carefully about the knowledge that needs teaching and the order in which to teach it. 
9  Knowledge is sticky. 

Spider Web PNG, Spider Web Transparent Background - FreeIconsPNG

Children learn new things by making links with things they already know.  

Children integrate new concepts into their existing store of knowledge by making connections. Their brains connect one thing to the next, a bit like a spider’s web. 

10  Consider curriculum content carefully. 

EYFS Curriculum 2024: From policy to outstanding practice - Blossom Educational

Curriculum matters – knowing what to teach and when to teach it is crucial. The curriculum defines the knowledge and experiences that children will receive beyond their home environment. 

 

Locked Out

How Early Years staff can help children cope with imprisonment of a loved one In my life many of my connections have been made through serendipity.  In this case…