The Outstanding Ofsted Experts:
12 Development, Behaviour & Welfare Tips

Making sure your children are confident, active learners

Welcome to edition number seven in our new series on Ofsted. We’ve talked to five outstanding nursery managers and leaders, as well as leading early years expert Dr Sue Allingham, to bring you all the tips, advice, and guidance that you need to improve your setting in the eyes of Ofsted.

It’s important that you have self-confident, happy, eager learners in your setting. But how can you make sure you have an environment in which children are flourishing?

Let’s see what our Outstanding Ofsted Experts have to say.

1. Let the children lead

It can be tricky to take a backseat when teaching, but by letting the children explore and discover things independently you can be sure they’ll stay engaged with their learning.

We let the children lead their own learning and give the children the options and choices to follow their own fascinations. Finding out what really interests them and asking them questions and building on that. You have to encourage them to push themselves further.

Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

2. Is it a challenge?

It might sound like common sense, but children need to be challenged to solve problems if you want them to be learning.

Ofsted are looking for the staff to challenge the children to make predictions, think about what they’re doing and solve problems.

Michelle Tuddenham, Manager, Little Acorns Montessori

3. Child interests and the EYFS

What really matters, according to Lizzy, is that staff have a strong understanding of child interests.

We didn’t get asked anything about the EYFS last time. It’s more about the children’s interests and what inspires them and how you keep them engaged. As long as you can show that they are making progress in line with the EYFS, it’s more about how you’re helping them towards that progress and keeping them engaged.

Lizzy Barlow, Nursery Group Leader, Hollies Day Nursery

4. The zone of proximal development

Worried that children may lose interest in overly challenging activities but may also become bored if activities are too easy? This is where the “zone of proximal development” can help you strike the perfect balance.

If they’re happy and concentrated, children will be in what we call the zone of proximal development. It means that they are engaged in activities that are neither too easy nor too difficult.

In this zone you will see children who are calm, peaceful and engaged in their activities. If it’s too easy they will get bored and start misbehaving and if it is too difficult they will lose interest and their self-esteem.

It’s a broad band between too easy and too difficult but if you can keep the children in this band then you will have a settled, calm, environment where the children are engaged, happy, interested, and concentrated

Ailsa Monk, Principal, Cotswold Montessori School

5. The boys

There are some worrying figures coming out about progress amongst boys and literacy in the early years. You need to make sure you’re addressing this with your cohorts.

It’s especially important for Ofsted now that we challenge the boys. There’s a big push with literacy and boys at the moment, so you really have to be able to show that the boys are switched on with it.

Michelle Tuddenham, Manager, Little Acorns Montessori

6. A flexible schedule

Don’t let a rigid schedule stifle creativity. Some of the best learning opportunities happen when you incorporate flexibility into the day.

If you’re doing something and the children are really engaged, don’t stop for ‘lunch time’. If you start telling them to stop then they’re going to misbehave. Lunch can wait. We don’t tend to have strict routines and you need to have that because that’s when the most amazing moments happen.

Lizzy Barlow, Nursery Group Leader, Hollies Day Nursery

7. School relationships

Ultimately, your setting plays a crucial role as a stepping stone in a child’s wider educational journey. Why not make their transition into school life easier by developing relationships and communication with the local schools?

We now send a letter every year to the local schools asking what we can do to help our children get to know their school before they start. It means that the majority of our children have already been to their school before they get there and they tell us that as a result our children are a lot more settled when they do start.

Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

8. Ready for big school

Independence is a key indicator of school readiness. Make sure you show Ofsted that you’re actively helping to build this trait within your setting’s children.

School readiness isn’t whether they can write their name or count to 20. Can they do things independently? Can they get their coats on? Can they get themselves ready for PE? We practice those things and it means the children are more ready, curious and excited to learn when they do get there.

Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

9. Outstanding practice example

An outstanding setting can recognise when children are having important developmental moments – no matter how big or small they might seem!

The inspector told the practitioner that she’d like to do the observation and at the time the children were happily playing outside. The activity that the staff member had planned was inside but the children were engrossed in their learning and challenging themselves. The practitioner turned around to the inspector and said “I don’t feel comfortable pulling this child away from an activity that they are engrossed in and learning from in order to do a different activity. Can you observe me now?”.

The child was just drawing with chalk on the floor. It was a really simple
activity but because she’d said she didn’t want to disturb the child learning, the inspector said that was amazing and told us it was outstanding. A simple activity was enough.

Becky Pike, Partner, Hollies Day Nurseries

10. Laevers involvement and wellbeing

Delving into involvement and wellbeing offers a great way to understand how your setting’s children are making progress in their development. Read more about Laevers’ research here.

We use relatively recent research by Laevers. He looks at levels of involvement – how concentrated, how hard the children are working. Are they interested? Are they engaged? And also at their levels of wellbeing – are they happy, are they settled, calm, peaceful? Those are the two things that I look at the most rather than the cold hard timeline of the EYFS.

Ailsa Monk, Principal, Cotswold Montessori School

11. Open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are a great way to challenge your children and help to build problem-solving skills and creativity – let the children take the lead and try it out today.

We use open-ended questions all the time and our staff always give the children the time to come up with an answer. You need to step back and leave them to think about it for a bit and then you can step in and give them a few clues if they haven’t got it. But they will get there if you give them the time and confidence.

Michelle Tuddenham, Manager, Little Acorns Montessori

12. The whole picture

Don’t forget that a child’s development doesn’t stop when they go home for the day, always make sure you consider other external factors.

You need to know what’s going on in the rest of your children’s lives, not just in these four walls with you. Because everything that goes on outside affects what happens inside the setting with you.

Becky Pike, Partner, Hollies Day Nurseries

Found some helpful tips? Well, we’ve got some good news. You can now download the full guide for free, with 12 different sections covering every area of your Ofsted inspection. Time to get the outstanding result that you deserve.

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