Last reviewed 11 August 2008

Mary Hogg explains the best ways to prepare for an Ofsted inspection.

From September 2008 all provision for children aged 0–5 years, including reception classes, will be inspected under the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). All providers with children in the EYFS, including the maintained sector, will have to meet the welfare requirements as set out in the EYFS Statutory Framework, although inspectors will not necessarily inspect each criteria.

What inspectors are looking for

To be prepared for an inspection, it helps if providers and staff understand what inspectors will be looking for and on what they will base their judgments. Overall, inspectors will look at a setting's capacity to carry out robust self-evaluations and implement changes for improvement so that it offers the best experiences for young children and meets the highest standards.

Inspectors will make judgments focusing on:

  • “what it is like for a child here” — this will now include children's learning as well as their development

  • the five outcomes for children from Every Child Matters:

    • helping children be healthy

    • protecting children from harm or neglect and helping them stay safe

    • helping children enjoy and achieve

    • helping children make a positive contribution to the provision and the wider community

    • helping children to achieve economic well-being — this is an additional area for early years provision

  • how well providers are helping children to develop skills for the future, to become independent learners, to develop their literacy and numeracy skills and how well the children's personal, social and emotional development is promoted

  • how experiences for a child attending different settings delivering EYFS complement each other

  • planning for, and assessment of, children's progress through the EYFS

  • the quality of leadership and management, including how well children are kept safe and staff recruitment.

Inspectors will want to see the setting running as normally as possible without special arrangements being made. Providers should ensure that all the staff are aware of what the inspection will involve. This will include inspectors:

  • observing:

    • activities — the interaction between staff and children and the children's engagement in the activities

    • policies and procedures — how well do staff members understand and implement these consistently

  • assessing:

    • the safety of the premises and the effectiveness of risk assessments

    • the robustness of recruitment policies and procedures

    • how well children are kept safe and what arrangements there are to ensure no unvetted individuals have unsupervised access to children

  • talking with children, parents and staff to help in their assessment of how well children are learning and how well staff understand what they are teaching.

Evidence needed

Inspectors' judgments will be based on:

  • how effectively the provision meets the children's needs

  • how effectively the children are being helped to learn and develop

  • how effectively the children's welfare is promoted.

  • the effectiveness of the leadership and management of the provision.

Inspections will continue usually to be without notice for provision in the private sector or at short notice for schools and school run provision. Providers should be ready for an inspection at any time and have written material where possible as this provides good evidence for inspectors. All relevant paperwork must be up to date and accessible and records annotated and dated. The paperwork should include the following.

  • Policies and procedures — with a clear system for reviewing and updating policies and also for communicating changes to staff, parents and children.

  • Planning and assessment documentation which reflects how the setting is meeting the EYFS learning and development requirements, and the individual needs of all children attending the setting. Providers should ensure that their planning and assessment demonstrates liaison with other EYFS providers to meet the needs of children attending more than one setting. It is not mandatory to have written planning, but where available it provides a good source of evidence of what has taken place, especially where it links with children's assessments.

  • A programme reflecting staff professional development needs and attendance at training.

  • Suitability checks on staff (including a note of the number and date of Criminal Record Bureau checks), in line with staff recruitment policy and procedure, and evidence of induction procedures being followed.

  • Formal risk assessments and other health and safety checks, including emergency evacuation.

  • Children's records: name, home address and date of birth of each child attending the provision, which parent they live with and name, home address and telephone (including emergency contact details) of every parent and carer known to the provider. Providers should also keep a record of children's special health or dietary requirements (including food allergies), their SEN status and ethnicity (where given by parents).

  • A record of the name, address and telephone number of all adults looking after the children on the premises.

  • Attendance records for children and staff, including hours of attendance and name of child's key worker.

  • Accident, first aid and medication records; and a record of any child protection concerns.

  • Complaints record.

  • A record of visitors (visitors' book).

There should be evidence that the provision is self-evaluative, identifying strengths and weaknesses, helping to answer the question, “what is it like for a child here?” Ofsted's self-evaluation form (SEF) helps providers to focus on continual self-improvement and quality and is also linked to the questions inspectors consider at inspection. The SEF is voluntary but it is good practice to complete regular self-assessments which are frequently updated and reviewed, including progress since the previous Ofsted inspection and any subsequent action plan.

The provider should also have evidence of:

  • activities and good practice, including children's own work and possibly photographs

  • partnership with parents, eg newsletters, posters, parent / teacher meetings, parental contribution to assessment records

  • partnership with other settings, professionals and the local authority (this may be reflected in the planning and assessment documentation and records of visits from professionals or local authority staff)

  • notification to Ofsted of any significant changes as required, usually within 14 days of an incident occurring, and any subsequent actions.

This list is not exhaustive, and different settings will have different ways of evidencing their practice. It is the provider's responsibility to meet the EYFS requirements and it is therefore good practice to make sure the inspector is aware of the range of evidence available.