The Oustanding Ofsted Experts:
Preparing For The Ofsted Inspection

The first in a new series helping you to get the outstanding result you deserve.
April 24, 2022
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Welcome to the first in a brand new series on Ofsted. We’ve talked to five outstanding nursery managers and leaders, as well as leading early years expert Dr Sue Allingham, to bring you all the tips, advice, and guidance that you need to improve your Ofsted rating.

First up, great Early Years practice means you won't really need to prepare for Ofsted in any big way.

If you're focusing on being Outstanding all the time, it doesn't feel like such a big deal when you get the call. It’s not about having a special Ofsted day plan. Instead, it’s making sure that you and your staff are confident and capable enough to let the good work you do shine through – just relax and show them what you’ve got.

1. Selling yourself

How do you feel when you first get the call? Is it fear? Maybe it’s time to take a different route and learn the importance of selling yourself. If you're proud of you're everyday practice and the overall effectiveness of the early education you're delivering, then consider this your chance to show off!

The call is the first point for you to really sell yourself. To say “Yes, come on, we’re ready for you, we’re looking forward to it, can’t wait to show you around.” Be positive. Be competent. Ordered. Ask questions. Sell yourself, because that’s effectively what you’re doing.

- Ailsa Monk, Principal, Cotswold Montessori School

2. Do what you're good at

One thing that came up time and time again with our experts was that it’s not a good idea to try something new, especially if it's just to impress Ofsted. Stick to what you know you're good at. Be confident in the choices you've made about your Early Years curriculum and how you support children's development. The inspector is looking for how you justify these choices based on your setting, your cohort, and individual children's needs - you're not going to receive a 'requires improvement' grade just because you don't offer a forest school or Spanish lessons.

The inspector said, this is your time to shine. Because it is your time to shine. Do what you’re good at and don’t put anything in that you’ve never done before. It’s not a day for trying something new.

- Becky Pike, Partner, Hollies Day Nurseries

3. Telling the staff

If you do get a prior notification, leadership and management may have different strategies about when to tell staff members that Ofsted are paying the setting a visit. Ideally, you want staff to feel prepared to present the setting in the best possible way, without letting them stress about what’s to come. Reassure them that you are confident in your Early Years provision and they don't need to put on a performance. Remind them that the Ofsted inspector isn't trying to catch them out, just gather evidence of practitioners' knowledge of the children and the quality of education.

I waited until the end of the day to tell the staff so that they could just go home and relax as much as possible. There’s nothing that we needed to do or change that day specifically for Ofsted’s visit.

- Ailsa Monk, Principal, Cotswold Montessori School

4. Don’t panic

When you do get the call, take the time to reassure yourself of all of the work you’ve done to prepare for this. You’re far more ready than you might think. If you find it reassuring, take a moment to revisit the Early Years inspection handbook and the Early Years foundation stage framework and think about the inspection evidence you'd like to show the inspector the most. Maybe you've made real progress with children's learning and development, maybe you've been working on updating how you're safeguarding children, maybe your team has recently completed staff training, or perhaps you'd like to show off your new policy on staff vetting and employment arrangements. Whatever it is, focus on the chance to show off the amazing work you've done and not on what might go wrong.

Firstly it’s about not panicking.  Unless it is a complaint driven inspection, you will have been working towards this inspection for some time. Be confident and believe in the work you’ve done.

- Dr Sue Allingham, Early Years Expert, EY Out Of The Box Consultancy

5. Keep it simple

There’s nothing wrong with going over some bits and pieces to make sure the important things are at the front of your mind. But this is no time to start making any big changes. While personal and professional development are always important, the day of the inspection shouldn't be the first day to try to show off something you've never done before. Stick to routine staffing arrangements, educational programmes, and activities. Ofsted will recognise what's embedded practice and what isn't. And if they don't? The children present certainly will let them know!

It’s much better to just do what you do every day. If you run your nursery properly then you don’t need to change anything. Obviously, you should check your policies and procedures are up to date, but you should be doing the day-to-day stuff anyway. If you change it for an inspection then it’s going to go wrong.

- Michelle Tudenham, Childcare Manager, Little Acorns Montessori

How to be outstanding: The Ofsted Inspection Guide

Renewed and updated for 2023: Get ideas, tips, and advice on what it takes to be outstanding from Early Years managers and Ofsted’s Phil Minns and Wendy Ratcliff.

Get this guide

6. Organisation

As we’ve already mentioned, getting your staff to feel comfortable around the inspector is one of the most important things you can do when you’re preparing for Ofsted. It's natural for Early Years staff to feel a little nervous before an inspection as, let's face it, it feels like a big deal.

But inspection-day butterflies shouldn't get in the way of an outstanding grade.

Remind staff members that they have the essential knowledge they need and should feel confident sharing this with Ofsted for their inspection evidence. Plus, inspectors aren't there to drill staff with questions about everything they do - they're there to see what the setting is really like. Inspectors may spend time:

  • Observing care routines,
  • Doing joint observations,
  • Finding out about your recruitment process through recruitment records, staff qualifications etc.,
  • Looking at a risk assessment, fire safety arrangements, or how you record accidents,
  • Chatting to a child's key person,
  • Investigating how you're planning to children's interests, as well as the prime and specific areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage,
  • Meeting with parents,
  • Exploring how you use the Early Years Pupil Premium, or support children on a child protection plan.

All this to say, there are plenty of ways inspectors gather evidence to make inspection judgements - so staff don't need to panic about answering questions perfectly.

I think the key to getting outstanding was getting more organised. In particular, we noticed that staff were getting really nervous because they felt like they didn’t know the right things to say or do. I think that might have held us back in the past because they were worried about doing the wrong thing.

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

7. Get some sleep

Yes, it can be an inviting idea to sit up all night making sure you know everything, but this is where you need to trust your instincts. A good night’s sleep is going to be much more important than your last-minute cramming. And, knowing the Early Years inspection handbook off by heart, or revising the education inspection framework, won't get you that outstanding grade.

It is important that you don’t try to stay up all night to change the way things are done or write new documents. This will be very obvious during the inspection as the practice won’t be embedded. Just do what you always do, and try to act normally. It is too late to change anything now.

- Dr Sue Allingham, Early Years Expert, EY Out Of The Box Consultancy

8. The post-call strategy

The team at Hollies Day Nursery have a strategy for when you get that phone call, which really can make the difference between good and outstanding.

  • After the phone call – inform everybody straight away
  • Make sure everyone feels confident about their room
  • Don’t put something in you haven’t done before
  • Get other practitioners to share their experience from past inspections
  • Most importantly, hold a quick meeting the night before to tell all the staff how amazing they are

‍Reassure staff that, although it's important, the inspection judgement is not the be-all and end-all. Good practice is the most important thing and that will always shine through. The evidence gathered by inspectors is a snapshot of one day of hundreds at your setting and it will never be 100% perfect.

What's more, inspectors understand that Early Years settings are not the same as education and skills settings that older children attend. Behaviour and attitudes won't always be perfect - it's about how staff support children's personal development.

9. Finding the answer

You need to give your staff the tools to deal with what can be a stressful experience. Let them know that it’s OK to say what they’re not sure of, so long as they know how to find out. For example, educators might not need to recite the phone number of the LADO (local authority designated person/officer) verbatim, on command - they just need to know how to find it if they need it, and who to ask.

If you get put on the spot, just say “You know what, my mind’s gone blank, can you give me a minute?” That’s all you need to do – you don’t need to have every answer every time.

- Lizzy Barlow, Nursery Group Leader, Hollies Day Nurseries

10. The right language

The language that Ofsted inspectors use can be pretty specific. Making sure that your staff understand the words the inspectors will use is crucial when you’re preparing for Ofsted. Here's where getting familiar with the Early Years inspection handbook can help.

However, the Ofsted inspector isn't trying to bamboozle you. If you're not sure you understand a question, as them to repeat it or ask another way.

We use a competency framework that runs in levels to assess our staff. It’s more about passion and talent than qualifications. Kind of like a learning journey. Within that we use the kind of language that Ofsted wants you to know so that it’s a part of the staff’s whole process with us.

- Becky Pike, Partner, Hollies Day Nurseries

11. Mock Ofsted

If you do want to make sure your team is a bit more comfortable on the day, why not try a mock Ofsted? Not only will it let everyone know what to expect, but you can get some great tips to improve.

You could even use this as further evidence to document how you support staff, as part of your provision's professional development programme. If a manager supports staff with joint observations and spotting excellent quality of education, this learning and development can be used in everyday practice.

The mock Ofsted inspection was really useful to get staff comfortable with answering questions. In the real thing, they commented on how consistent and accomplished the staff answers were. The main difference was that everyone was so much more confident once they’d been through that mock process.

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

12. Best practice

You should be striving for best practice every day. If you’ve got a special ‘Ofsted day plan’, maybe it’s time to implement that anyway.

If you do have special activities, and you think that’s best practice and what Ofsted want to see, then why don’t you do that every day?

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

Found some helpful tips? Well, we’ve got some good news. You can now download the full guide for free, with 12 different sections covering every area of your Ofsted inspection. Time to get the outstanding result that you deserve.

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Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

Learn more about Famly's software for nurseries

Find out below from Neil Leitch about the impact of Famly at the Early Years Alliance, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

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“Every time I ask somebody, ‘How is the system going?’, the thing that always come back to me is that staff say ‘You should have done this a long time ago.'" - Neil Leitch, CEO, Early Years Alliance

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Find out below from Neil Leitch about the impact of Famly at the Early Years Alliance, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

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Find out below from Neil Leitch about the impact of Famly at the Early Years Alliance, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

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Learn more about Famly

Find out below from Neil Leitch about the impact of Famly at the Early Years Alliance, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.