Ofsted returns following a ‘requires improvement’ judgement last time.

Two sisters, both with a teaching background converted a one storey office building into a nursery and opened in November 2015.  They had their first Ofsted just before Christmas in 2016 and unfortunately received a grade of ‘requires improvement’.   A year later after purchasing sparkPRO Ofsted was back.  I met them to discuss their progress.  This account is in their words.

I asked, “So how have you been getting on?”

“It’s been a journey when you ask that question I automatically go through a lot of stages in my mind.  I’ll start from now and go back, currently now we are good we are ok.  We have lots of routines in place that we are happy with now also knowing we have the reassurance from Ofsted as well.  Ofsted isn’t the be all and end all for us, but it obviously helps on top.  As much as we need reassurance from Ofsted it provides reassurance for our parents, our staff and for each other.  So it’s all come together now as no one is unhappy.  Before we didn’t know if Ofsted would be happy but now obviously we know they are happy.

If we had done what we wanted to do (last time) we probably would have got good (but we had poor advice from our local authority).  That was where our frustration lied because we felt we were at fault for listening but not at fault for following. 

We didn’t have a nursery before, so we had to learn a lot of things along the way and we were told the local authority were coming in to support us and help and that is what their job is and then we are going to put our trust in that.  They changed a lot of what we had initially put in place, before we had their support, thinking that was what we had to do, but we did it and we had to learn an important lesson, which is to go what we want to do and be confident.  See the focus as there are a lot of people coming in and give their experiences and ideas but everyone is different but we need to keep to our own values.  From that, we got a good.

“Were the parents unhappy with the report?” I asked.

“No, because the parents deal with us, and at no point have we ever jeopardised how we are with the children and it has never affected how everyone can have a good experience.  So even when we got ‘requires improvement’ they didn’t mind at all.  They were disappointed for us but not with us.  They felt Ofsted looking in didn’t know us at all.  I will say it has had an effect on the numbers of children this term, because of last year’s report when our children went to school (in September) then we have struggled to get children back in.  Now hopefully, we can start using it in a positive way.”

Wishing to recap, “So what was the bad advice that you got?”

“It was the structure.  It was very much the structure. Obviously, with our teaching background, we know the stages of educational life and we wanted to ensure our children have a secure and safe environment, for a smooth transition into school.  So we started implementing certain routines in the nursery.  Little things like circle time for a story.  Just like we come together at home, we come together as a nursery.  So, at circle time, we read a book and sing songs and things.  Especially in the morning, we find out if it’s anyone’s birthday, or if someone has something special to say …

We have a moment again before going home at twenty to four, all together we talk about the day.  We have that structure but they didn’t like that, they wanted all free play.  They didn’t like anything like that.  So it was the structure.  My circle time then became quite chaotic.  When I gave them the option, although they like books, as their friend was playing over there they would join their friend.  This had an impact on others in the group.  In the afternoon we would have a big activity, it might be making buns, it might be making cars and have that time of having fun together.  They didn’t like that.  It was letting the children do what they want when they want. 

The paperwork side as well, they gave us basically for our Progress Check a book of examples, so we chose the one we liked.  This was our paperwork basically when we first opened.  But then Ofsted said it wasn’t detailed enough, there was not enough in it. 

Then we started using the spark ones, Ofsted came, absolutely loved it, loads of detail, brilliant.  Funnily enough, a week before Ofsted came, the council came, and we were showing them all our Progress Checks.  They were saying it was too much paper and ‘I don’t know why you have so much detail’.  But we stuck with it.  We said we were happy with this, we know what we use.  It was about us being confident for that reason we also add some bits too and Ofsted liked that too.”

Trying to put the Local Authorities’ criticism in context, I interrupted, “When they say too much, it is possibly because they think it has taken you hours and hours to make when the longest part of the Progress Check is loading three photos and writing about them.  Please share with me your extra bits, we may be able to add those if we don’t cover it in some other way.”

Nods were given.  They continued, “Even with our planning, the council said we shouldn’t do it like that.  Our planning is very EYFS and it is fun, well, which is why we came into this job, we want to have fun with the kids, we want to do fun silly things too.

Our staff are happy and our parents absolutely love it.  Children don’t want to go home.  Volunteers don’t want to leave we sometimes have supply (staff) and have to find a way for them to come back.  We are happy with that and if that means we stay forever at good as that’s fine for us as for our children and our parents we are already outstanding.” 

“Yes I totally get that,” I said, “So how are you with your sparkPRO now?”

“At the beginning as you know, there was a big transition

Reminiscing, I said “It was this time last year and you guys were possibly one of our quickest decision makers ever!  You called me at lunchtime.   I was in a meeting in a restaurant with background music when you called – I was apologising for the background noise as we arranged the demo.  ‘We’ll be making a decision by tomorrow’ is what you told me.  And you just rolled with it didn’t you?”

“That’s why, that’s how passionate, and that’s what Ofsted see and anyone who enters our building sees.  It’s very much, this is our home, we make it safe for our children and make it safe for our staff and if there’s something wrong with it, we change it, and we change it very quickly.  If we have a problem with a child and they don’t settle quickly we make it happen, how can we help, how can we help our staff? 

So when this happened to our business, it was a lot, a heavy burden on our hearts and we felt something needed to happen and before our Christmas break.  Obviously, we did our research to find out which one we felt was the best and made the decision with you and we got it done.  I can remember you saying, ‘I’m not sure how you are going to get that done in that amount of time, that’s a lot to do.’” 

The other sister interjected, “We just smashed it didn’t we?”  Smiles all round!  “With a lot of sugar!“ 

It was agreed “A LOT of sugar!”  We all laughed.

“I can remember getting the boxes of children’s files and implementing them on the system.”    

“So what did Ofsted ask to see?” I asked.

“Progress Checks (as a weakness in the previous inspection), the graphs; the Individual Progress graphs, as she was asking about a child with SEN; their progress at the time and backdated on the system so she could see the progress made.  How we use the Characteristics of Effective Learning, if we rely on it and what other additional things do we do.  We were totally confident; we didn’t look at spark after getting the call.”