MSA Chairman’s Update August 2015

The end of last term saw several interesting developments affecting the 30 hours funded places and Ofsted. The Childcare Bill going through the House of Lords has proved to be addressing a more complex issue than some appear to have thought. We are pleased that the Minister, Lord Nash, has been working with Lord True to resolve some of the concerns and MSA is due to meet the Minister in early September along with Lord True. We will keep you posted on the outcomes. In my view, many of the problems stem from poorly co-ordinated policies which come together to make a series of demands which cannot be easily reconciled. Thus we have the level of funding for two, three and four year old places not meeting the actual costs providers incur for the places. At the same time, the sector is being told to raise the qualifications of its workforcesomething Montessori has enthusiastically embraced, seeing it as means of increasing both quality and credibility. Yet the implications for staff salaries have not been considered. Similarly the introduction of the national living wage (NLW) from April 2016 is forecast to plunge the nursery sector into a deficit of hundreds of millions of pounds, according to the Pre-school Learning Alliance (PLA). We will keep you updated on developments.

Meanwhile Ofsted has launched its annual early years report and also its new Common Inspection Framework for Early Years inspections. The report shows a general improvement in inspection outcomes, and as such is welcome. However, having arrived early for the report launch, I was able to read through it and was surprised to see that of over 40 independent schools offering funded places for 3 and 4 year olds, 27% required improvement and 16% were judged inadequatethat is 43% of the total. The percentage is far higher than in any other form of provision. It also appears to run counter to the Chief Inspectors statement that middle class parents were colonising the best quality funded places. I asked the question of the panel, the Chief Inspector and the head and deputy head of early years. I did not feel that they had latched on to this statistic and their answer was that it needed more investigation.

MSA has been working with Ofsted since the start of the year on the development if the new inspection framework, as those of you who came to the MEAB conference this summer will know, when we had a leading HMI speak to us about the proposals. The aim of the changes is largely to bring early years inspection into line with inspections of other provision in schools and colleges. Despite my misgivings about what might emerge, the new framework and the accompanying Handbook (Early Years Inspection Handbook, June 2015, ref no 150068) are clear and have taken into account misgivings we had about some of their wording and former emphases. Now there is much more emphasis on childrens development rather than their learning and strategies to promote this through direct teaching. Most important is the statement inspectors must not advocate a particular method of planning, teaching or assessment. They will not look for a preferred methodology but must record aspects of teaching and learning that they consider are effective, and identify ways in which teaching and learning can be improved. That means that an inspector cannot just say I dont agree with Montessori, and also that there is the potential for judgements which imply this to be challenged.

The Handbook also states where provision subscribes to a particular approachfor example, Steiner, Montessori or High/Scopeinspectors must be familiar with this method and respect any cultural customs. Where relevant, inspectors should state the type of educational or philosophical approach used by the provider in the report section, Information about the setting. This is a major step forward, although it still means that in your self-evaluation and other documentation, you will have to show that your planning, evaluations and assessments are consistently Montessorian. Inspectors also have to take into account any published information about the settingin practice this has come to include MEAB reports, and the benefit of having this additional information about your work is made clear in many Ofsted reports.

There remain a number of issues. In my view many of these stem from Ofsteds time constraints and its desire to have the same type of inspection for small pre-schools as for larger provision for older children. Thus you will be offered the chance to make joint observations with the inspector (but be aware that can be used to assess the accuracy of your judgements about what is going on in teaching and learning). Inspectors will track two or three children, they must look at all Disclosure and Barring Service records and paediatric First Aid certificates, safeguarding requirements must be inspected, and so on. The result is that although inspectors will always report on safeguarding compliance, they need not always report on all of the more than 30 possible judgements. This makes comparing inspection outcomes across different settings difficult, and it is not clear why some judgements are reported (unless non-compliance is an issue) and not others. It would be an interesting exercise to trawl through inspections conducted by several inspectors to see if there is a pattern of some frequently mentioning some judgements and not others, whilst another inspector might follow different lines.

Besides these issues, there remains the concern which several MSA members have mentioned, whereby the feedback they received at the end of the inspection does not appear to match the report when this is published. This is largely due to Ofsteds quality assurance (QA) work which seeks to check, amongst other things, whether the wording of the inspectors draft report matches the judgement. Clearly if the QA change is to the wording, then the judgement remains unaffected, but if it is the other way round, with the judgement being changed, then the setting is in for a potentially nasty surprise.

Ofsted has also had to deal with developments, many of which came into effect since the 2014 revisions to the EYFS statutory requirements. The new handbook states that in addition to meeting the EYFS requirements providers must also comply with other relevant legislation. This includes safeguarding legislation and legislation relating to employment, anti-discrimination, health and safety and data collection. The difficulty we all have (including Ofsted) is to establish exactly what other relevant legislation might be. Also it may apply differently to different providers. Thus if you take 3 and 4 year old funded places, then Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) applies, even though it directly refers only to schools and colleges. That is since other legislation around the funded places included the safeguarding issues. So if you dont meet the requirements, an inspector should refer directly to KCSIE. But if you dont take the places and do not meet the requirements, the inspector must make a more general statement about not meeting safeguarding legislation. This seems a minor and legalistic point, but the report could be challenged if the inspector does not get it right.

Another major change under the new framework which applies to all settings, schools and colleges is the far greater emphasis on the effectiveness of leadership and management. Previously this was the last set of judgements to be reported on. Now it is the first and includes not only the overall judgement on leadership and management but up to eight sub-judgementspreviously there were five. In summary, leaders, managers and governors (where appropriate) must show an ambitious vision and high expectation of the children, improve staff practice through rigorous supervision, training and performance management, along with CPD, provide learning programmes and a curriculum to enable children to meet the EYFS and their needs and interests, manage the curriculum so that children get a good start and are ready for school, if appropriate. They must also actively promote equality and diversity, tackle poor behaviour, actively promote British values, ensure that child protection meets all statutory and other government requirements, promote childrens welfare and prevent radicalisation and extremism. Whilst this is a lengthy list, it is heavily influenced by the wider government agendas of British values and the Home Office Protect policy affecting extremism.

Ive commented in the past on inspection outcomes where schools and settings have not had an inspection for some while. Whilst not wanting to tempt fate, the repeat inspections appear to be restoring places to being at least good. In several instances relatively minor points about presentation and how to manage an inspection seem to have been very effectivepeople were still doing good things, but not necessarily making them sufficiently clear to the inspector. Often managers and leaders did not want to appear pushy or over-confident. This is where the new leadership and management judgements must be looked at carefully to make sure that there are things like regular staff supervisionsa pattern of working more common in social services settings than in schools, but which might involve regular, minuted staff meetings, monitoring of new staff, developing leadership roles for SENCOs and so on. Parent surveys become more significant as a means of demonstrating that you accept comments from others and adapt where appropriate. The link between planning for individual children or groups and the subsequent assessment leading on to fresh activities becomes not only evidence for teaching, learning and assessment judgements but also as evidence of how far leaders are involved here.

I hope to post all the revised judgements on a blog shortly. I have collated them for some school inspectors and it might be useful for MSA members to have access to the charts.

Meanwhile I will update you on our meeting with Lord Nash at the Department for Education. Most importantly, do not lose sight of the joys of working with children and good colleagues, and above all, enjoy the autumn term.

Dr Martin Bradley

National Chairman

Montessori Schools Association