In April 2022, Ofsted published its new five-year strategy for 2022–2027 in which it set out its aims, values and priorities for its work in the next few years. You can access the whole strategy document, as well as a one-page summary, here.

Since Ofsted is involved in inspecting all educational institutions including primary, middle and secondary schools, as well as colleges and higher educational establishments, not all of the strategy is directly related to early years. However, one of the main points in the new strategy document is to have a greater focus on early years and we have listed in this article, some of the main things that the early years sector needs to be aware of regarding the new strategy going forward.

The purpose of the strategy

Times change, and Ofsted recognised that it needs to change its strategy periodically to address this. Its guiding principle is “to improve lives by raising standards in education and children’s social care.” Ofsted identifies itself as “a force for improvement through the intelligent, responsible and focused use of inspection, regulation and insights.” The 2022-27 strategy sets out how Ofsted will do this, and recognises that improving children’s lives is ”more important than ever following the disruption and distress of the past two years”.

Ofsted’s main values

Throughout the 2022-27 strategy, there are 4 recurring Ofsted values which can be seen as the guiding principles which underpin the wider strategy. These are:

  • Children and learners first
  • Independence
  • Accountability and transparency
  • Evidence-led inspections and interventions

Priorities for 2022-27

Ofsted has identified 8 main priorities for the strategy period which are:

  • Inspections that raise standards - inspections help education and social care recover and improve their work
  • Right-touch regulation – this refers to Ofsted ensuring high-quality care, education and safeguarding for children
  • Making the most of insights and research – Ofsted is keen to share insights gained through research and analysis. It wants this research to be used by practitioners, policymakers and decision-makers throughout the system to improve it
  • The best start in life – this refers to a greater focus on early years in this strategy. Ofsted wants to develop the evidence base about early years education, including curriculum and pedagogy, and encourage the sector to act on it
  • Keeping children safe – safeguarding and welfare are still top priorities across the board
  • Keeping pace with sector changes – this relates to ensuring that Ofsted is keeping up with changes and adapting accordingly, such as reviewing its approach to multi-academy trusts and unregulated schools
  • Accessible and engaged – Ofsted wants to be open and accessible to its different audiences, and wants to better understand their needs
  • A skilled workforce – this relates to Ofsted’s own workforce ensuring they have the tools, knowledge and expertise they need

The tools that Ofsted uses

Below are some of the tools that Ofsted has identified it can use to raise standards.

They include:

  • Frameworks and handbooks
  • Risk assessments
  • Inspections and visit processes
  • Reports and summaries
  • Insights from evidence and research
  • Application and registration administration
  • Judgements

What are the main things for early years settings to be aware of?

There are several main areas that early years settings need to be aware of in the new strategy. These are:

  1. There is to be a greater focus on early years through the “best start in life” priority and inspectors will receive training to enhance their understanding of effective and high-quality early education. In launching the strategy, the Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, acknowledged the importance of early years, saying: “Each of us has only one childhood, and it shapes the rest of our lives. That’s why this strategy has a particular emphasis on giving all children the best possible start.” She also acknowledged that not all children get this.
  2. Ofsted will also aim to assess the impact of the pandemic on children’s physical, social and wider development. Recent research about the ‘ghost’ children missing from education after the pandemic makes sobering reading with 22% of children missing more than 10% of their schooling last year. The new strategy will aim to assess this impact, especially in early years since Ofsted is aware that the children coming into formal schooling in this period, may have been severely disadvantaged by lockdowns and other issues created by the pandemic which can affect their education.
  3. The strategy includes plans to increase the sharing of data and insights especially in group-owned early years providers and to simplify regulations relating to childminders.
  4. Frequency of inspections are likely to increase as Ofsted is aiming to inspect all schools in England by July 2025. They also plan to increase the amount of longer, Section 5 fully-graded inspections to allow more time for professional dialogues and evidence-gathering. If standards need to be improved, in most cases, this will need to be done within 9 – 12 months.
  5. Ofsted is committed to publishing a series of evidence-led research reports, especially designed for early years. It will explore literature relating to early years education, drawing on a range of sources, including academic and policy literature, looking for evidence-based research which can improve early years education. Subsequent reviews, to be published at a later date, will explore the 3 prime, and 4 secondary early years foundation stages’ (EYFS), areas of learning.
  6. Ofsted is developing a SEND inspection framework which is aimed at local authorities and agencies, focusing on the strategic oversight and commissioning of SEND services and alternative provision. Whilst not directly related early years individually, settings may be involved in helping Ofsted assess how children with SEND are identified and assessed and the quality of provision offered by local authorities in this area. In these new inspections, individual children’s progress may be tracked to get an overview of what it is like for children in that area to have SEND.
  7. There will still be an emphasis of safeguarding, ensuring that safeguarding practices are embedded throughout educational establishments.

Parenta had the pleasure of partnering with 2 Ofsted inspectors, Wendy Ratcliffe and Phil Minns, to bring you an educational webinar on this topic. Watch the recording below!

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