Changes to Ofsted inspections in England

Montessori Schools Association

Chairmans blog September 2015

From 1st September 2015, Ofsted has introduced several changes to its inspection framework. Basically these reflect its wish to have what it calls a Common Inspection Framework across all provision which it inspectsin the schools and early years sectors this includes FE Colleges, primary and secondary schools (both maintained and independent), nursery schools and settings in the PVI sector. Clearly there have to be some differences in approach when the age ranges covered go from birth to 18 and beyond. Despite MSAs early misgivings during the piloting of the new approach, Ofsted has broadly managed to address many of our initial concerns. For example, the references to learning alone for the early years have been tempered by now referring to learning and development, not least as the EYFS legally requires settings to address both terms.

But there remain major changes. Two of the most obvious ones deal with leadership and the problems faced in the early years since the last EYFS revision came out in March 2014, but other legislation has subsequently come into forceso for much of the safeguarding and Britishness or prevent agendas, other legislation has to be met by providers in addition to the EYFS requirements.

In the past, leadership was an area subject to judgements by inspectorsthere were five sub-judgements which inspectors could apply under the heading the effectiveness of leadership and management of the early years provision and these came at the end of the other sets of judgements. Now there are eight sub-judgements and they come first. In addition, and whilst not a separate judgement, all inspection must report on safeguarding.

The Ofsted Early Years Inspection Handbook (ref 150068, June 2015this is a draft version but is currently in effect) sets the judgements out as main headingsleadership and management and so onwith the sub-judgements as bullet points (e.g. paragraph 146, page 30 of the Handbook). Here I have set them out in a chart. The judgements are the same for independent (and state) schools, I have just used the EY Handbook for reference purposes.


The effectiveness of leadership and management:

Inspectors will make a judgement on the effectiveness of the leadership and management by evaluating the extent to which leaders, managers and governors:

demonstrate an ambitious vision, have high expectations for what all children can achieve and ensure high standards of provision and care for children

improve staff practice, teaching and learning through effective systems for supervision, rigorous performance management and appropriate professional development

evaluate the quality of the provision and outcomes through robust self-evaluation, talking account of views of parents and children, and use the findings to develop capacity for sustainable improvement

provide learning programmes and a curriculum that has suitable breadth, depth and relevance so that it meets any relevant statutory requirements, as well as the needs and interests of children

successfully plan and manage the curriculum and learning programmes so that all children get a good start and are well prepared for the next stage in their learning, especially being ready for school

actively promote equality and diversity, tackle poor behaviour towards others including bullying and discrimination and narrow any gaps in outcomes between different groups of children

Actively promote British values

make sure that arrangements to protect children meet all statutory and other government requirements, promote their welfare and prevent radicalisation and extremism

Inspectors will always report on whether or not arrangements for safeguarding children are effective. (No separate judgement needed here)


The main points for providers are the much greater emphasis on pro-active management. This must demonstrate a vision which includes raising and maintaining high standards, with staff supervisions and performance management, as well as taking responsibility for the curriculum and its quality. Then there are the social elementsequality, behaviour, anti-bullying, promoting British values, as well as the catch-all point at the end of meeting all statutory and other government requirements.

Whilst not a judgement in itself, the note that safeguarding will always be reported on is most important for settings to note.

Half the problem here is knowing exactly what the statutory and other government requirements are. I have blogged in the past about the impact other government departments have on the early years, and at times even Ofsted and DfE have had difficulty in identifying for us which Act or requirement implemented a particular policy. The most recent example was legislation enabling schools and settings to admit two year olds which came in a small businesses Act last May. When MSA met Lord Nash, the Minister responsible for the current Childcare Bill in the House of Lords, along with Lord True who organised the meeting, one point we made was that the various other government departments were affecting early years policy in ways not always directly in line with DfE EY policy.

The Ofsted handbook also has very useful grade descriptors for the judgement grades reached by inspectors.

Besides the changes to leadership and management judgements, other main judgement areas are now: the quality of teaching, learning and assessment (formerly how well the early years provision meets the needs of the range of children who attend), personal development, behaviour and welfare (formerly the contribution of the early years provision to childrens well-being) and outcomes for children which relates to childrens progress from their starting points and level of development typical for their age. These do not always directly correspond to the previous judgement areas.

Providers need to be aware of several points in dealing with all this:

Firstly, Ofsted inspectors will not report on all judgements. Their time in settings is limited and not all judgements may be seen as immediately relevant. I continue to have doubts about this approach as it leaves settings vulnerable to return inspections finding problems in sub-judgement areas not directly considered before.

Secondly, providers will need to be pro-active in making sure that inspectors attention is drawn to documentation such as supervision and appraisal records (and it is not clear that annual appraisals alone are enough to meet the current requirements as inspectors have been saying that ore regular recorded supervision meetings are needed, especially for new or inexperienced staff).

Thirdly, you would be well advised to set out your documentation according to the Ofsted judgementsparticularly the four main judgements but also for the sub-judgements within this.

Fourthly, members experience indicates that you will need to revise your SEF format to meet the new judgements. There may be some leeway during the autumn term 2015, but from January old-style SEFs are likely to be seen as evidence that leadership is not up to dateand quite likely to be seen as requiring improvement.

Some MSA members were inspected as part of the pilot inspections for the new arrangements in the spring and autumn terms this year. Already others have been inspected under the new arrangements. The general verdict has been positive, with the leadership aspects being considered challenging as they require more detailed evidence of how leaders are dealing with their roles. This includes managing staff, ensuring they are knowledgeable about their areas of responsibility and in turn inform other staff about these. Thus, when a manager takes an inspector round the setting (and dont just let them wanderif they refuse to be shown round, make a note of that), introduce staff and state their rolesSENCO, room leader etcand also note their qualifications such as level 4, Foundation degree and so on.

One other feature which inspectors should take account of is any evidence of external evaluation. Some local authorities used to do this, but far fewer now provide this as their QA role is much reduced if not gone entirely (some claim to have a QA role in determining access to funded places, but we confirmed with DE that this is not seen by the Department as a formal QA role). That means that MEAB accreditation has a much more significant place in your portfolio of evidence than it even had before. Ofsted reports have cited MEAB reports positivelyalthough in at least one case the inspector mis-interpreted what the MEAB report saidso do make sure they understand what it says. You should also draw their attention to the two day visits for MEABno need to contrast this with the much shorter time Ofsted is with you!

Overall, the verdict on the new Ofsted Framework and judgements has been positive. Members have welcomed its clarity along with Ofsteds willingness to enter into a dialogue about the inspection process generally. Dont be afraid to assert the fact that you run your settingone member was asked by the inspector if she could go into another room to use her mobile phone to confirm the inspection judgements with her office. This was refused as the setting has a policy of no mobile phones throughout. Obviously the refusal is best phrased as Im sorry, but our policy isà ¢Ã¢ €š ¬ ¦ and it would be difficult if someone saw a phone being used on the premises. After all, theres little point in having a policy if you let an inspector break it when they are supposed to accept your approach.

Do tell us about your experiences of inspections. We talk to Ofsted frequently and they are anxious to hear how the new arrangements are going. In turn, Ill aim to keep you updated on any developments.

Good luck!

Dr Martin Bradley

National Chairman

Montessori Schools Association