The Outstanding Ofsted Experts: 13 Staff Development Tips

Why investing in your staff should be your number one priority.
August 1, 2022
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Welcome to edition number three in our 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.

When we talked to our experts about leadership and management, one topic came up again and again.

Staff development.

While Ofsted covers staff development under the leadership and management criteria, it was clear that we needed to do a separate piece with all this juicy training advice. Let’s see what they have to say, shall we?

1. The team comes first

You can spend all the money in the world on resources, upgrades, and forest school lessons, but without one key piece of the puzzle, you’re not going to get anywhere. A motivated, qualified staff team are the best asses an Early Years setting can invest in.

The main thing that makes any setting outstanding is the staff team. You need to make sure that you invest time and money in training them to be the best that they can be. You are only as good as they are.

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

2. Worth the investment?

Your staff team are responsible for the overall effectiveness of your provision and quality of education. We know it’s not easy for a cash-strapped setting to find the money to provide training, but our experts told us that it was the one thing they would never scrimp on.

We’re passionate about staff training and it’s all focused on what the children’s needs are. It costs a lot of money to train staff, but the investment has been second to none. If we hadn’t done it then we wouldn’t be where we are now.

- Becky Pike, Partner, Hollies Day Nurseries

3. Performance management

How do you create an honest dialogue about areas for improvement with your staff? You need to start by removing the fear of performance management.

Instead of just discussing how you, as a manager, feel an educator has performed, why not incorporate peer-to-peer observations, children's feedback (in an age-appropriate way), the feedback of senior leaders, and parents' comments?

And, instead of holding one annual review in your evaluation schedule, use your staff supervision meetings to discuss:

  • Continuous professional development opportunities (CPD)
  • Personal development
  • Any appropriate training or learning and development needs
  • How happy the team member is with current employment arrangements
  • Recent examples of effective learning that have helped to improve practice

I give every member of staff a sheet with maybe 50 statements on, and get them to rate themselves on a scale of 1-5. This means they’re not scared about performance management, because they already know what we’re going to discuss, and if they’re honest with themselves, they also know what I’m going to say and they can prepare for it.

- Ailsa Monk, Principal, Cotswold Montessori School

4. Talking the talk

Ofsted are going to ask your staff questions. To get outstanding, your practitioners need to be able to explain what they know. And, while we know it's all about increasing children's vocabulary, staff need to be able to talk the talk too.

And don't forget, Ofsted will also be looking at how effectively senior leaders engage staff members in professional development activities, so keep evidence of how you do this. You could incorporate new vocabulary into your provision's professional development programme, or challenge staff members to teach new terms to one another - it's not just about children's learning!

Think about how effectively leaders engage staff in learning to confidently:

  • Use and understand industry-specific, Early Years sector vocabulary,
  • Discuss statutory policies relating to their work,
  • Explain children's personal, early education, and learning and development needs (and child development in general),
  • Talk about relevant safeguarding practice and pedagogy.

Proper training means the staff can talk the theory as well as explain what’s happening in the room. It’s not just about one single child, but about what they’ve learnt about how all children learn.

- Becky Pike, Partner, Hollies Day Nurseries

5. Simple questions

All that being said, inspectors aren't visiting the setting to check how much complex vocabulary your staff remember - you don't need to know the Early Years foundation stage by heart. While using the right vocabulary is important, there's no sense in using complex language just for the sake of it.

The language of the Early Years inspection handbook will be the same that Ofsted inspectors are using - so it's worth staff taking the time to have a look through it. As long as staff have the essential knowledge they need, the language will start to come naturally as it's embedded in their Early Years practice.

Inspectors ask simple questions in complicated ways. So if you can prep your staff with the language of Ofsted by using the handbook as part of your training, it just puts them at ease and lets them be themselves.

- Lizzy Barlow, Nursery Group Leader, Hollies Day Nurseries

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. Open your door

Staff development and effective leadership often come hand in hand. That’s why some of those crucial feedback loops we talked about last time are so important. As education providers, naturally your focus is on how you teach children, but Early Years settings are employers too - how a manager supports staff is as important as how staff members support children.

Ofsted really liked that all staff said we had an open door policy because it gives them easy access to the management any time they wanted to discuss something.

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

7. Do they really know it?

It shouldn't just be leadership and management taking all the training on offer. But how you support staff to cascade and embed the training they've worked on is a key part of making appropriate training worthwhile. It's no good staff just turning up and tuning out. If you're going to provide training, here’s one way to make sure every member of staff really takes it on board.

If the team do training outside of our internal training they need to be able to evidence what they’ve learnt and present that training back to the rest of the staff. Just because they’ve got a certificate doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about.

- Becky Pike, Partner, Hollies Day Nurseries

8. Everyone can improve

Don't forget to gather evidence and feedback on how you can improve your own practice. To be judged outstanding, management has to be engaging in professional development too. While you encourage staff, never forget that they aren’t the only ones who might be in need of training...

We get evaluated on what we might not do well and we have to take that onboard too. Your staff have to able to approach you to say that they need your support.

- Lizzy Barlow, Nursery Group Leader, Hollies Day Nurseries

9. Fixing mistakes

We all mess up. Hopefully, not during the inspection process, but these things happen. What's important is having an environment where staff feel comfortable admitting that they’ve made a mistake.

Supporting staff through understanding what went wrong, why, and how to prevent it in the future is collaborative and productive. An environment where staff feel they have to hide mistakes, as they think they might get in trouble or accused of poor behaviour means no one learns for next time.

Plus, early years providers require a huge amount of trust. Trust of children, parents, leadership and management, and staff members. In a role where safeguarding children is a key aspect of the job, being honest and transparent is essential.

Here’s why.

The fact that the staff feel comfortable telling us if they’ve made a mistake means that we can correct the problems and let the right people know before they become bigger problems. It’s really important that they feel comfortable to just ask or say.

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

10. Balancing the rooms

Staff development is more than just an off-site course once a year. It’s also about giving staff a chance to learn from one another. For example,

  • Why not have a practice learning walk, where one team member plays the Ofsted inspector?
  • As a room pairing or team, have a look at recent Ofsted reports from local settings and discuss what you think was good (or bad) and the key judgement.
  • Take the time to discuss what professional development opportunities your team members think each other could benefit from - when they're working together every day, they'll have a clearer view of each other's strengths than you might from the office.

You need to balance the skill sets in the room. If you’ve got somebody who is really lively then you can balance them with someone who is more nurturing. If it doesn’t work, then you can always change it.

- Becky Pike, Partner, Hollies Day Nurseries

11. Strengths vs weaknesses

Think staff development is all about finding and improving on people’s weaknesses? Well, it turns out it’s not always that simple. In the Early Years we teach children based on their interests and passions, so why as adults do we get told to focus on the things we like the least or are worst at?

Obviously, there are some things every educator needs to know, like the fire safety arrangements or safeguarding practice and procedures. But not everyone is going to love the idea of being an expert in doing messy play or leading adventures through the forest. And, while qualified staff are important, everyone doesn't need to be qualified in everything.

You’ve got to identify people’s strengths but don’t necessarily try to develop their weaknesses. There is no point – because you’re just giving them a job that they don’t want to do. Let them use their passion to share with others who want to improve.

- Lizzy Barlow, Nursery Group Leader, Hollies Day Nurseries

12. Admitting you’re wrong

More wisdom from our experts on the power of admitting when you’ve not quite got it right.

Performance management is about learning from mistakes, not gathering evidence of all the things that something went wrong. Here's where staff supervision can play a vital part in developing a culture where staff don't feel the need to hide mistakes.

To have a situation where staff don’t cover up anything, you have to have a framework in which it’s safe to say when you’ve gone wrong.

- Ailsa Monk, Principal, Cotswold Montessori School

13. The wrong attitude

To finish off, here’s one example of the type of person who isn’t right to lead an Early Years setting.

If you like telling people off, this isn’t the business to be in. If something goes wrong it should feel as upsetting to you as it does to them.

- Becky Pike, Partner, Hollies Day Nurseries

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.

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