As a sector, Early Years Education and Care can sometimes be the subject of debate about our primary role – are we about education or care? It appears there are different answers to this question depending on who asks it. What do children need and want from us? What do parents tell us they want from us? What does our government expect us to do and when Ofsted come to inspect us what are they looking for? How do we know that we are doing the right thing?
The pandemic has been an interesting and challenging time for nurseries and preschools. The government was aware of the importance of Early Years providers when it directed us to stay open where possible during lockdown, for the children of keyworkers and for vulnerable children. We received several public Ministerial acknowledgements recognising the important role we play as a service sector. Sadly, this rhetoric wasn’t matched with sufficient government funding rates to cover our increase in costs but we’ll take the credit for the amazing ongoing effort of our teams during such a difficult time. We have certainly received many grateful comments from families telling us how much they value us and the difference we have made to their children.
Ofsted inspect all Early Years providers, at least once in a 4 year cycle. The minimum time between inspections is potentially just over 4 years but it could be nearly 8 if inspections occur at the start of one cycle and near the end of the next one. Ofsted themselves have made it clear that we should not be doing anything just because we think it is what they want. They encourage us to have the confidence to do what is right for children. We agree! And we are confident that getting it right for every child is not only the correct thing to do but also meets the standards expected of us by our regulator. To answer my initial question – is our role care or education? I hope you will agree with us that it is both. As parents, you want the reassurance that your child is cared for as an individual, that we know them and that he or she has their needs met. You also want to know that we are supporting them in their development to become the best version of themselves.
How do we know we’re getting it right? The main evidence is our children – are they happy, learning and growing? We also welcome your feedback and what others tell us about our performance, including Ofsted. The Ofsted inspection framework has changed in recent years to be more focused on what happens with the children. Inspectors do not want to see documents recording assessments of children’s achievements. They want to know that we know where each child is in his/her development and that we have high expectations for each one. They observe and they ask our teams.
At the beginning of March, Ofsted phoned to tell us they were coming to inspect our Appleshaw preschool the next day. Even though this was the first ever inspection for this preschool, because our focus is always the children, there was no sleepless night anticipating their arrival. As a team, we were confident to showcase what we do every day.
One of the frustrating parts of an inspection is that we are unable to share the outcome until the report has passed through Ofsted’s internal quality assurance process; we have approved the draft report; and it is finally published. So it is only really now that we get to celebrate the remarkable achievement of an overall ‘Outstanding’ judgement from this inspection.
Here are some of the report hilights –
- Children receive the best possible start to their learning.
- A high priority is made to offer children opportunities that support them in gaining skills that prepare them for their next stages of learning.
- Children show immense confidence, independence and emotional well-being. They are extremely happy and have a high level of respect for their friends and the staff caring for them.
- Children develop highly detailed understanding across all seven areas of learning.
- There is a clear and focused vision about what more needs to be achieved to continually improve.
- Staff provide children with high-quality learning experiences at all times.
- Relationships between staff, children and parents are exceptional.
- The pre-school’s values of ‘joy, care and friendship’ are embedded consistently.
This reads to me like the preschool I would like to send my child to, confident in the quality of care and learning that happens every day. What is clear is that the team were not putting on a show for the inspector, this is a true reflection of what the team does every day. They know every one of their children and support their development. This is a happy place, full of joy and care. It is somewhere where children can make the most of being themselves now whilst acquiring the knowledge, skills and capabilities o prepare them for school and their lives beyond that.
It is an amazing testament to the team that they have achieved this outcome on their first inspection. For us, it is a validation of our values, our processes and the quality of our teaching and learning. For parents, it provides reassurance that their faith in us is justified and for our team, it is a boost to their confidence and a chance for us to say a massive thank you to each of them for what they do every day.