The so-called ‘freedom day’ of June 21st may have recently been postponed until July 19th, but one thing that nurseries and pre-schools should be aware of is that there are no more postponements of graded Ofsted inspections, which restarted again on May 4th 2021. During the various stages of lockdown, Ofsted had visited a few settings but the grading system was suspended in favour of ‘assurance inspections’ which were designed to find out the experiences of children attending the setting, and to provide assurance that providers were meeting the registration requirements of either the Early Years Register or the Childcare Register, and settings were only judged on whether they met the requirements or not.
Since May 4th however, Ofsted have been carrying out full, graded inspections on-site after undertaking preliminary field work to ensure that visits can be carried out safely and with agreed safety measures in place. These include Ofsted Inspectors taking a lateral flow test before arriving and ensuring that interactions between Inspectors, practitioners and parents are socially distanced where possible. In some instances, videocalls are deemed acceptable for speaking to parents/carers or leaders who are unable to attend the setting.
Since Ofsted are now behind with their usual schedule of inspections, they are prioritising providers who:
- were judged less than good at their last inspection (including those who received an interim visit in the autumn term)
- registered recently but have not been inspected
- have an overdue first inspection
- were not inspected in the last inspection cycle due to the pause in routine inspections
Urgent inspections will be carried out if there are significant concerns about a provider but if your setting has cases of COVID-19 at the time of the inspection, you will be able to request a deferral.
During lockdown, Ofsted changed from their usual 4-year cycle, to what they call an “inspection window” – providers have a 6-year window for inspections, but even this depends on when their last inspection was, the grading at that time, and what Ofsted know about the setting.
Having piloted some changes to the 2019 education inspection framework (EIF), they have published an updated handbook which they urge all settings to read. The changes take into account some of the difficulties and challenges faced due to coronavirus. However, the amendments are only ‘minor’ and the document remains substantially unchanged for most things. The 2 main changes are:
- inspectors will agree safety protocols to ensure the inspection is completed in a COVID-secure way; and
- inspection remit handbooks have been updated to reflect the COVID-19 context that settings are operating in, and the disruption the pandemic has caused to them
You can read the main changes here. Settings will again receive a judgement of either ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’, but Ofsted says there will be “flexibility in recognition of current contexts”.
The initial call
In the initial phone call, Inspectors will now be asking questions about the specific impact of the pandemic on the setting, and how the provision has responded. In April 2020, the government temporarily modified and disapplied some elements of the EYFS especially under the “learning and development” heading, to account for the fact that some settings were closed, and children may not have been attending. Staff qualifications and ratios were adjusted, as was the progress check at age 2, and the validity of paediatric first aid certifications. Given that, the initial conversation will now cover questions on these areas, and Ofsted have said that it may take longer or be split into 2 different calls as mutually agreed. At this stage, the Inspectors will also agree any specific safety protocols with the provider.
The handbook explicitly states that “Inspectors will always seek to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on providers and will take this into account when reaching final inspection judgements.” Therefore, it is in your interests to have already gathered as much evidence as you can about the way the pandemic has impacted your business. You might want to think about the effect on:
- staffing levels
- opening hours
- attendance rates
- how you supported learning and development – e.g. what did you do instead if you couldn’t use certain toys?
- curriculum areas
- any disapplication you made
- how you supported vulnerable children
- how you ensured your commitment to safeguarding
A few things to bear in mind
- Even if you were not able to stay open at times, settings should have been working flexibly with other agencies and the local authority to ensure the safety of children as part of their responsibility to safeguarding
- The extension to the paediatric first aid (PFA) certificate was only until March 31st 2021, so providers must have a valid PFA certificate now
- If you have any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the setting (either child or staff), or if your setting has been advised to close as a result, you should report this to Ofsted as soon as reasonably practical, and in any case within 14 days
- Think about how you have supported your staff and their own mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic. One of the new additions to the latest EIF was a greater emphasis on staff mental health, so remember this in your preparations
Which EYFS document are you using?
If you are inspected before September 2021, it is likely you will be using the older version of the EYFS, unless you are an early adopter of the new version. After September 1st 2021, all settings are expected to use the new final version that was published on 31st March 2021.
What did Ofsted say in the recent Parenta webinar?
If you missed the recent Parenta “Ask Ofsted” webinar, held on May 14th, you can access a recording here. It was full of lots of useful advice including:
- The main thing Inspectors want to know is – what is it like to be a child in your setting?
- Be prepared – read the inspection handbook
- Don’t be nervous about an inspection – do what you normally do
- They are more interested in what’s happened to children in your setting during the pandemic than paperwork – and what you are doing to help children you are concerned about
- Don’t be afraid of talking about things you want to be better at – it shows reflective practice and a desire to improve
Between now and September 1st, they will not judge your preparations for implementing the new EYFS