Ofsted’s new inspection framework in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)



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In the latest Ofsted inspection framework, early years provision is still graded independently. However, comments about the quality of teaching will now be incorporated into the whole school report. So, what else is new for the EYFS? Here, Curriculum Consultant and early years expert, Gill Quantrell, explains the changes and what they could mean for teaching in your school.

An ambitious curriculum for all

The four main Ofsted judgements are the quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development, and leadership and management. Although they will be given equal attention in the overall judgement, a significant focus for inspectors will be the quality of education.

Research has shown that, despite a push to support vulnerable children, the gap between these children and their peers has not narrowed. Having ‘an ambitious curriculum for all’ is a priority for Ofsted to ensure that all children have the opportunity to succeed. It is, therefore, crucial to know how your EYFS curriculum supports all children to make progress, regardless of their background.

Cultural capital

More than ever before, children are starting EYFS with a range of gaps in their skills and knowledge, often in the prime areas of learning. Ofsted wants to see that schools are fully aware of these gaps and have carefully considered what learning opportunities and experiences their curriculum needs to include to support all children to achieve.

Ofsted’s Deputy Director for Early Years Education, Gill Jones, explains that ‘Inspectors will consider how well an early years setting uses the EYFS curriculum to enhance the experience and opportunities available to children so that they gain the essential knowledge that they need to prepare for future success.’

For early years professionals, considering the ‘unique child’ has always been a top priority. Using your knowledge of the children to plan activities and learning opportunities across the EYFS curriculum carefully, and being prepared to share this information, will support your discussions with inspectors.

A balancing act

So, how will the ‘ambitious curriculum’ be delivered in the early years? Ofsted’s definition of early years teaching in the inspection framework has not changed. It makes it clear that ‘teaching should not be taken to imply a ‘top down’ or formal way of working’, explaining that teaching is the adult’s ‘interactions with children during planned and child-initiated play and activities.’

This definition of early years teaching means that play based and child initiated learning are still highly important. However, after Ofsted’s 2017 Bold beginnings report, there is also an emphasis on the teaching of phonics, reading, mathematics and vocabulary. Finding the correct balance between teacher directed tasks and child led play is unique to each school and, in my experience, one of the most challenging aspects of early years practice.

Recent research has shown that play based learning, as well as hybrid teaching, are the most effective ways to ensure progress for children in the early years. Hybrid teaching consists of carefully planned, short, discrete teaching episodes that teach vital skills for children to then explore within their play. In her Ofsted blog, Gill Jones writes that during deep dives into reading, inspectors will be looking to see how ‘direct, focused phonics is taught daily in Reception and Key Stage 1.’ She adds ‘…we do not expect to see phonics in ‘continuous provision’ activities. This is a time to develop children’s talk, play and wider curriculum experiences.’

Inspection reports since the framework’s launch emphasise the teaching of early reading skills. In their November 2019 inspection, Hartshead Junior and Infant School received praise for making ‘the teaching of reading a top priority’ with phonics teaching giving children a ‘strong start’ in Reception. Conversely, when early reading teaching is not having enough impact in a school, this is highlighted as an area to develop.

Implications for Nursery settings

Getting the balance right in Nursery presents even more challenges. Inspectors will be looking to see that there is a difference between provision for three year olds and for children ready to start Reception. Ofsted wants evidence that staff are ‘knowledgeable about the typical development and characteristics of learning for two and three year olds.’

Children in Nursery must have the opportunity to take part in activities that are relevant to their stage of development. Inspectors do not expect to see phonics lessons in pre-Reception settings, so making time to work with children in small groups and using rhymes, songs and stories is a great way to support their learning across the curriculum. Please check out my blog on the Cornerstones website for a more extensive examination of these areas.

Beyond the data

Ofsted makes it clear that although data helps to show attainment and prove what children have learned, they want to ‘get beyond the data quickly’. Inspectors will, therefore, spend a lot more time in the provision with both adults and children. Learning walks are an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge about the children and explain how your curriculum links to their developmental needs. The inspectors will then want to observe that the curriculum is having a positive impact on the children’s progress so they are likely to spend time listening to children read.

Moving forward

One of the key threads running through each part of the early years inspection framework is knowing your children well. Make time to share information on a regular basis and check that your team are confident with how the planned curriculum and learning environment support all children to make progress and achieve their potential.

Action points for EYFS practitioners

  • Be confident that you and your team know the rationale behind the design of your EYFS curriculum and how you intend to meet its aims.
  • Be conscious of how your curriculum supports vulnerable children to narrow the gaps in their learning.
  • Be clear about what is put in place to ensure that all groups of learners leave the EYFS ready for Key Stage 1.
  • If you have a Nursery, outline how the delivery of the curriculum is different for the youngest children (two and three year olds).
  • Ensure that the reading books available for the children link to the phonic stage taught. Make sure that the books are phonically decodable.
  • Ensure that reading sessions focus on both phonics and comprehension.
  • Prioritise vocabulary. Know the gaps in the children’s vocabulary and which children you need to support the most.
  • Have regular times where children can listen to stories both as a class and in small groups.
  • Provide small, quiet, communication friendly places in your environment to support interactions and provide opportunities to listen and respond to children.
  • Be prepared to talk about how you have set up the learning environment and why you have chosen specific activities and resources.
  • Know how your pupil premium funding is spent and the impact it is having.
  • Make time to share information, including planning, so that all staff can explain the organisation of the environment and its impact on learning and progress.
  • Ensure that assessment procedures are useful for you. Do they give you the information you need to support the children with their learning? Remember, onerous assessment procedures could negatively impact upon your Ofsted grading.

Author – Gill Quantrell