11/08/2015

MSA Chairmans Update May 2015

The result of the general election has raised several issues which we are monitoring closely. The most publicised one is the extension of the free places for 3 and 4 year olds from 15 to 30 hours. We intend to seek a meeting with the minister to put our concerns about how settings and schools can manage without the hourly rate being raised to match actual costs and with top-up fees not being allowed. At the time of writing Zac Goldsmith MP has agreed to put our letter to the minister, but there is uncertainty as to which minister has the responsibility. Sam Gyimah was initially said to have responsibility for funding and Edward Timpson held the brief for EY learning and development. This information has now been withdrawn but as soon as we know exactly who to approach we shall do so.

Another issue which has affected several members is the problem of renewing DBS checks where the official website poses problems and there is a small window of time to obtain a renewal. Again we will raise this with the minister, although as it is a Home Office matter we may have to go there. I am grateful to Emma Gowers for raising this and, talking to others, she is by no means alone in having problemsand extra costsdue to the present system. Again, this shows the benefits of members bringing their concerns to us so that we can seek to raise the issue with government ministers and officials.

Meanwhile Ofsted is developing its Common Inspection Framework for introduction in September. This has been piloted in the spring and summer terms 2015 and I have been able to lead on two of the pilot inspections. As yet (in May) the draft materials are for Ofsted internal use only, but it is clear that several changes will potentially affect our work. The intention is to have the same or very similar judgements for all types of setting and schools which Ofsted inspects. The guidelines will also have to be followed by other inspectorates, such as the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) and the School Inspection Service (SIS). There is likely to be a much stronger emphasis on leadership. From the 2015 schools Framework for Inspection there is an emphasis on improvement through raising expectations of pupils achievement, identifying challenges, strengths and weaknesses, setting priorities for improvement, rigorous self-evaluation directed towards improvement in teaching and learning, and a more pro-active role for senior staff, managers and, where appropriate, governors.

In the EYFS pilot inspections and the planning for these I have been most concerned to establish that we talk about promoting childrens development rather than what children need to do to improve. I will be updating you on the changes when they are published in July, but it is clear that the schools inspection framework structure will be adapted for early years with sections on the quality of leadership and management, childrens achievement (including personal development, behaviour and welfare/safeguarding, the quality of teaching (including assessment) and the outcomes for children. The titles may change, but the coverage will be very similar.

A significant point here is that the focus in not just on the EYFS with its sections on learning and development, assessment, and welfare, but on other legislation as well. The two recent publications from the DfE on Working together to safeguard children and Keeping children safe in education (both March 2015) are must haves. I have put a blog on the website outlining these documents. Things like food safety and the requirement to notify parents of any allergens in food provided in your setting will also be looked at by inspectors linked to healthy eating and lifestyles. The onus is on leaders and managers to keep up to date with the requirements and to know that it is not just your meeting the EYFS requirements that will be looked at, but also the wider requirements. MSA will do our best to keep you updated on these, especially where local authority advice may not be as readily available as in the past.

We are pleased to have a spokesperson from Ofsted to speak on the inspection developments at the June MEAB conference. It is good to have these links and to have someone speaking to Montessori alone, rather than as one of several organisations representing a range of interests.

Meanwhile we are learning that some members who have not had an inspection for five or six years find that their latest inspection downgrades them from the previous outstanding or good. I have been able to work with several of them and it is reassuring to discover that they usually quickly return to a higher grade. I do wonder, however, whether the trauma of the unannounced inspection and its verdict is really the best way to seek improvement. Ofsteds consultation on providing a short period of notice before an inspection seems a step in the right direction, but it is also clear that settings, and especially leaders, need to show that they are up to date with their documentation, planning and assessments. It is surprising, for example, how many settings do not use the current Ofsted SEFI have found several who have simply kept updating the original 2008 version, ignoring changes to the EYFS.

It is also a matter of presentation: ironically some settings which have been reinspected several times due to their need to improve (in Ofsteds view), have developed great skills in handling inspectorsmaking sure they speak to the right person about things like SEN, having paperwork clearly filed, labelled and available so that policy files, planning files, and assessment details are all to hand and in one place during the inspection. It is too easy for an inspector to miss a set of assessment folders if they are stored, say, under a table used by a room leader or administrator. Leaders and managers should be proactive in drawing the inspectors attention to documentation and in explaining how presentations are made, along with the organisation of the room, the work cycle and factors such as free flow. In the best settings, inspection can become a celebration of what the children can do and achieve, so again, make sure that they see the best of what you have done and how you have sought to improve your provisioneven if its something fairly simple like putting up a bird table or having a plan to upgrade equipment.

Inspectors are taking more and more account of the MEAB accreditation reports as a useful piece of independent evidence of quality and also a means of understanding the Montessorian elements in practices. We do seek to check that when the Ofsted reports refer to MEAB, they do so accurately, and I think this will become more important if we are to maintain the Montessorian view of how children learn and what is the role of the adults.

We are working with Stephen Tommis, the Chief Executive, to sort out improved systems for the charitys work, including dealing with funds for regional meetings. More and more people no longer use cheques and it is unreasonable to expect the regional meeting organisers to handle large amounts of cash. We will let you know as soon as new systems are in place. Reorganisation of the work in London is planned and again details will be announced as soon as possible.

Do keep us in touch. Your issues are rarely specific only to your settings and as we have found with the DBS checks and the Food Standards Agency allergen requirements, we do need to be able to say that our members have expressed concerns, not just one person. Meanwhile, keep up the good work, and above all, enjoy being with the children and their families, and, of course, your colleagues.

Dr Martin Bradley

National Chairman

Montessori Schools Association