Last reviewed 25 November 2009


Self-evaluation has been an indicator of quality within early years settings for many years, although it was not always directly acknowledged through the inspection regime. It should be seen as a continuous process, a journey rather than a destination, and be part of the daily, systematic approach to the operation of the setting.

With the introduction of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), the importance of being a self-reflective setting took a prominent place in the life of a nursery. Ofsted introduced a basic self-evaluation form to help settings reflect on their practice within the Foundation Stage, but with the EYFS these forms have become more detailed and searching, encouraging settings to think carefully about how they are meeting the needs of each child attending their nursery. Underpinning all self-evaluation is the consideration of “what is it like for each child here today”.

Completion of the self-evaluation form (SEF) is not compulsory, but self-evaluation is the cornerstone of all quality providers. Through ongoing careful reflection on how well the setting is meeting each of the outcomes for children it will become readily evident where there is room for improvement. There is now evidence from a variety of studies, including those by the Thomas Coram Institute, to suggest that settings which are looking for continuous improvement provide higher-quality services and achieve better outcomes for each child attending. Through the completion of a form such as the SEF, settings are able to identify their own strengths and areas for development as they relate to the Ofsted inspection process.

Changes to the SEF

The SEF (version 1) for early years settings was made available online in 2008 for most settings, following a pilot study in 2007. On 29 October 2009 Ofsted introduced an amended online SEF (version 2) and issued a document, Guidance to the Amendments, which should have been seen by all early years settings working within the EYFS. This guidance details the main changes and how information previously recorded on the online SEF will be automatically brought forward to the revised form. The supporting guidance for the online SEF has been updated to reflect the changes.

The main changes are to the Learning and development, Welfare, and Leadership and management sections.

There are no changes to the information required in:

  • Setting details

  • Views of others

  • Statutory requirements (Learning and development requirements and Welfare requirements).

The sections “Learn and develop” and “Quality of welfare” have been amalgamated to form one section, “Quality of provision”.

Outcomes for children is a new section which incorporates each of the five outcomes, with a heading for each outcome. It is worth noting that some of the headings for the outcomes for children have minor changes:

  • “Enjoy and achieve” is now “Achieve and enjoy”

  • “Stay safe” has become “Feel safe”

  • “Be healthy” is now “Healthy lifestyle”.

There is no change to the Positive contribution or Future skills headings.

The other main change is to the Leadership and management section. The three original headings:

  • Promote improvement

  • Safeguarding

  • Partnerships

have been replaced by a total of seven headings, three of which are completely new:

  • Deploying resources

  • Ambition and improvement

  • Engagement.

The other headings are:

  • Self-evaluation

  • Safeguarding

  • Partnerships

  • Inclusive practice replaces “Equality and diversity” and has been moved out of the “Overall effectiveness” section into “Leadership and management”.

Ofsted guidance

The Ofsted Guidance to the Amendments states that they have put in place a number of rules (data migration) so that information already input by a setting is transferred from version 1 of their SEF to version 2. The existing version 1 will not be updated. The update will only occur when a setting wishes to revise their SEF and creates a new form in order to so. However, it is advisable for settings to print off a copy of their original form before opening the new SEF in case information has been lost during the transmigration. For information to be migrated to the new form it must be saved on version 1 and a new form created which will appear as version 2, which should contain all the saved data from version 1. The guidance from Ofsted gives details of where information will be saved on the new form, in particular where sections have been changed. Where there are no changes to a section the information will be migrated directly across to version 2 of the SEF.

Criteria for inspection judgments

The Ofsted inspection judgments will be made on the following criteria.

  • Overall effectiveness of the early years provision, specifically the capacity of the provision to maintain continuous improvement.

  • The effectiveness of leadership and management of the EYFS. Within this section the inspector will make a judgment on the effectiveness:

    • of leadership and management in embedding ambition and driving improvement

    • with which the setting deploys resources

    • with which the setting promotes equality and diversity

    • of safeguarding

    • of the setting’s self-evaluation, including the steps taken to promote improvement

    • of partnerships

    • of the setting’s engagement with parents and carers.

  • The quality of provision in the EYFS.

  • Outcomes for children in the EYFS looking at the extent to which children:

    • achieve and enjoy their learning

    • feel safe

    • adopt healthy life-styles

    • make a positive contribution

    • develop skills for the future.

There are no proposed changes to the policy of little or no-notice inspections for all private, voluntary and independent (PVI) settings. The onus for providers to comply with the regulations remains and inspectors will only examine some of the requirements in order to reach their judgments. Inspectors are likely to look at any requirements which a setting has indicated on their SEF that are not met, or where the inspector finds evidence to suggest that a requirement is not met. They will continue to inspect the requirements for child protection, including staff suitability. Although the SEF is not mandatory, it can be used effectively by inspectors as a focus for discussion and, in some cases, to shorten the time spent on inspection.

In conclusion

The SEF should be used as a tool for continuous self-improvement and not completed solely for use by inspectors. Best practice would usually advise that a setting devises an annual cycle of self-evaluation, using a document, such as the SEF, as a prompt. By planning ahead, different sections can be addressed throughout the year, ensuring that no aspect of the setting is overlooked. It is important to look objectively at the setting, identifying strengths and areas for improvement honestly, underpinning each evaluation with clear examples of the practice that has informed the judgment. It is also important to involve all members of the setting, staff, parents, and volunteers, in completing the SEF, as different people will view aspects of the setting differently.