Please enable JavaScript.  This webapp requires JavaScript to work.

Key Features of Recent Ofsted Reports

by Helen Edwards on November 8

When a new inspection framework appears, settings can feel vulnerable; nobody wants to be inspected in the first few months, as inspectors get used to the new framework and Ofsted’s quality assurance, inspection monitoring, and subsequent inspector training settle in. Settings are naturally worried that a previous outstanding inspection might become a good one this time. There is already evidence of this in the reports published in September. In addition, this is the time urban myths develop- just like the misunderstandings that arose with the Development Matters ticky statement methods- that many settings still think are required.

How can settings prepare themselves for their next inspection under this new framework? The obvious answer is to read the inspection reports that have been published recently and discover the main factors. Teachers and practitioners clearly don’t have the time to do this, but we at Tapestry, have done this for you! We’ve identified the significant changes and amendments to the inspection framework, to help you make sure you’ll be ready when the day arrives.

The Learning Walk

In the previous inspection framework, providers were required to discuss the quality of the environment and the activities they provide, and how they meet the needs of the children. The new framework talks about the aims and rationale for their EYFS curriculum. Sounds complicated, but what does this mean? It’s mainly about showing your inspector what learning is like on a day to day basis. It’s about what you hope the children will learn and why you have set things up in the way that you have. The content of this conversation with the inspector is no different from before, but it’s now described as intent and implementation and impact.

To help you prepare for the learning walk, think about:

  • The structure and routines of the day. Why do you do what you do? Include all the experiences a child might have during the day, for example, story, rhyme and singing sessions, role play, creative arts, mark making, outdoors play, and so on.
  • The layout of the environment and the resources. How have you decided on this layout? Is it always the same? Can the children select resources themselves? How well do the resources support the characteristics of effective learning? How well do they reflect the children’s current interests? How do the resources build on the children’s existing knowledge and skills? How does the intended learning differ from inside and out?
  • The children’s engagement with, and motivation for, learning. When you walk around your setting, do the children look happy, busy, and purposefully engaged?

The learning walk for an Ofsted inspection is very different to those which are often carried out in school which do not tend to be an opportunity to engage with the teaching staff but an opportunity to focus on a specific, predetermined feature of teaching of learning which would be used to reflect on the school as a whole.

Cultural capital

In the previous framework, inspectors assessed how effectively the manager supported staff to promote the learning and development of the children. This is still included now, but in addition the language is tighter and linked specifically to outcomes: the inspector will look at how leaders provide a focus for professional development activities in relation to children’s vocabulary and cultural capital. Ofsted’s requirement for cultural capital is that providers must build on the experiences children have had. Think about how your curriculum enhances the experiences for children, particularly the most disadvantaged.

Gill Jones, Ofsted Early Education Deputy Director, writing for the Early Years Alliance, says:

I know that there has been some discussion over the term ‘cultural capital’, which occupies a few paragraphs in our new handbook. But, as the Alliance’s Michael Freeston has helpfully made clear, ”there is no need to over-think cultural capital – it is the exciting and stimulating activities that you do with children every day”.

For example, on one pilot inspection, our inspector visited a nursery that was in a densely populated area. There was not much outdoor space in which to play, and many of the young children didn’t have gardens at home. So, the staff at this nursery created a herb garden and children took it in turns to look after it. The key here was context: the nursery staff saw a gap in the children’s lives and they helped to fill it in.

So, cultural capital is simply about introducing young children to experiences that they may not get at home. And that can mean something quite different from one place to another.’

Partnerships with parents

Settings have always been required to work effectively with parents to support children’s learning, but in this new inspection framework, the language has become more specific and has special reference to literacy:

‘Practitioners share information with parents about their child’s progress in relations to the EYFS. They help parents to support and extend their child’s learning at home, including how to encourage a love of reading’ (Page 35)

Assessment and progress tracking

Although Gill Jones has announced a diminished focus on assessment, inspectors will still need to see that children are making progress. This doesn’t mean, then, that we can dispense with assessment systems entirely but, as the Deputy Director says, ‘I hope that means you feel less obliged to create reams of paperwork, and that, in turn, will allow you to spend more time with young children and less time using Excel’ (Early Years Alliance website)

Inspectors will still want to see that assessment is used effectively to ensure staff understand what children know, understand and can do, and how they can take the children’s learning forward. Providers will need to demonstrate the progress children make relative to their starting points, but assessment does not need to be an onerous task. Ofsted are making clear that excessive assessment will be detrimental to the inspection outcome: ‘Leaders understand the limitations of assessment and avoid unnecessary burdens for staff or children’ (Ofsted early years inspection handbook, page 34).

Staff make regular and reflective observations and assessments of children’s learning and development. They use these to fully understand the uniqueness of each child to ensure children make excellent progress given their starting points.

Managers monitor the curriculum and the children’s assessments well to narrow any gaps in learning. Staff seek good information on what children can do and are knowledgeable about what they need to learn next.

And we’re warned about ineffective assessment practices ‘An inadequate descriptor is ‘Assessment is overly burdensome. It is unhelpful in determining what children know, understand and can do’ (page 36)

Gill Jones states, ‘I hope that means you feel less obliged to create reams of paperwork, and that, in turn, will allow you to spend more time with young children and less time using Excel.’’ (EYA website)

It’s essential, then, that any system a setting has for observing and assessing children has to be quick, easy and effective. Tapestry!

Behaviour, attitudes and personal development

Personal development, behaviour and welfare have now become two areas:

  • Behaviour and attitudes
  • Personal development

Each has its own inspection judgement, signalling the importance of behaviour and attitudes to learning in the new framework. How is it described in the inspection handbook?

‘Inspectors will consider the ways in which children demonstrate their attitudes and behaviour through the characteristics of effective learning’ (page 35)

The behaviour and attitudes judgement will naturally be a cause for concern in settings where the behaviour of some children is very challenging. Such settings will worry that the inspector will downgrade them based on the fact their children are not all compliant all the time. Hopefully, inspectors will be more interested in how the staff support and encourage children to behave positively, through consistent guidance and expectations and excellent modelling of the required courteous interactions.

Features in this judgement also include how well ‘children listen intently and respond positively to adults and to other children’, and how ‘children benefit fully from the early education opportunities available to them by participating and responding promptly to requests and instructions from practitioners’ (page 37). Inspectors looking at how well children are able to regulate their behaviour will also hopefully be mindful of child development and age-appropriate expectations and will not expect too much too soon.

The personal development judgement has not changed in its expectations and still includes:

  • Emotional security- how staff make children feel unique, included, safe and secure
  • Children’s independence
  • Physical health and children taking managed risks
  • Health and hygiene

Staff well-being

Staff well-being is a welcome and significant addition to the new framework. Stress and related workload pressures are a key factor in staff mental health problems. Not only is this detrimental to staff quality of life, it has a significant effect on the quality of the children’s experiences within the provision not least pertaining to stressed staff and a high turnover of practitioners.

Ceeda’s research paper stated that 55% of staff planning a job move are considering work outside the early years sector altogether, or a move from PVI to maintained provision (40%)

‘Overall, the Ceeda Early Years Workforce Survey Benchmark identifies some very clear messages: early years staff want better pay and recognition for what they do, more opportunities to progress, greater autonomy in their job role, less pressure and stress in their workplace and better communication with their employer.’ (page 37)

Pre-school Learning Alliance Minds Matter research (2018) studied the impact of working in the early years sector on practitioners’ mental health and wellbeing.

25% of respondents are considering leaving the EY sector due to stress or mental health difficulties

62% of respondents work outside of paid hours ‘very often’.

44% of respondents have felt stressed about work or an issue relating to work in the last month ‘very often’ and 30% ‘quite often’.

In the light of this worrying research, Ofsted are right in identifying this as a focus at inspection:

‘Inspectors will gather evidence of the effectiveness of staff supervision….how effectively leaders engage with staff and make sure they are aware of and manage any of the main pressures on them’ (page 19).

‘Leaders engage with their staff and are aware of the main pressures on them. They are realistic and constructive in the way they manage staff, including their workload’ (page 38).

Extracts from reports confirm that inspectors are indeed mindful of the issue:

During their supervision meetings, staff discuss many aspects of their job including their well-being.

Staff’s emotional well-being is supported. There is a comfortable staff room and they are provided with regular breaks. Staff report that they feel listened to and that their contributions are valued.

The provider supports staff well. For example, she gives them sufficient time away from working directly with the children to keep up to date with administrative duties, including developing their planning and key-children’s development records.

Self-evaluation and reflective practice

Self-evaluation was included in the previous inspection framework but there is increased emphasis on the need for efficient, regular reflective practice, a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the provision, and an ambitious drive to consistently improve it.

The focus on self-evaluation, reflection and continual improvement is clear throughout the inspection handbook, for example:

‘Leaders and managers…. should be prepared to discuss the quality of education and care they provide…. Inspectors will consider how well leaders and managers evaluate their provision and know how they can improve it or maintain its high standards’ (page 15)

Reviewing 100 Ofsted early years inspection reports from September, there are clear patterns emerging:

  • The focus on having a distinct vision for your setting
  • Making sure effective reflective practice leads to an accurate evaluation of your provision
  • Robust procedures to implement improvements

Extracts from September reports confirm this:

The manager and staff have a shared vision for all children of good-quality care and learning. They are reflective about their practice, committed to continuously improving and work well as a team.

The manager has successfully embedded a reflective culture. This motivates and empowers all staff to continuously look for ways to improve the experiences of the children.

The manager and senior staff are committed to continual improvement of the nursery provision. They encourage staff to regularly reflect on what they do and how they teach. They help staff identify where they can be even more effective.

A sequenced curriculum

There is clear direction in the new framework that the curriculum must be sequenced so that children’s learning arises from building on what has come before. Children will be expected to assimilate new learning into established concepts.

‘Children’s experiences over time are consistently and coherently arranged to build cumulatively sufficient knowledge and skills for their future learning’ (page 33)

Is this going to lead to a return to more paperwork for planning? It was highly usual not that long ago, for early years settings to have long, medium and short term plans, often written by one senior member of staff and stuck on a wall for others to follow. Thankfully, that has significantly reduced in the light of following children’s interests, In the Moment Planning, and the realisation that planning activities a month in advance is not an effective method in taking children’s learning further. How settings are going to demonstrate their sequences curriculum is going to be a new challenge.

Digital technology and keeping children safe

There is a new expectation in the handbook around the internet, digital technology and social media. A ‘good’ descriptor for personal development reads:

‘Practitioners help children to gain an effective understanding of when they might be at risk, including when using the internet, digital technology and social media and where to get support if they need it’.

This focus seems to contradict the ideas around the removal of the ELG for technology.

To explore the key features of 100 recent Ofsted reports, please follow the links:

100 Ofsted reports – Part 1: vision, reflection, evaluation and drive for improvement

100 Ofsted reports- Part 2: curriculum, assessment and progress tracking

100 Ofsted reports – Part 3: professional development and staff well-being

100 Ofsted reports – Part 4: behaviour, attitudes and personal development

100 Ofsted reports- Part 5: partnerships with parents




Helen avoided full-time work for many years, following her ambition to be a perpetual student. After a degree in Linguistics, Music and Astronomy (probably the only person to have studied this particular combination of subjects) she gained a D.Phil from Sussex in Experimental Psychology. At the grand old age of 28, she thought she'd better get a proper job, so completed a PGCE and became a primary school teacher. After the birth of her second child she opened her own nursery, which she managed for ten happy years. She was amongst the first to achieve Early Years Professional Status (EYPS), and tutored students on early years courses at Brighton University. She has also been a local authority EYFS advisor and an early years Ofsted inspector. Helen is part of the Education Team, and she organises the Tapestry Education Conferences (TECs), bringing together educators, academics and LA advisors for lively discussions about teaching and learning.