During your Ofsted inspection, I can honestly say that this is one of the most important parts to get right. It is telling your settings story and why you do what you do. It is also the key to a great inspection. There are many different things to think about, so we have broken it down into bite-sized chunks and handy tips that both you and your team can work through.
- Practice your learning walk regularly. You want it to feel natural to you and your team. You want it to flow easily and be confident in your delivery. There is nothing worse than getting tongue-tied when you speak to an Inspector. Believe me; I’ve been there many times.
- Encourage the team to do a learning walk too. It is much easier to identify gaps and where you could improve on when you hear it out loud as opposed to in your head.
- Introduce your team leaders and room managers to the Inspector. Hand over some of the responsibility to them. The inspection is a team effort, and this needs to be used as a training tool. You are giving them autonomy to talk about their room and their children. It isn’t your room; it is theirs, and they know it best.
- Encourage your room managers to talk about what the intention of the day is. What do they want to get from today to ensure they are adding impact? What is it they intend the children to learn? So, what you want them to say is this: (It may be a little scripted, but it works, so go with me on this one)
The child in question, Sinah, is 32 months and based in the preschool room.
He loves being outside and adores dinosaurs; he brings in a different one each day.
You want your staff to say:
‘From the last observation, I have noticed that Sinah can count to 5. I now want him to learn how to count to 10 and practice this. He loves dinosaurs, he brings a different one in every day, and we learn about what the dinosaur is. He adores being outside, so I have created an activity that he will love where I have placed a specific number of spots on the different dinosaurs, and he can match with the recognising numbers. He is also at the age when he is struggling with sharing, so I am going to work alongside him to help him see that taking turns in the game is a good idea.’
- Another tip for your learning walk is talking about how you find out about what child knows and can do when they first join. So, this is also true when a child is transitioning from one room to another. How do you gather this information? Where do you get it from? Is it from their parents or carers? How true is this picture of when they arrive with you? How soon do you do a baseline?
I would always recommend encouraging parents to tell you where they think their child is. There are several ways in which you can do this. You could either have the conversation as part of the settling in visits or encourage them to write it down so you have the evidence. I would not just rely on parents/carers for this information as you know as well as I do that as parents, our children are amazing and can do way more than what they can do for other people!
- Think about how you consider children’s experiences and the activities that you offer and how you decide what they learn next. How do you find out about their past experiences – where they come from, etc.? This is a great link to cultural capital, which does not get you stressed when you are asked. Your Inspector will not want to see it on a display board as that has no impact.
- You will need to make the Inspector aware and, ideally on your learning walk, talk about how you support all children with EAL and SEND. How have you recognised that some children have different needs, and what have you done to ensure those next steps are achieved? Now is not the time to say, ‘well, we haven’t heard back from the LA, and we don’t know what to do.’ This is just going to give you a recommendation.
When we mean EAL, we mean bilingual children also. When you get the notification call, you will get asked how many children you have in each category on the day. So this will give you a clue that Inspectors are going to be observing and talking to vulnerable children who need more support to ensure that when they leave your care, they are on an even keel and that they have got the support they need while they are in your care.
- As you are walking around showcasing your setting and shining, think about these questions and add this along the way.
What are you doing to support your teams’ workload?
What are you doing to ensure their well-being is being supported?
What are you doing to support the team emotionally, not physically?
Do you catch up, how do you support them and how often? Is this recorded?
Due to the pandemic, mental well-being is at an all-time low. And I mean low. This is not only for our staff team but for us also. So, what do you all do as a team to support each other?
- The focus on children’s communication and language is of high priority. It always has been, however since the pandemic, development in this area has hit an all-time low. This is not surprising when you consider all the time children have been at home while parents have been juggling working and teaching. Conversations have been missing, and there has been an increase in children accessing devices and the television to keep them entertained. It is our crucial role in the early years to recognise this and put plans in place to help support children in this area of their development. So, during your learning walk, talk about what you are doing to help support children to become confident speakers
- You will need to talk about what you have done over the past two years during the pandemic to support children’s development and their individual needs. How have you coped with working with outside agencies and parents when they have not been able to enter your setting? Working in partnerships with parents or carers and outside agencies is also key, especially since we have been unable to have those face-to-face conversations with those who not only work with children but are closest to them. So, as you are walking around the setting, visiting room to room, talking about the partnerships you have in place and how with other providers, agencies, schools, and how this has positively impacted children’s learning. Focus on the positives and not the side when you can’t get access to them.
- Think about how you have involved the community in your setting. Think about what you did pre-Covid and what you have done during and after. Think about how the pandemic has affected children, particularly the disadvantaged learners in your setting and what you have done to ensure that their needs are being met fully. How did you encourage them to carry on coming to the setting when it was closed to others? How did you use this time wisely to help those children and families in need? Can you prove what you did? Showcase this, remember if you don’t tell the Inspector, no one else will! Think about what you did to support parents with their children’s learning at home. Did you send activity bags home or emails with ideas of tasks and activities? Did you record stories for children? What did you do to work in partnership with parents to ensure children carried on with their learning when they were absent from your setting?
- Finally – and the most important one. What have you identified needs improving, and what plans are in place to ensure this is happening and being actioned? Are all staff on board? How do you ensure they are? What about the views of parents and children? How do you ensure that parents feel they are being listened to?
Take the time now after you have read this and walk through your setting, or even better, get the staff team on board and at your staff meeting ask them what they feel children gain from being in their room. Let them take ownership, so it doesn’t just fall onto your shoulders.