Ofsted has been a constant the whole of my teaching career and more so the last 14 years as a head of a maintained nursery school (MNS). At one point in my career, I was lead for a children’s centre, two MNS and two childcare settings with the possibility of five Ofsted calls and subsequent inspections. The nearer you get to your Ofsted window, with the inspection around the corner, that’s when you have a constant niggle in the pit of your stomach. It comes up in daily conversations, you hold your breath when the phone rings, and then there is the relief when you haven’t had the phone call for that week.
As head of an MNS, it’s frustrating when Ofsted visits. Often the inspectors aren’t early years specialists, and their understanding of how young children learn is limited and the importance of play in the curriculum is usually within a context of key stage 1. This gives a drive to inspections with a focus on get children ‘school ready’ in terms of phonics, handwriting and other ‘academic’ benchmarks, which only makes up a small proportion of what the amazing learning little brains do in early years settings. Within my nursery we have a high proportion of SEN children, over 30 per cent of whom are included in my data, and, as a result, we can’t demonstrate outstanding progress as Ofsted would like. However, I know my children make outstanding progress for them, taking a step between furniture, eye pointing to a choice of snack and playing alongside a peer are some of the amazing achievements of the children at my nursery, but Ofsted don’t recognise these or the hard work staff put in to make these small steps achievable.
As a long-standing head, I now take a pragmatic approach to Ofsted. Inspectors will be in for two days maximum and get a snapshot of what we do, usually with a hidden Government agenda. But what about the other 950 days between inspections? So I concentrate on those 950 days and don’t make everything about the two days. I know I have fantastic staff who work hard and give the children the best learning opportunities. We know because parents tell us, professionals tell us, reception teachers tell us, so why would I need Ofsted to come in with its narrow unrealistic agenda to tell me?
As a school, we are constantly reviewing and monitoring our practice, looking at new way to improve. We work with other MNS locally and nationally. We know what we need to do for our unique school community and the context we teach in. We are the experts, so trust us.
Ofsted needs to be replaced with a system driven by what is in the best interests of the child, and to trust school leaders and teachers to implement this.
I support NEU’s campaign to replace Ofsted with a trust-based system that is good for children’s education, staff, and leaders like me.
Cathy Earley is an NEU Leadership member and head teacher at a Maintained Nursey School.