What Ofsted are looking for in EYFS

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From my experience of working with lots of settings across the country the story when it comes to Ofsted inspections is still mixed at best. There still seems to be a huge difference between what different inspectors see as 'good practice'. Although we should be primarily driven by best outcomes for children and not teaching for Ofsted, it is the system by which we are all judged, so we need it to be as fair and accurate as it can be.


This week, there have been a two publications that are clearly intended to help to make EYFS judgements more uniform and recognise Foundation Stage as unique and requiring its own explicit section in a school inspection.

On Monday Sir Michael Wilshaw sent an open letter to Early Years Ofsted inspectors. This is what he said…

Dear Colleague

Letter to early years inspectors

In January, I wrote to all school inspectors setting out what I expect them to look for when judging the quality of teaching. I emphasised that inspectors should not expect to see a preferred style of teaching or a particular methodology, but should focus on how teaching helps children to learn and reach their potential.

I am now writing to early years inspectors with a similar message.

Too many reports focus on describing the provision in early years settings rather than on how well children are learning and making progress. In other words, inspectors should focus on evaluating whether children are being adequately prepared for the start of their statutory schooling.

Research shows that children’s development is at its greatest between birth and five. Therefore, the activities they do are absolutely crucial in giving them a good start in life. This is especially important for children from poor backgrounds. Children as young as two can learn and be taught a range of things. For example, they can:

  • learn new vocabulary and begin to use it in a meaningful way.
  • recognise and sing nursery rhymes and familiar songs
  • enjoy listening to stories and looking at picture books
  • build small towers while counting play bricks.
  • make shapes from modelling dough and begin to make marks on paper.
  • climb stairs and begin to play with a ball.
  • start to get dressed and undressed.

In November 2013, Ofsted launched a revised early years inspection framework, emphasising that nothing less than good provision is acceptable. We clearly set out our expectation that adults must teach young children. How settings fulfil this is the responsibility of each provider.

Therefore, I expect inspectors to apply common sense when observing how well children learn and how effectively adults teach children to develop skills, knowledge and understanding.

During an inspection, it may not be possible to see all the things I suggest below, nor is this list exhaustive. However, in essence, the inspector should observe how well adults:

  • help children to learn
  • teach children to listen to instructions and be attentive
  • teach children to socialize
  • motivate children to try things for themselves
  • support children to manage their personal needs
  • challenge children to think and find out more
  • encourage children to speculate and test ideas through trial and error
  • provide good models of language
  • develop children’s ability to express their ideas and use their imagination
  • extend children’s vocabulary and teach them to use new words
  • teach children the early stages of mathematics and reading.

Inspectors must expect adults to provide more than just supervision and care for children. They must also evaluate and report on whether:

  • staff sufficiently focus on children’s learning
  • staff spend enough time engaging in purposeful dialogue with children
  • children have sufficient time to practise and reinforce what is being taught
  • staff assess children’s skills, knowledge and abilities accurately and use this information to plan how to improve children’s progress
  • staff have sufficient expertise to teach children basic skills in the three prime areas of learning as well as in literacy and mathematics
  • the setting has a well-organised, regular and effective professional development programme that is improving the quality of teaching. 

In summary, inspectors should report on what makes teaching and assessment effective rather than on its style. I would like you to think carefully before criticising a setting because it does not conform to a particular ideological view of how young children should learn or be taught. Too few reports make links between the quality of teaching and its impact on children’s progress. I want to know how well settings help children to catch up when they enter with skills that are lower than those typical for their age.

I expect reports to be clear about the extent to which a provider prepares children for school. They should also support and challenge providers to improve their settings.

Parents must have concise and clear information to help them make the right decisions about their children’s education and care.

I hope this message has reinforced the importance of making clear and effective judgements on teaching in the early years and communicating these through inspection reports. The work that you do is vital in improving the life chances of young children, so it is important that we get this right.

Thank you for all your hard work.

Yours sincerely

Sir Michael Wilshaw

There is lots in this letter that needs unpicking and expansion, but the call for a 'common sense' approach that is unique to each setting is refreshing and long overdue.

You can find the letter here


On Tuesday, Ofsted  published a consultation setting out plans to introduce separate inspection judgements for early years settings.

The proposed changes, due to come into effect from September 2014, are designed to ensure inspectors place as much emphasis Foundation Stage as on the quality of provision for 5 to 16 year-olds.

Ofsted are keen to hear from as many people as possible – so if it matters to you (and it will do if you are reading this), make sure your voice is heard.

You can view the consultation and respond to the questionnaire here

You have until 13 May 2014

Let's keep things moving in the right direction…


adminWhat Ofsted are looking for in EYFS

Comments 10

  1. jane

    Alistair, I am taking this to mean that when Ofsted visits a school they report separately on the EYFS?
    Or does it mean they run separate EYFS Ofsted visits?
    Just checking! Thanks

  2. Tina

    A very interesting piece and I will look forward to seeing how this affects inspections in the future. I agree there is often a wide range of styles used when Ofsted are rating settings and the feedback from very similar setting can differ vastly across localities depending on the ‘views’ of the individual inspector.

  3. abc does

    Hi Jane – EYFS would get an ‘exclusive’ section in a school report, although a school I was talking to had had a ‘subject’ inspection on ‘school readiness’ that was exclusive to EYFS last month.

  4. zena Langley

    About time, however I do think that osted inspectors who are sent to inspect early years settings should be qualified within that area to do so,this will give an aquate graded outcome.

  5. chakanwali@hotmail.co.uk

    Common sense? Ofsted? It’s been a long time coming. I am a little concerned however, that pedagogy doesn’t seem to interest Michael Wilshaw. If I have read the letter correctly, it’s the outcomes not the process. However, we know that pedagogy is important as it yields life long learning, knowledge and skills.
    ‘adequately prepared for the start of their statutory schooling’ mmmm… Let’s role play EYFS to keep all the flowery, fluffy early years people happy then keep the pressure up on Literacy and Numeracy!
    Will the schedule for inspecting the private providers be brought in line with maintained Nursery Schools and nursery classes? probably not!!!!

  6. Kim

    I have been on the receiving end of outstanding and inadequate, same dedicated team keeping up high standards, so it interesting to see this letter. Hopefully the tide is turning in favour of recognising good practice and rewarding it correctly. I agree with Zena, Early Years inspectors should have some early years track record themselves. Personally, we have been re inspected and she wanted to give us outstanding but apparently you can’t go from inadequate to outstanding. That said, she recognised good practice and it’s a very good read!

  7. joanne

    interesting but the team that inspected us in January seemed to have ignored this ” behaviour in the Nursery is not as good as in Reception she noted!!! we could hardly get our words out fast enough

  8. claire evans

    Hi, would this also apply to a private nursery where children can start as early as 6 weeks? I get increasingly confused with the cross over between old and new guidance.

  9. Joanne Cowan

    My friend’s excellent F2 provision was inspected by an ofsted inspector who asked ” but where do they all sit?” Thereby undermining any credibility he had inspecting EYFS. Early years inspectors must have EYFS experience. Simples.

  10. abc does

    Hi Claire
    The over riding principles that are in the letter from Michael Wilshaw would apply to all Early Years settings. They would obviously just need to be applied in an age appropriate way.
    Hope this helps

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