Results from the London Ofsted Big Conversation

By June O'Sullivan

| 31 October 2018

As Chair, I often use the prerogative to introduce a theme or a topic.  This time, I wanted to explore what we understand by self-regulation particularly in light of the reviewed ELGs. Self-regulation is a much-misunderstood concept and one of the LEYF nurseries is involved in a piece of research with Professor David Whitebread from PEDAL based at the University of Cambridge. He concurs that its often limited to " being able to control yourself". This is a worry because if inspectors don't understand what it means then that will have an impact when we are inspected. We all know that when an inspector is insecure about an issue, she will see the issue through a very simple lens. This limits any rich discussion and exploration of evidence and negatively affect the inspection judgement. The same lack of knowledge applies to nurseries, with staff very ignorant of concepts like self-regulation. The issue merits its own blog and for today I mention the leading work of Professor David Whitebread who describes self-regulation as a combination of skill, will and thrill.

Another reason I wanted to talk about self-regulation was to share the work we have been doing at LEYF on the Art of Teaching. In my view, unless you understand how children think and learn then the teaching will always be poor. This work is very significant for LEYF as all LEYF-qualified staff are referred to as teachers and it had focused this has really their minds on how we organise the day so we best support children to learn.

This appears to be extremely important nowadays as the calibre of staff joining us is very concerning. The whole audience agreed with this. It seems students are not learning much that helps them to teach children.  Levels of understanding of child development, how children learn and the science of play are remarkably limited. Unsurprisingly, some students are completely overwhelmed when they arrive at a setting. We need to examine what is happening. The response in the room was to train our own staff and while I agree with this and have been training apprentices for years and now we have the LEYF degree link its dangerous path we walk if the sector routes to training and qualifications are not equally good, aligned and well lit.

This is critical if we want to repel a Government policy with clear well-articulated pedagogical arguments. If we believe we are advocates for children then we need to be able to talk fluently about how children learn to think and learn. We need to be able to bring parents and the public on side and articulate why polices on school readiness, early assessment, measures and targets fail children. Is this not the reason younger and younger children are experiencing poor mental health?  Childhood should be their happiest days and we need to help create the environment to set them up for the new emerging and fast changing world.

Gill Jones gave an update on the changes and improvements within Ofsted.

She told us they had 1,500 applications to join the "Pedagogy in Practice Forum". This was well received and says something about the level of concern we have about the Government dictatorship of the Early Years Framework. Gill Jones recognised that Ofsted needs to work harder at ensuring that there is better focus/cover of Early Years and not just schools with better messaging between Ofsted and Early Years staff.

She then said quite a lot which made me wonder if we had finally landed from the same space ship. She wants to try and reshape inspections with less focus on data and evidence. She is much keener that staff can talk about their children rather than show huge swathes of evidence usually on the form of photos and observations and those hateful "next steps".

Our advice was we are careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some baseline data is very helpful. We need to be sensible and thoughtful about this. It sparked a question about the ELG pilot this year. However, Gill Jones was clear this is a DfE issue and it is currently in the pilot phase with expected results by the end of the current academic year. Apparently, the  DfE they will then go out for consultation. Let's see with Brexit and all!

Gill Jones and Wendy Ratcliffe both agreed we need to rethink the way we describe nursery and teaching for small children commenting that first thought many people have about teaching are jogged from their most recent memories of school and this was usually formal teaching. This elicited quite a lively debate and the Ofsted team accepted that they have not helped this with their focus on school. The audience commented about parent's views on nursery versus school and the confusion. We also reflected on the worrying findings I blogged about recently which found that parents were rejecting nurseries described as "free" as they thought this might mean lower quality.

Ofsted are planning to refresh the Common Inspection. Less focus on data and more emphasis on what is happening on teaching and learning.  She asked us to think about the following questions which will form the basis of the consultation beginning in January 2019.

* What in then Common Inspection works well and should be retained?
* What in the Common Inspection Framework is not working and should be left behind?
* What are the potential opportunities for the Education Inspection Framework 2019?

Feedback from the IT upgrade
There was a general discussion about the difficulties that the IT upgrade had caused. Gill Jones gave assurance that this is almost all fixed now. It was a complex upgrade and Ofsted apologises for any inconvenience caused. However, the link between HMRC and the Child Tax Credit has been particularly problematic, but I had written to everyone about this and had received a letter that morning saying it would be fixed as from the 15th of October.

Ofsted update on Educating Bilingual Training
This was a lively discussion about the need to describe children as bi-lingual rather than EAL. We all agreed it was a lucky child who was given the option to learn two or more languages from birth.  However, if they are coming to learn English at the nursery, we need to speak grammatically correct English especially for those children from deprived backgrounds who need every ounce of cultural capital they can have. Therefore, dialect and slang are unacceptable during the nursery day and we all agreed that it is our responsibility to teach higher level language. Ofsted training for inspectors is focusing on this issue to ensure an informed and consistent approach from inspectors.

Inspections, Inspectors and Emerging Trends
Questions were raised about the variability between different "Outstanding" settings.

Colleagues in the audience noted that good inspections are from inspectors who recognise differences between needs of settings, region, area. Penny Fisher noted that the regionalisation of inspection will help to address this. Inspectors shouldn't pre-judge the setting according to where it is or what it looks but remain open and non-judgemental.

As a last item we invited Jessica Attard from the Guy's St Thomas' Trust Charity is running a programme on childhood obesity and to canvas the audience:

Would chef training for the Level 2 Professional Qualification be useful?

Over 50 per cent of the room raised their hands to say yes. This is reassuring especially as I will be also seeking the views of many people in the room since I have become a member of the London Mayors Obesity Taskforce.

I hope this give a picture of what was a very engaged and good-humoured meeting with far more attention to pedagogy rather than inspection processes. It is heartening that we are finally able to talk about the things that affect children directly. Keep your foot on the Ofsted pedal though as we face into another consultation.

Our next event is the Margaret Horn Annual Debate on November 19th. We would welcome you to hear our findings of the research question we posed to the children, asking their perspective on what they understand about men in childcare, alongside the world premiere of the Men in Childcare film: "The Tea Party".

June O'Sullivan is chief executive of London Early Years Foundation. This blog first appeared on the LEYF website

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