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The Revised Education Inspection Framework Handbook

June 29, 2021
13 minute read

As the revised EYFS comes into force in September 2021, we will continue to see the updates and revisions of other supporting documents.

Most recently, the Early Years Inspection (EIF) Handbook has been updated to reflect updates to guidance and legislation. As we know, the EIF Handbook defines the main activities that Ofsted inspectors undertake when they carry out inspections of early years providers in England, registered under sections 49 and 50 of the Childcare Act 2006. The handbook also sets out the judgements that inspectors will make and on which they will report.

Along with the revised document is a separate document called The Summary of Changes, which rather helpfully highlights the changes to the EIF Handbook.

In this blog, we will look at each of the changes in turn, consider how these impact on practice, and what we can do as leaders to ensure that we remain compliant and up to date. There is no real way to add much humor or fun into this blog I’m afraid…..So let’s get going…..It’s a pretty lengthy one, get yourself comfy!

The big change we notice initially is the removal of the links to disapplications throughout the document. As we move out of lockdown restrictions and move back into our usual ways of working, we can no longer expect exceptions to the rules due to Covid-19. However, threaded throughout the document are several mentions of inspectors wanting to know the impact of Covid on the setting and how leaders have led their setting throughout the pandemic. We feel this will be a key theme across inspections over the next 12 months and recommend all leaders take some time to reflect on the changes they have managed over the period. You have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, embraced change and led your teams on a journey that no one would have ever predicted. But if asked by an inspector to describe all you have done, could you articulate that? Could you share the challenges and how you managed them, how you supported your team to work together and plough through the confusion without being modest? Could you explain how you managed safeguarding, kept an eye on vulnerable children, provided home learning packs and kept in touch with families? All of this is essential to explain and be able to share, so start thinking about it now. Begin to reflect on everything you have done over the last 18 months that has had a positive impact on the children, as well as the changes that didn’t work so well and how you pivoted to try something else.

Looking at the revised EIF handbook, we can initially see some wording updates, to reflect that all inspections will take place on site from Sept 2021. There will still be a preparation call, where the inspector will 'seek to understand the specific impact of Covid-19 on the provider and how leaders have responded to the situation’, however the details around this call have been reduced in the revised EIF Handbook. As mentioned previously, this is an important part to highlight. As leaders, we have adapted our practices so much throughout the pandemic, some of it may have led to positive impacts and some perhaps not so much, but demonstrating your leadership during this preparation call can set the tone for the visit. Be clear on how your leadership has adapted, how your team have pulled together, how you have supported your team to embrace the challenges and the impact this has had on your team culture. Highlight all the positive ways in which the pandemic has led to your team growth, their development and your growth as a leader. It is important to really reflect on this now, before that call, so that you can clearly articulate this on the call.

Under the ‘Reaching Inspection Judgements’ heading, much of the text has been updated. Again, reference to disapplications has been removed, and the emphasis is now around the impact of the pandemic and ‘how providers identify and address’ delays or gaps in learning. Ensuring that your team know their key children very well is important here. Your practitioners need to be able to talk about each child, the impact the pandemic has had on the unique child’s learning and how their practice is supporting each child to learn and develop. Practitioners need to have a clear and in-depth understanding of where children are in their development and learning and what they need to provide in order to support children’s development.

The heading ‘EYFS learning and development requirements, curriculum and disapplication’ has been completely removed in the Sept 2021 EIF Handbook.

The Leadership section has been somewhat reduced, from 2 paragraphs to one sentence: ‘Inspectors seek to understand how leaders have adapted their approaches as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic, including the rationale for any new or modified ways of working’. As we mentioned above, reflecting on this now is essential to give yourself the time to be truly reflective on the ways in which you have changed and adapted your practice and whether you will continue with these ways of working and why. A great example is perhaps the changes to the drop off and collection process. Parents have been dropping off at the door rather than coming into the setting and many providers are considering keeping this way of working – you can read more about this in our blog on nursery drop offs. What Ofsted will want to know is what the impact of your adapted approaches have been and why you will choose to continue to embrace that method, or indeed the rationale behind reverting back to your previous approaches. Why you do what you do is as important as what you do.

The Safeguarding and Welfare requirements have again lost reference to disapplications and modifications, with the discourse now considering how ‘safeguarding arrangements have changed over time due to the pandemic and how providers have made sure they remain effective.’ We know that safeguarding referrals have decreased over the pandemic as many children were not in sight of professionals. We also know that child abuse has increased over the period, especially in infants. In our opinion, this section of the EIF Handbook looks to ensure that settings are aware of this shift, can talk about how they adapted their practice to safeguard children who may have been out of sight and how providers ensured that vulnerable children were kept safe. Once again, we can see that giving yourself the time to reflect on your practice over the period and the ways in which you met the individual and unique needs of children is an important part of the preparation process.  

Two further sections have been added into the Sept 2021 revised EIF handbook;

  1. EYFS Requirements and Previous Modifications and/or Disapplications; This section clarifies that disapplications are to end 31st Aug 2021 and that inspectors will ‘consider any circumstances where providers were relying on modifications to and/or disapplications of the requirements’
  2. Revisions to the EYFS From 1 Sept 2021; This section gives an overview of the revised EYFS and Development Matters – we won’t go into this detail here as its all information within the revised EYFS document.

Part 1 – How we will inspect early years providers registered with Ofsted has not changed.

Before The Inspection

This section has gained an extra subsection (Paragraphs 52 to 55) titled Clarification for Providers. This section is written to ‘dispel myths about inspection that can result in unnecessary workload for providers’ and highlights specific practices that Ofsted does not require. It states;

Ofsted will:

  • when making judgements, take a range of evidence into account, including: discussions with leaders, staff and children; the joint learning walk; observations; speaking to parents and so on
  • judge fairly providers that take different approaches to meeting the requirements of the EYFS; inspectors will assess any provider’s curriculum favourably when leaders have built or adopted a curriculum with appropriate coverage, content, structure and sequencing and implemented it effectively.

Ofsted will not:

  • create unnecessary workload for staff through its recommendations
  • advocate a particular method of planning, teaching or assessment; it is up to providers to determine their practices and it is up to leaders to justify these on their own merits rather than by referring to this handbook.

Ofsted does not require providers to:

  • provide EYFS curriculum planning in any specific format for inspection
  • prepare any performance and children-tracking information for Ofsted
  • do additional work or to ask children to do work specifically for the inspection.

This clarification is important in building your confidence as a leader. Having unambiguous guidance enables you to feel assured that you know what is expected and feel confident in your knowledge to be able to challenge an inspector’s decision or comment if necessary.

Much of the document continues to remain the same until we reach the grade descriptors, where we see the addition of the word ‘including’ in Implementation (2nd bullet) ‘to clarify that leaders should provide effective support to all staff, including those with less experience and knowledge of teaching.’

The outstanding grade descriptors for personal development have changed significantly as follows:

Previous outstanding grade descriptors for personal developmentSept 2021 outstanding grade descriptors for personal development
* The provider is highly successful at giving children a rich set of experiences that promote an understanding of people, families and communities beyond their own.
* Practitioners teach children the language of feelings, helping them to appropriately develop their emotional literacy.
* Practitioners value and understand the practice and principles of equality and diversity. They are effective at promoting these in an age-appropriate way, which includes routinely challenging stereotypical behaviours and respecting differences. This helps children to reflect on their differences and understand what makes them unique.
* The provider goes beyond the expected and is highly successful at giving children a rich set of experiences that promote an understanding of, and respect for, people, families and communities beyond their own. Opportunities for all children to develop their talents and interests are of exceptional quality.  
* The provider ensures that these rich experiences are planned in a coherent way in the curriculum and they considerably strengthen the provider’s offer.
* The way the provider goes about developing children’s character is exemplary and is worthy of being shared with others.

This change is a clear shift from practitioners teaching and promoting to providers ensuring outstanding practice in this area. Similarly, there have been amendments to ‘good’ grade descriptors for personal development as follows. For the most part, the descriptors remain the same, with the addition of the following paragraph:

‘A well-established key person system helps children form secure attachments and promotes their well-being and independence. Practitioners teach children the language of feelings, helping them to appropriately develop their emotional literacy (see pages 8 to 9 of the ‘Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage (applies from 1 September 2021)’, which set out the personal, social and emotional development (PSED) area of learning). Relationships between staff and babies are sensitive, stimulating and responsive.’

Reference to British Values has also been extended in these descriptors as follows;

‘Practitioners value and promote equality and diversity and prepare children for life in modern Britain. They do this in an age-appropriate way to help children to reflect on their differences and understand what makes them unique. Practitioners do this by: teaching children to be respectful and to recognise those who help us, and contribute positively to society; developing children’s understanding of fundamental British values; developing children’s understanding and appreciation of diversity; celebrating what we have in common; and routinely challenging stereotypical behaviours and promoting respect for different people.’

This clear emphasis on British Values is an important component. Brushing up on what British Values are and how you include British Values within your curriculum is essential.

Finally the good grade descriptor has been amended for leadership and management to include reference to supporting those who are newly qualified and to ‘avoid unnecessary burdens’ when considering staff workload.

Minor changes

There are some minor changes to the document too, which it is important to acknowledge as follows;

Paragraph 36 to 37, (and 71 and 79): Update to provide clarity and reflect the changes to inspections prioritised by Ofsted. Nothing that we don’t really already know about risk assessing incoming information in order to make a decision on inspection type and urgency.

Paragraph 42: Clarification that where a provider has no children on roll (NCOR), an inspector may reference within reports what a setting needs to do better, even when the outcome is ‘met’.

Paragraph 64: Clarification that inspectors will ask about any additional support and/or arrangements for children who need special educational provision, including responses to any emerging needs or difficulties.

Paragraphs 65 to 66: Updated to reflect the documentation an inspector must see on inspection and what they may need access to. This includes:

  • paediatric first-aid certificates
  • the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) records and any other documents summarising the checks on, and the vetting and employment arrangements of, all staff working at the setting
  • a list of current staff and their qualifications
  • a register/list showing the date of birth of all children on roll and routine staffing arrangements
  • a list of children present at the setting during the inspection (if not shown on the register)
  • all logs that record accidents, exclusions, children taken off roll and incidents of poor behaviour
  • all logs of incidents of discrimination, including racist incidents
  • complaints log and/or evidence of any complaints and their resolutions
  • safeguarding and child protection policies
  • fire-safety arrangements and other statutory policies relating to health and safety
  • a list of any referrals made to the local authority designated person for safeguarding, with brief details of the resolutions
  • details of all children who are an open case to social care/children’s services and for whom there is a multi-agency plan

Paragraphs 81 to 82: Clarification on activities for gathering evidence, children with SEND and the most disadvantaged children.

Annex A, Paragraph 14: Clarification that even when the outcome is ‘met’, an inspector may reference within reports what the setting needs to do better.

So, firstly, well done for making it to the end of this rather laborious blog post! Pat yourself on the back!

Secondly, don’t sweat the small stuff. Remember that you are only human and you cannot do it all by yourself. Delegate any actions to your team, work together in small steps to reach your bigger goal. These changes are significant, but if your practice was good before, it will be good now! Put the children’s need at the forefront of everything you do and you won’t go far wrong.

If you would like any further support or training on this or any other area of your leadership, then please do get in touch

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