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Ofsted and your child's nursery

A guide to Ofsted for parents and carers in the early years
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July 3, 2023
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Since 2001, Ofsted has been responsible for inspecting and registering early years settings, like nurseries, childminders, and preschools. And, if you grew up in England, you may remember Ofsted turning up every so often to inspect your school. But even if you do remember the strangers in suits, carrying clipboards and watching your grownups, it still might not be 100% clear to you what Ofsted and their inspectors do. And if you didn’t go to school in England, you might even be wondering who on earth Ofsted are. 

So let us explain…

An image of an early years child's hands and crossed legs. The child is mark-making in a book.

Who are Ofsted?

Ofsted is short for the Office for Standards in Education. They are a governmental department that registers and inspects schools, children’s homes, apprenticeship providers and early years settings like:

  • Nurseries
  • Pre-schools
  • Childminders

Ofsted inspects against the Early Years Inspection Handbook for Ofsted-registered Provision to check that settings are meeting the statutory requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage or EYFS. Essentially, it’s their legal responsibility to check your child’s nursery or preschool is meeting their legal responsibilities. 

Early years settings are judged in five categories:

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

After an inspection, settings receive a written report and a grade of Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement, or Inadequate.

An early years teacher in her classroom

What does an Ofsted early years inspection look like?

Early years settings will usually receive a telephone call that Ofsted is coming to inspect them the following day, but not always. Depending on the type of inspection your child’s setting is having, the first you might know about the inspection taking place is a poster on the door when you drop off. However, if your child’s setting receives notice the day before their inspection, they must let you know that Ofsted are coming.

During the inspection process, one or two of Ofsted’s inspectors will observe what happens in your child’s setting throughout the day, as well as talking to the staff and the leadership team. They will usually also speak to some parents or carers and pick up or drop off.

You don’t need to do anything differently while your child’s setting is being inspected as inspectors will aim to minimise any disruption to the children. The inspector may ask your child how they feel about their setting or collect some personal information in the course of their inspection. Ofsted’s inspectors all undergo background checks (just as the other adults at your child’s setting do) and your child will never be alone with an inspector.

A few weeks after Ofsted has inspected your child’s setting, the report and final grade given can be found on Ofsted’s website.

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What if I have feedback for Ofsted about my child’s setting?

At the start of the inspection of an early years setting, you may have an opportunity to talk to the inspector about your child’s education and care. The inspectors will be in looking to find out:

  • How much your child’s educators share with you about your child’s learning and development, including how you can support their learning at home
  • How much the setting share with you about how they’re supporting your child to how your child to progress to the next stage of their learning
  • If you receive funding for your child’s education and care, how this is being used to support your child’s needs

However, while Ofsted are responsible for checking that your child’s setting is doing everything they are legally supposed to, the inspector visiting your child’s setting can’t resolve individual disputes

If you have a concern about your child’s education or care, Ofsted advises you go directly to the setting first, unless you fear children are at risk of harm. If you are concerned about a child being at risk of harm, Ofsted advises you to contact your local authority's children’s services department.

The big ideas

How can I support my child’s teachers?

For your child’s educators and carers, the day Ofsted come to do an inspection is hugely important. An Ofsted grade can have a huge impact on a setting, both positive or negative, so while some settings can’t wait to show off all their hard work to inspectors, they may find the process stressful or nerve-wracking. Here are a few ways you can help them out:

  • A visit from Ofsted takes a lot of energy and is often the culmination of years of hard work. Whether the inspection goes well or not, it can put a lot of strain on the educators and leaders at your child’s setting. Dropping them a quick message or wishing them good luck can mean the world.
  • If you love your child’s setting, tell the inspectors! Even if you don’t spot the inspector at drop-off or pick-up, you have the opportunity to arrange a phone call with them to offer your feedback.
  • While managers may have previously felt that they couldn't say much on the day, Ofsted now advise that leaders can share how an inspection went with whoever they think is appropriate. So, while Ofsted advise against circulating the report widely until their moderation process is complete, you can certainly ask your child's setting how it went. They're bound to appreciate you reaching out.

Settings and their communities do not always agree with Ofsted’s judgements and can even feel the inspector wasn’t fair. Sadly, only the setting themselves can appeal the outcome of an Ofsted inspection, so if you feel your child’s setting was judged unfairly or incorrectly, the best thing you can do is let your child’s educators know you believe in them.

An early years educator, looking for their Ofsted folder in the nursery office.

What do the Ofsted grades mean about my child’s setting?

Here are some key things to remember when considering your child’s setting’s grade:

  • Read the full report
    Whether your child’s setting gets ‘Outstanding’, ‘Inadequate’, or anything in between, always read the report written alongside the grade. This will help you to contextualise the judgement and learn more about what the inspector observed. One word just won’t tell you everything you need to know.
  • Don’t assume the worst
    Even if a setting is handed the judgment ‘Inadequate’, it doesn’t always mean that all aspects of the setting are inadequate or that your child is necessarily at risk of harm. A nursery may be given this grade but still have strengths in some areas, alongside a plan to address any issues. If you’re concerned, talk to a member of the leadership team at the setting.
  • The inspection is a snapshot
    The Ofsted rating given by inspectors is mostly based on what they observe on the one day they visit your child’s setting - this is, of course, only a small snapshot of how the setting runs. Ofsted themselves state that “We may see things when we carry out an inspection, but you [parents and carers] will be in the setting far more regularly than us.”
  • Check the date
    The normal inspection cycle for early years settings is roughly once every 6 years, (or within 30 months of registration) during which time settings can change a lot. Remember to take the date of an inspection into account.
  • Talk to the setting
    Most importantly of all, raise any queries you have about the report directly with your child’s setting. Most leaders will be happy to explain or expand on different things the inspector noted in their report.

You can find out more about how an inspection happens in Ofsted's own guide for parents and carers or check out their guidance for EY providers and practitioners themselves.

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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.

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