Ofsted inspections are part of a necessary inspection programme for all early years establishments, including all nurseries, schools and childminders in England. Other parts of the UK are inspected as well, but by other inspection bodies. Nursery managers and school leaders often dread an Ofsted visit! However, with proper planning, inspections can be a great opportunity to show off just how good your early years provision is.

The key here is planning and preparation. Most Ofsted inspections are conducted with a minimum of 24 hours’ notice, although there are times when Ofsted can legally turn up for an emergency inspection if they have received information that suggests that the setting is either not safe for children, or is not fulfilling its legal and statutory duties.

The “Early years inspection handbook for Ofsted-registered provision” sets out how Ofsted will inspect Ofsted-registered early years providers and as such, is the first port of call for all nurseries in England who want to prepare well for their Ofsted visit. In addition, settings should look at and be familiar with the following which are particularly relevant to safeguarding:

  • “Inspecting safeguarding in early years, education and skills settings’”
  • ‘Working together to safeguard children’

Overview of the visit

In line with the Education Inspection Framework, His Majesty’s Inspectors (HMIs) are tasked with making judgements about the following areas of a provision:

Overall effectiveness – this is a combination of the following 4 areas:

  • The quality of education
  • Behaviour and attitudes
  • Personal development
  • Leadership and management

Whilst there is some ongoing debate over the merits of the judgements, currently these areas can be judged as being:

  • Outstanding
  • Good
  • Requires improvement
  • Inadequate

To best prepare for an Ofsted inspection, consider the following areas:

Check your website

The inspector will need to prepare for their visit by gaining a broad overview of the setting, its context and history and the first stop for inspectors is usually the setting’s website. It is crucial that this is up-to-date and displays the legal and minimum information needed. Other evidence is gathered through observations and discussions on the day with members of staff, parents and children.

Use the inspection handbook and prepare your staff

Audit your setting using the “Early Years Inspection Handbook” and make sure that your staff understand how this is used before, during and after a visit. Go through the 4 areas of assessment and see how your setting measures up. If changes need to be made, write a development plan so that you can evidence your leadership and planned actions to Ofsted.

Prepare relevant documents to demonstrate your leadership and management

During a visit, you will need to show the inspector various documents and these need to be up-to-date and easily available. This avoids stress and panicking when you get the Ofsted call. The handbook lists the following documents that inspectors may ask to see:

  • Paediatric first-aid certificates
  • Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) records and any other recruitment documents summarising the checks on, and the vetting and employment arrangements of, all staff working at the setting
  • List of current staff and their qualifications
  • Register/list showing the date of birth of all children on roll and routine staffing arrangements
  • List of children present at the setting during the inspection (if not shown on the register)
  • All logs that record accidents, exclusions, children taken off roll and incidents of poor behaviour
  • All logs of incidents of discrimination, including racist incidents
  • Complaints log and/or evidence of any complaints and their resolutions
  • Safeguarding and child protection policies
  • Fire-safety arrangements and other statutory policies relating to health and safety
  • List of any referrals made to the local authority designated person for safeguarding, with brief details of the resolutions
  • Details of all children who are an open case to social care/children’s services and for whom there is a multi-agency plan

In addition, the inspector may want to see the policies and procedures of your setting, especially those relating to all aspects of safeguarding, anti-bullying, curriculum and governance. Make sure that your policies reflect the EYFS and are using the key terms from this document. For example, you should use the term “key person” rather than “key worker”.

Check your culture is embedded and reflected in your environment

Everything about your environment and culture should show how effective your setting is in meeting the requirements of the EYFS as well as being a safe environment for the staff and children.

Make sure your reception, outdoor spaces, training rooms, activity areas, and even your offices consistently demonstrate what is important to your setting and the excellent experience that children, parents and other visitors get, and how your culture is embedded. Remove out-of-date notices, have examples of the children’s work, and ensure that health and safety requirements are being followed. Central to the environment and culture is about how you engage with other stakeholders such as parents, carers and outside agencies, so consider how you can demonstrate your involvement with these stakeholders too.

For more on how to embed positive cultures that stick, click here.

Embed your quality of education and reflective practice

This is not something that you can ‘magic up’ on the day of an Ofsted visit. It really is about how your setting functions day-to-day and how your ideas are embedded throughout the setting. However, you can prepare to demonstrate this in a number of ways, for example, through your curriculum designs and provision, meeting records, training records, CPD activities, records of child progress, and an understanding of the developmental stage of the child.

A key thing to embed and practice with staff are the 3 “Is” of:

  • Intent – what do you want to achieve?
  • Implementation – how do you set about doing it?
  • Impact – what impact do your actions have on the children?

Practice this by asking staff regularly to talk about:

  • What they are doing well
  • How they are meeting the needs of the children
  • Areas of development they have identified and the solutions they came up with
  • What impact they have on the education and lives of the children they care for

Ensure all your safeguarding practices are robust

Safeguarding is a huge area of concern for Ofsted so you need to make sure all your records are up-to-date, all your statutory training is done and that your DSL and staff can answer questions about your practice and actions taken. Ensure that you have read and understood the “Inspecting Safeguarding in Early Years” guidance which sets out what inspectors will look for. It’s important to be able to answer questions on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic too, so remember to consider this.

And finally, remember not to panic. See an Ofsted visit as a chance to demonstrate your outstanding practice, and plan to do just that.


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