Clyst Valley Pre-School had been waiting for Ofsted to show up for years. "We had an 'outstanding' rating in 2009 and we've been ready and waiting for the past four years," says Barbara Taylor, manager of the Devon village pre-school.
A lot has changed in that time, but one thing that has not is Clyst Valley's Ofsted rating. Crucial to maintaining that outstanding was keeping on top of the shifting policy landscape.
"Although I'm a classroom teacher and the manager, I get two days a week in the office and that makes the world of difference because I can keep everything updated," says Taylor. "All the staff are used to me coming in with things I've printed off, saying 'right, we're going to do it this way now'."
One of the biggest changes to come out of the constant reviews of policies and practice was the development of how it assesses and tracks progress.
About 18 months ago, it went through the Development Matters guidance and created a grid that uses different colours to track individual children's progress in each area. The graphical representation of the goals allows the staff to see at a glance what stage each child is at, says Taylor.
This then feeds into a larger grid that enables Clyst Valley to monitor how different cohorts of children are doing. If any weaknesses are spotted, staff take action to address them.
"At the moment, we've picked out a few children who need a little more support in getting ready for school," says Taylor. "They are probably the summer-born children, but it's become quite obvious they need a little more input to bring on their independence skills. So we're beginning to plan some group activities for that group of children."
Independence is a big theme at Clyst Valley, with Ofsted's inspector praising how confident and capable its children were. "All the staff here believe that when a child goes to school, being able to identify their coat, put on their own shoes, wash their hands and go to the toilet is just as important as being on the verge of reading," says Taylor. "So learning independently, being able to stand up for yourself and look after your own things, we encourage it all the time. Consequently, they are able to access anything they want, know where things go and to put them back when they finish. It fosters independence."
Ofsted also reported that Clyst Valley's efforts to develop children's awareness of other cultures is also strong. "We're in quite a rural, white, affluent area, so sometimes that brings a challenge when we want to look at other cultures and it has to be done in a way that the children understand it and so that it is relevant to them," says Taylor.
One successful approach came after staff learned that some of the children had relatives living abroad. "We did a big world map and they all brought in pictures of their relatives abroad," says Taylor.
"There was a wide range from South Africa to Italy and so we did lots of activities around the languages and the food, that sort of thing. That makes it relevant to the children.
"The children also went through the village taking photographs and then we put that on the map and they began to realise that Clyst St Mary is part of Exeter, which is part of Devon, which is part of England and so on until they found their place in the world."
- Name: Clyst Valley Pre-School
- Location: Clyst St Mary, Devon
- Description: Opened in 2001, the pre-school works with two to four-year-olds. It is run by a local charity and based on the site of Clyst St Mary Primary School, the main school into which it feeds. Its location just outside Exeter attracts children from both the city's suburbs and the nearby rural areas. In 2011, the pre-school moved into a purpose-built, eco-friendly building. There are seven staff members.
- Number of children: 24 places and 35 children on roll
- Ofsted reference number: 105955
Hold a men's week. Every year, Clyst Valley Pre-School holds a men's week where fathers are encouraged to join their children at the pre-school's sessions. "The kids love it because you get a different vibe when there are men in helping," says manager Barbara Taylor.
Create a parent library. "We're here as much for parents as we are for children," explains Taylor. "We have a parent noticeboard where we provide information on anything from toilet training to gender issues. We have also introduced a parent library where there are books on those things that parents can borrow. Parents will come and say 'I don't know what to do about this' and we will say 'there's a book there or a magazine here'. On some issues such as toilet training we can work with the parents on it."
Share with schools. When children are preparing to go onto school, Clyst Valley not only provides written transition reports to the reception teachers, but has off-the-record chats with them about how the children mix with each other.