Ofsted has announced a phased return to early years inspections in 2021, as a result of the continuing challenges facing the industry, caused by COVID-19.

The phased return means that no graded inspections will be carried out before the summer term.

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said: “The usual level of scrutiny within the education and care system has been absent since last March, so it’s important that it returns next year as we all hope for a greater level of normality. But we understand the pressure that everyone in education and social care is working under and we want to return to our usual work in a measured, sensitive and practical way.

“We will not re-introduce graded inspections to schools and colleges before April. During the spring term, we will use supportive monitoring inspections to help those that most need it, focused on how well pupils and students are learning. Routine inspections in early years and social care are also planned for the summer term, but regulatory work will continue in the interim.

“Our role is to offer the greatest assurance we can to parents and the public about the quality of education and care arrangements for children and learners. These plans will help us support the providers who are facing the greatest challenges during these difficult times. They will ensure that inspection is fair, safe and valuable, while remaining true to our core purpose and principles.”

Over the coming months, Ofsted will discuss the approach to routine inspection in 2021 with sector representatives and test it through a series of pilot visits, where necessary.

The key points for early years settings are:

  • That a programme of assurance inspections will be carried out from the beginning of the spring term. These inspections will confirm whether or not a provider is meeting the EYFS requirements.
  • Assurance inspections will be proportionate and risk-based. Providers will be prioritised based on the length of time since their last inspection, and any other relevant information.
  • Routine graded inspections will resume in the summer term of 2021.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, NDNA’s Chief Executive, said: “It’s the right decision by Ofsted not to resume full inspection activity in January as planned, but delay that until summer.

“These new assurance inspections with their designations of “met” or “not met” are very different to the routine inspections that the sector is used to. Ofsted need to give providers clear guidance so they have time to fully prepare, they should also be clear with parents about what these categories mean.

“The early years sector continues to deal with a challenging set of circumstances managing positive cases and self-isolation of staff and children. Nurseries have been looking very different as managers have had to prioritise infection control measures while endeavouring to create engaging learning environments for their children.

“Ofsted must be clear with both childcare providers and parents what these interim inspection arrangements mean and make sure that newer settings are not disadvantaged by not having the opportunity to be judged good or outstanding in the near future.

“Before Ofsted resumes full inspections in the summer, they must consult with the sector on how the whole inspection process will be reviewed in the light of the impact of Covid, which will remain for many months to come.

“We welcome the fact that Ofsted has taken on board feedback from NDNA and the sector. They should continue to consult with providers about their plans for next year.”

The full Ofsted press release can be found here.

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