The revised inspection framework and observation
We observe the children in our care all the time – every second of every day is spent playing and interacting with them and:
- Watching what they are doing
- Listening to what they are saying
- Noting how they are learning.
We are always asking ourselves questions about the children:
- Is the child happy?
- What can the child do?
- What can the child say?
- What can’t the child do yet?
- What are the child’s current interests?
- What does the child like to do at home?
- Is the child engaged and motivated by the activities I am providing?
- Is the child thinking?
- What is the child’s behaviour telling me?
- Where does the child prefer to play?
- How is the child filling their time with us?
Alongside these incidental observations, we can set aside time to talk to parents and other settings - and observe children’s play. We can find out, for example:
- What does the child like to do at home?
- How is their language is developing at home / in their home language?
- What do they like to do at nursery or pre-school?
- Who are the important people in their lives?
- What life experiences are they getting elsewhere?
- What are their favourite books and stories?
- Which television characters do they identify with at home?
- Where do they go with family at the weekend etc?
These observations – both ‘on the spot’ as we are playing and 'planned' or 'formal' when we set aside time to watch and listen – help us to tailor our environments, resources, daily routines and direct teaching to better support each child’s ongoing learning journey.
When we have observed children and found out as much about them as we can, we can then evaluate what the observations are telling us about the child and ask ourselves:
- What more can I do to support the child’s learning?
- Do I need to follow up activities with something else?
- Did the child learn anything from what we just did?
- Would it be helpful to repeat that activity to promote deeper learning?
- Can I change anything – for example, resources or the environment, to help the child learn better?
- How can I use the child’s current interest and develop it?
- Is the child learning and developing typically for their age?
One definition of ‘learning’ that Ofsted are currently using is… changes to a child’s long-term memory over time. This is when a child has learned something new and they take that learning and use it in different places or situations. For example, they tell you that they have done something with their parents and show their friends how they do it ‘like at home’.
An observation is, quite simply:
- What we see the child doing
- What we hear the child saying
- How the child is learning…
… in different contexts. For example, in the house or setting, outside in the garden, on an outing, at another setting (feedback from other practitioners) or at home. Observation shouldn’t be more complicated than that. How many observations you choose to write down is totally up to you – some early years practitioners do a lot of record keeping and some write very little. The most important thing is that the observations are being made regularly and are telling you something about the child.
For example, a parent might say, ‘Child A is interested in dinosaurs’ – you might then think:
- Is this interest in dinosaurs age and stage of learning appropriate?
- What does the child actually know?
- What words is the child using?
- How is the child playing with the dinosaurs?
- Do I have resources to support this interest? Do I have books, toys, games and puzzles which feature dinosaurs?
- Do I know enough about dinosaurs to develop his interest or do I need to learn more?
- Have I made space and time available for the child to explore his interest in dinosaurs?
- How can I use this interest across the curriculum – including all 7 areas of learning?
During future inspections, Ofsted will focus on:
- Our curriculum – how well we use the 7 areas of learning. They are talking about:
- Intent – what do we intend to do today?
- Implementation – how are we going to deliver our curriculum today?
- Impact – what changes has our teaching made to children’s long-term memory?
- Children’s vocabulary – how it is developed. Ofsted are talking about how vocabulary is developed through reading (primarily) but we must not forget conversations and storytelling etc.
To help you prepare for the changes to the inspection framework, you might want to think about how well you use the 7 areas of learning in day-to-day practice – and how many books you read children every day / the quality of those books.
I will talk more about the curriculum when I deliver a 'Curriculum' webinar for Childcare.co.uk in the summer.
Family engagement is also an important part of observation - and inspection - as well. Ofsted want to see:
- Good quality starting points from parents in place before the child starts in our care
- Key person interactions with parents and children to support the child's first days in the setting and beyond
- Regular, quality information sharing with parents
- Early years practitioners making suggestions to parents for developing children's home learning
- Regular updates from home about what the child is doing / saying
- Written 2 year progress check for every child.
We will talk about this in more detail when I deliver my ‘Working With Parents’ webinar during the summer, to help prepare early years practitioners for changes to the inspection framework from September 2019.
The revised Ofsted early years inspection handbook is here -
If you have any questions, you can contact me - Sarah Neville - on Facebook.
Chat soon, Sarah