Personally – I am still not happy about some wording in Ofsted reports   2 comments

I have commented before about the wording in EYFS 2012 Ofsted inspection reports and in particular specific actions and wording taken from the non statutory Development Matters.

At the time I did email Ofsted and they took the time to reply saying that they would look into the wording used by inspectors, so that practitioners did not feel they had to implement specific aspects of practice without understanding why or realising that the inspectors were in fact making suggestions to improve practice but that other appropriate improvements would be acceptable.

NB Unless  a matter of failure to meet the statutory requirements – when of course specific things must be put in place as recorded in inspection reports.

A couple of months have now passed since then and many more inspection reports are available on line.

Friends continue to send me reports and a few people send me their personal reports. I am very grateful for this,as time limits mean that I can only read a small section via a search on the Ofsted Website – and so those sent to me supplement those I have already read.

Therefore over the last couple of months I have been sent / searched for,  and read around 100 reports (which is just a % of those available).

For the purpose of this blog I shall be concentrating on the 50 or so reports that I have read  from those childminders  graded Satisfactory or Good.

(I hope to write two further blogs when time allows on the Inadequate and Outstanding graded inspection reports).

It is important to note that I am only looking at and commenting on Childminders reports because that is the sector that interests me most and that I am most familiar with. I would however be interested in comments / feedback from other early years sectors if a similar type of wording is being used in nursery / pre school inspection reports.

Please note though that I am not commenting on the actual  judgments as I was not there at the time, and I am sure that all inspectors are very skilled at gathering evidence and making those professional judgments.

It is up to individuals concerned to contact Ofsted and appeal if they feel in their personal situation that the inspector has not made a fair judgment.

What I am commenting on is the choice of words in the reports – and in particular the wording used under the heading

‘To further improve the quality of the early years provision the provider should:’

The heading itself is ‘set’ in the report template and so used by all inspectors – but personally I think it should read   ‘…….. the provider could:’ because my understanding is that inspectors are providing suggestions, one or two possible ways in which practice could be improved in the specific aspect. By using the word ‘should’ it straight away suggests to most that whatever is mentioned should be implemented. In my opinion it therefore sets the wrong background to what follows.

However as I have said – the wording is provided in the report template and so the inspectors must use it.

Some inspectors (not all – and I shall comment on well worded reports later) are still using wording that is misleading and in some cases very restrictive – and not allowing childminder practitioners the option to use their professional judgment about the best course of action to meet the needs of the children in their care, the needs of the parents of the children or indeed the physical restrictions of their setting (which after all is a duel purpose building being a family home as well as a childcare setting), or the time restraints of one person having to carry out all tasks connected to the setting.

So some actual examples – taken from actual reports but without details of the setting or the inspector. In each case I have made comment about why I think the wording is inappropriate – but remember it is personal opinion

Remember all statements stated with the heading ‘ To further improve the quality of the early years setting the provider should:’

First Example

‘help children to explore books and to choose their favourite stories by creating an attractive book corner, where children and adults can enjoy books together’

First, I should mention  it was noted in the report that the childminder did have a range of books available.

Why is it necessary to create a book corner? – what is wrong with books on a table or in a box or in a basket?, or a few on the bookcase used by the childminders family, and to curl up on the sofa or in an armchair? Or even to just sit on the floor together with a book?

Whose judgment will it be that even if a book corner was created, it was ‘attractive’? What was the inspector expecting? It is not clear – although the inspector may have given further guidance during verbal feedback.

My difficulty with this wording about creating an attractive book corner is it gives a message (even if unintentional) to anyone who reads this report and to anyone that the childminder concerned speaks to, that childminders ‘must’ have a book corner. This could include LA staff and trainers who I know check reports to ensure they give appropriate advice to those that they train and advise.

Before we know it the ‘word on the street’ and the advise given by trainers will be ‘Childminders MUST have a book corner’

I have seen this happen time and time again and as in this case it simply is not the case at all. NOWHERE does it say in the statutory framework or in the Evaluation schedule for inspections of registered early years provision – that childminders must or even should have a book corner.

So how could the inspector have worded this more appropriately to ensure the childminder did improve access to books but did not suggest a specific action?

Of course I am not inspector but I would have worded it as follows;

‘ Increase opportunities for children to self select books, and for adults and children to enjoy books together.  Consider ways to increase  the range of books available to choose from each day’

In my opinion the childminder may not have had the space or the resources to create a book corner, he or she may have also felt that as it is family home a book corner was not needed or appropriate – however the children could have been encourage to select books from a home made  ‘photo catalogue’ of the books available, or enjoyed trips to the library to select the books for that week, or encouraged to bring favourite books from home. The childminder could have shared books with a childminding colleague to increase the range available – the possibilities are endless.

Second Example

Improve the children’s development records by ensuring that each entry is dated and identifies the next steps in their learning journey

Whilst I would agree that development records should be dated because otherwise progress can not be shown – it is not necessary to identify next steps on each entry. It is possible that the inspector did not mean this and actually wanted to make two separate points – one about dating and one about next steps but as have been recorded in one sentence – it reads that next steps should be recorded on each entry.

I find that sometimes there is not a clear next step – because the child may not be ready for weeks if not months to make the next step, they are consolidating their learning. More importantly children  may go off at a tangent and so develop in another area first.

In the ‘Evaluation schedule for inspections of registered early years provision’, there is just ONE mention of next steps – in fact it mentions ‘next stages’ not ‘next steps’ – it says on page 7 of the document

‘evidence of planning for children’s next stages of learning based on staff assessment and a secure knowledge of the characteristics of learning and children’s development’

It does also say on page 8 under the descriptors for ‘Good’

‘Practitioners complete regular and precise assessments of children and use these effectively to plan suitably challenging activities’

It is clear that all practitioners must observe, assess and plan so that they support the children’s development BUT what it does not say is if this has to be in writing, how often regular is, or that each development record must have next steps’

Practitioners can, in my opinion demonstrate that they are doing the observations, assessment and planning in other ways – and inspectors should as it says at the beginning of the Evaluation schedule document, in point 7

‘ ….. apply professional knowledge and expertise when using the criteria’

and furthermore apply point 6 of same page

‘….weigh up the evidence in a particular area and consider it against the descriptors for ….’

Of course it is possible that the childminder concerned did not have any evidence  – but the fact that it mentions that records need dating suggests that he or she did have some evidence.

By mentioning the next steps in the same sentence as the need to date development records this inspector is giving the impression that written development records that are dated and that show next steps are required – not that they are just one way of providing evidence – so as in the previous example the ‘word on the street’ will be that childminders MUST have next steps on EVERY development record.

I personally use other methods of recording – the child’s evidence diary showing what the child did that day, and records of communication with parents (discussions about child’s development) and –  no mention of next steps or even next stages – this is shown in the records of the environment provided each day – and the photographic evidence of environment provided and child’s interaction with that environment – as this shows that I have planned an appropriate environment for each child’s stage of development and more importantly how each child is developing – a simple example is mark making with chalk outside – over a period of time the children’s mark making is developing as seen in the photo’s – and also seen in photo’s and their diaries is the provision of other mark making activities (so paint, pencils etc) and the marks made showing again development in skills.

Maybe Ofsted won’t accept my system – time will tell – but I certainly will challenge any comment that suggests that I should use a system specified by an inspector, or that requires elements that are not within the statutory document or the inspectors guidance documents.

The children in my care – their starting points assessment, progress check and eventually leaving assessment will be evidence of the progress they have made – and will demonstrate that as a practitioner I have fulfilled all the requirements of EYFS.

And in my case I have my blog as further evidence

Naturally I am not saying that my system is the ‘right way’ – as already mentioned I have yet to find out if Ofsted think it provides the evidence required, but what I am saying is that practitioners and particularly childminder practitioners can provide evidence of planning and assessment in a number of different ways.

Third Example

‘improve consistency in monitoring children’s progress to provide a more precise assessment of their development at any given time’

This follows on from the previous example – although is from a different report. The wording is actually quite good as it does not specify ‘how’ this should be done. What worries me is the wording ‘at any given time’ because this could be read to mean that daily assessment is needed – and although it does not say so – how should this be information be gathered and presented – will it assumed that should be in writing?

Recognising that it maybe more difficult in group settings where there are larger numbers of children, within a childminding setting, any childminder should be able to explain verbally (and at any time) to parents or inspectors,  each child’s current development stage, plus their interests, plus any concerns about development – and explain why the environment provided that day meets the needs of the children present.

Maybe – and only a guess – the childminder concerned found it hard to talk to the inspector through nerves or fear?

Or may the inspector was expecting something in writing? Or expecting the childminder to give detailed information matching it to Development Matters?

Fourth Example

‘provide photographs of family members for children  who need further support when settling in’

The danger in this statement is that it gives the impression that all children will benefit from having photographs of family members to help them settle – therefore ‘the word on the street’ will soon be ‘must provide photo’s of the children’s family.

This will indeed help some children to settle but for some it will upset them further. Some children would benefit from having a personal item from family members with them, as it will remind them of that family member, will most likely smell of that family member, and is a reminder that they and the item will be collected.

Other children are better without any reminders of home – they may just like their own comfort object.

Yet other children are best kept busy so they they have less time to think about missing family members

Yet other children may like a recording of a family member reading a story or singing (especially if their home language is different to that of the childminder)

Interestingly it is family photographs that are mentioned in development matters.

I could go on – but I think I have made my point – in my opinion it is not a good idea to specify one aspect  – as each situation will be different. It would be far better to say something like;

‘Discuss with family members ways in which to support children when settling into the setting’

Fifth  example

‘provide ways to help young children and babies recognise and predict routines’

The wording itself is fine but under the heading ‘Is not ……….yet’, the report mentioned that the childminder is not providing visual clues.

As a childminder myself this has completely thrown me!

Surely saying to the child ‘Let’s change your nappy’ and getting the changing things ready is supporting the child to recognise and predict routines? The same with ‘Let’s tidy up, then we will put you in the highchair … just doing your harness up …. now where is your cup … here it is the red one’

I am at a loss as to just what this inspector meant! Surely the inspector did not expect the childminder to be using a visual timetable with babies and young children? Not that there is anything wrong with visual timetables – they can be very useful with slightly older children especially those with additional needs.

Maybe someone could let me know what the inspector might have meant.

Sixth Example

‘help the children develop their understanding of measuring thing, especially time, by providing hourglasses and stopwatches, so that they can understand that things can happen ‘now’ and ‘next’

Maybe I am missing the point but what is wrong with the clock on the wall (and increasing opportunities to learn about numbers), or a watch, or a timer on a cooker, or one of those wind up egg timers, or even just a verbal ‘when we have …. we will ….’

Again the inspectors choice of wording is suggesting that only hourglasses and stopwatches can support children with their understanding of time.

By the way sand timers are mentioned in development matters.

I could go on adding examples but I don’t think I need to, as I have provided enough examples to demonstrate that – in my opinion – inspectors are still using wording that implies there is only one way to improve the aspect of practice that the inspector has identified that needs improving.

This in turn then leads to others – the people who the childminder talks to and the people who read reports coming to the the conclusion that ‘this is what Ofsted are looking for’ and before you know it word is being spread that if you want to achieve the higher grades you should have / do  x, y  and z .

It is my opinion that this leads to copycat practice rather than practice based on professional judgment about the needs of the children – and that is worrying. Each setting, each practitioner, each family of the children and of course each child is different – one size (or one type of practice) does not suit all.

However as mentioned at the beginning of this report, not all inspectors use such restrictive statements and I have seen examples of very good wording.

Here are a couple of examples to demonstrate that it is possible to word things in a way that allow practitioner to use their professional knowledge.

improve inclusive practice further by supporting children in using a variety of communication strategies, including signing and pictorial prompts, where appropriate.’

Simply by using the word ‘appropriate’ the inspector is allowing the childminder to make the decision about when and if,  he or she should use signing or pictorial prompts.

‘extend children’s understanding of people and communities, for example by: providing books and resources which represent children’s diverse backgrounds ….. ‘ 

In this example the inspector has provided a suggestion about how to improve practice but by using the words ‘for example’ makes it clear that it is a suggestion that the childminder may choose to use or not.

I shall be keeping an eye on future reports to see if there is a swing towards more appropriate wording in inspection reports.

Posted January 1, 2013 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

2 responses to “Personally – I am still not happy about some wording in Ofsted reports

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  1. I think the direction to go, is to support Childminders and providers to be assertive and confident to enable them to challenge inspectors. In addition CPD around Child Development, EYFS and the three characteristic of effective teaching and learning.

    • I completely agree Laura – all much needed training / support.

      I hope that all providers – not just childminders undertake this training whenever possible, and also take advantage of peer support both in developing knowledge but also in gaining confidence by role playing challenging inspectors both at time of inspection and when report received.

      I just worry in these times of LA cuts and providers with huge demands on time and trying making ends meet if the training / support will; a) be made available and b) accessed even if available.

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