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16 steps to achieving an outstanding early years Ofsted judgement

Linda Thornton and Pat Brunton outline the key things your early years setting will need to do to achieve an outstanding Ofsted judgement

The new Ofsted framework for the inspection of early years provision came into force on 12 September 2012, to coincide with the introduction of the Early Years Foundation Stage. Ofsted inspectors will be making judgements on the following areas of provision.

  • How well the early years provision meets the needs of the range of children who attend
  • The contribution of the early years provision to children’s wellbeing
  • The effectiveness of leadership and management of the early years provision
  • The overall quality and standards of the early years provision

Ofsted has produced a range of grade descriptions for early years providers that spell out exactly what it will expect to see in an outstanding early years setting, over and above settings that are judged to be good. Here are the 16 key factors you will need to demonstrate if you are to be judged to offer outstanding provision.

How well the early years provision meets the needs of the range of children who attend

1. You will need to show that you consistently achieve very high standards across all aspects of your work with exceptional educational programmes for children of all ages. Your practice must be inspirational and worthy of dissemination to other providers. 

2. Your setting must produce evidence that shows there are rich, varied and imaginative experiences for children, delivered by practitioners who have very high expectations of themselves and the children and who have expert knowledge of the areas of learning and development alongside a clear understanding of how children learn.

3. Your assessment processes for children of all ages must be accurate and focused, including all those involved in the child’s learning. You will need to show how assessment is used to inform planning and to secure timely interventions and support for each child, based on a comprehensive knowledge of the children and their families. 

4. Ofsted inspectors must be able to see that the children are well motivated, very eager to join in and that they consistently demonstrate the characteristics of effective learning. They will expect to see an extremely sharp focus on helping children to acquire communication and language skills, and on supporting their physical, personal, social and emotional development to ensure that they are exceptionally well prepared for school or the next steps in their learning.

5. Your setting should have in place highly successful strategies to engage all parents in their children’s learning in the setting and at home.

The contribution of the early years provision to children’s wellbeing

6. All practitioners in your setting must be highly skilled and sensitive in helping children form secure emotional attachments, and must be able to provide a strong base for the children’s developing independence and exploration.

7. The children in your setting must show increasingly high levels of self-control during activities and confidence in social situations; they will be expected to be developing an excellent understanding of how to manage risks and challenges relative to their age.

8. You must demonstrate that all practitioners consistently give the highest priority to the safety of children and effectively support children’s growing understanding of how to keep themselves safe and healthy.

9. In your setting there must be a highly stimulating environment with child-accessible resources that promote learning and challenge children both indoors and outdoors.

10. Ofsted must be able to see that the strong skills of all key persons ensure all children are well prepared for the next stages in their learning. Practitioners must provide evidence that they skilfully support children’s transitions both within the setting and to other settings and school.

The effectiveness of leadership and management of the early years provision

11. In an outstanding setting, leadership will be seen to be inspirational. The pursuit of excellence in all the setting’s activities must be demonstrated by an uncompromising, highly successful and well-documented drive to greatly improve achievement, or maintain the highest levels of achievement, for all children over a sustained period of time.

12. You will need to provide evidence that you have an excellent understanding of your responsibility to ensure that the provision meets the safeguarding and welfare requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage, and that you have effective systems to monitor their implementation.

13. Leaders and managers in your setting will need to show that high-quality professional staff supervision is provided, based on consistent and focused evaluations of the impact of staff practice. A targeted programme of professional development must be in place to ensure practitioners are constantly improving their already first rate understanding and practice.

14. Ofsted must be able to see that children’s needs are quickly identified and exceptionally well met through highly effective partnerships between the setting, parents, external agencies and other providers.

The overall quality and standards of the early years provision

15. To be judged as an outstanding setting, you must be able to demonstrate that your practice consistently reflects the highest aspirations for all children and staff, that it enables children to make excellent progress in relation to their starting points and prepares them extremely well for school or the next stage in their learning.

16. Finally, you must be able to show that all major aspects of your provision are at least good, and are outstanding in most respects, with all legal requirements met.

These key points apply to the inspection of registered early years provision. Although the information applies in a general sense to maintained schools, additional guidance on inspection guidance for schools can be found on Ofsted’s website.

Author details

Pat’s background as a research scientist has led to her interest in the idea of babies and young children as researchers, and to recognising the value of involving families in their children’s learning. She has extensive experience of the early...

Linda has over 40 years' experience in education as a teacher, headteacher, adviser and lead officer for early years for a local authority. She is passionate about developing children’s thinking and learning, valuing creative learning...