Jude Sanders, early years regulatory inspector at Ofsted, takes us through an average day in the life of an early years inspector.
This article originally appeared in the Alliance's Under 5 membership magazine. Jude will also be joining us for the Alliance's Annual Conference on the 31st May, to share her experitise and advice on what Inspectors are looking for and how providers can give themselves the best opportunity to achieve Outstanding.
The day before
It begins with a phone call. The day before a scheduled early years inspection, I call the setting and speak to the person in charge to say I will be in tomorrow. This call is an opportunity for me to establish a relationship with those I’ll be inspecting in less than 24 hours’ time. It’s a chance to put leaders at ease, as best I can.
I know that the relationship between the inspector and the inspected can be complex. No one could ever claim that accountability is fun. But I think we can all recognise that the professional judgement offered by Ofsted does help to raise standards, and that mutual respect is important.
Yet it is undeniable that a fear factor still exists. I think this explains why some of the myths about what Ofsted wants and doesn’t want have come about. Late last year, a childminder told me that she’d heard that Ofsted demanded socket covers in their home to prevent little fingers coming to harm. Yet, as far as we are concerned, it’s up to childminders to assess and reduce these – and other – risks in their own way. We’d never prescribe any particular way of doing this or indeed anything else.
In my phone call to the setting, I discuss the logistics of the inspection. I outline what I’ll do throughout the course of the day to find out what it is like to be a child attending this setting. It’s also my intention to begin a professional dialogue with this phone call. I am a qualified primary school teacher and have worked with children aged between three- and seven-years-old before joining Ofsted in 2015, so I know what it feels like to be inspected.
On the day
I arrive at the setting at about 8.15am on inspection day. I try to talk to parents before they dash off to work, so I can find out what they think about the setting. Those short conversations can provide valuable insights. Indeed, parents’ views are invaluable when it comes to inspection.
Do they feel their children are happy and safe there? Are their children beginning to gain the skills they need to prepare them well for school? My conversations with parents tend to focus on personal, social and emotional development as well as communication and language skills and physical development. I often ask how active their children are and if they’re tired when they get home.
"The sector has come a long way... fewer than three-quarters of early years settings were good or outstanding in 2012. That proportion has risen to 94% of the 65,000 early years providers in 2017. Of course, this is down to the hard work of early years managers and staff. But I do believe that inspection has had a role too."
There isn’t much data available to inspectors in the early years that specifically details outcomes for children from each setting. I can’t take into account primary school tests or GCSE results and what happened after their college course. So, like inspectors in other areas, we have to inspect. I have to observe children learning throughdifferent activities to form a judgement.
The sector has come a long way. As we said in our recent Ofsted Annual Report, fewer than three-quarters of early years settings were good or outstanding in 2012. That proportion has risen to 94% of the 65,000 early years providers in 2017. Of course, this is down to the hard work of early years managers and staff. But I do believe that inspection has had a role too.
After I have spoken to parents, I talk to the setting leader or manager. We talk about the staff and I check that all the registration details are correct and up-to-date. I tell the registered person that this is their opportunity to showcase what they are doing. It is important that inspection is robust, certainly, but if an early years setting is confident about what it is doing then they have no reason to be anxious about Ofsted.
Next is the thing I like most about my job: watching how young children are enjoying their day in the setting. Those moments make the job worthwhile. I think about how children are progressing and, if appropriate, what kind of external support is available to help the children.
The Department for Education sets standards through the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Ofsted sets out what it will inspect, and how, through our inspection framework. Inspectors will always take a setting’s context into account: visiting a childminder in their home is very different to inspecting a large setting with more than 100 children. I have to tailor the inspection accordingly.
Throughout the day I talk to the manager and members of staff. If I see something that concerns me, I ask staff to explain it. Sometimes my concerns will be allayed but sometimes they won’t. Either way, the emerging judgements will not come as a surprise.
The day after
The day after an inspection, I write up my inspection report. I work to distil my notes, which amounted to some 16,000 words on a recent visit, into a clear and concise inspection report. My report will then go through a thorough quality assurance process. As part of this, my line manager asks probing questions about the reasons behind my judgements. This ensures consistency and a fair inspection process for all early years providers.
The report is then checked by the early years setting itself before it is published. The inspection report will then be uploaded on the Ofsted website less than a month after the inspection.
After a ‘good’ inspection, the setting is unlikely to see Ofsted for another three years. For those who are given less favourable ratings, we’ll be in sooner. We visit inadequate settings between three and six months later, for example.
If you’d like to get more involved with Ofsted, please join in with your local Ofsted Big Conversation events where you will be able to join the dialogue about the early years. Find out more at
Jude Sanders will be joining us for the Alliance's Annual Conference on the 31st May, to share her experitise and advice on what Inspectors are looking for and how providers can give themselves the best opportunity to achieve Outstanding. Find out more and book your place here.