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What does Ofsted's new early years inspection framework mean for providers?

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On 14th May 2019, Ofsted published its updated inspection framework, which will be applicable to all education providers from September 2019. 

The new framework has been in the pipeline for almost two years and was under public consultation from 16th January 2019 until 5th April 2019. Strategic objectives met by this new framework include focusing inspections on the curriculum, reducing workloads for teachers/ leaders and first and foremost, ensuring high quality education.

HM Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, has summarised the intended effect of the forthcoming changes:

“The new framework puts the real substance of education (the curriculum) at the heart of education and supports leaders and teachers. We hope early years, schools and college leaders will no longer feel the need to generate and analyse masses of internal data for inspection. Instead, we want them to spend their time teaching and making a real difference to children’s lives.”

From September 2019, Ofsted will use the same four point grading system (outstanding, good, requires improvement and inadequate) to assess the quality of education, behaviour and attitude and personal development. This is a significant change as the previous framework does not make a distinction when measuring behaviour, welfare and personal development. This change was supported by three quarters of respondents, consisting largely of teachers, governors and parents.

The new key judgments will focus on the education system as a whole and the impact this has on the children as individuals. Specifically, behaviour and attitude will assess the type of learning environment and atmosphere the teachers create for the children, and how any disruptions of an environment conducive to learning are dealt with. Personal development will assess the character building that teachers encourage within the children through the alternative activities the children participate in, for example, outside of the classroom, sports or music to harness their creativity. They will also look at how teachers support and influence the children’s behaviour and values. 

Ofsted will be contrasting the evidence they observe against the expected standards and milestones for children of the same age. Rather than focusing on whether the children are learning, quality of education is set to appraise how well they are being taught and the personal impact this has on the children.

This shift in focus has encouraged Ofsted to redesign and shorten the final reports published in order to ensure that the most important information required by parents is communicated clearly and succinctly. The updated handbook for September 2019 reflects this as it has removed certain aspects of the previous framework to make the new framework more concise and assist with the realignment of Ofsted and service providers’ focus. For example, removing the requirement to view plans for training or teaching, thereby reducing the paperwork to be produced and assessed.

It is intended that the effect of the new framework will allow Ofsted to better recognise and appropriately reward educators for implementing the curriculum to a high standard. As well as placing the curriculum at the heart of education, the effect of these changes puts greater focus on what the children learn about themselves through what they are taught. The effect on providers remains to be seen. Arguably, looking at the standard of education provided and the implementation of the curriculum in a wider sense means that failings will be more recognisable and arguably, the views taken by inspectors will be more subjective. There is likely to be an initial period of uncertainty with inspections, whilst inspectors and providers get used to the new framework and this could increase the likelihood of a down-grading. 

At Stephensons, we have a team of specialist lawyers who provide advice and representation to registered early years, childcare, education and social care providers in relation to compliance, inspections, enforcement action and appeals to the first-tier tribunal (Health, Education and Social Care Chamber). For more information, please contact us now on 01616 966 229.

By Jaime Yarwood, student