There is much more to Ofsted’s engagement with the early years sector than the chief inspector’s visits to individual providers, argues Gill Jones

At Ofsted, we know it’s imperative that young children get off to a good start when they begin primary school. Once they’re behind, it’s very difficult for them to catch up later. Some never do.

That is the conclusion of a wide range of research. And it chimes with my own experience of teaching in primary schools in Essex and Merseyside, where I worked as a primary school teacher and headteacher.

That is why we have spent a lot of time and resource – in terms of inspection, surveys and conferences – on engagement with the early years sector.

So I was surprised and disappointed to read that an education author had complained that HM Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman had “not visited a sufficiently diverse range of nursery provision”.

Amanda has plans to visit many more early years settings 

For one thing, Amanda has given two major speeches to early years stakeholders in the last nine months or so. She has also attended our Ofsted National Consultative Forum for early years providers and spoken privately with many sector leaders. And I can assure those with any concerns that Amanda has plans to visit many more early years settings over the coming months. But, frankly, there is much more to Ofsted’s engagement with the early years sector than HMCI’s visits to individual providers, valuable as they are.

We will, quite soon, publish our Ofsted annual report and accounts for the last financial year. In the meantime, a quick scan of the previous year’s report shows that we completed more than 21,000 early years inspections in 2016/17. That is far more than the tally for schools, colleges and social care.

Ofsted uses these inspection visits as the basis of our survey reports. Inspectors, myself included, also visit a wide range of early years settings and primary schools with early years to carry out fieldwork for our major reports. Indeed, our unique position allows us a bird’s eye view of the entire sector and gives us a comprehensive understanding of how it operates.

Our cohort of HM Inspectors is complemented by more than 250 Ofsted Inspectors for the early years, with whom we have contracted directly since March 2017. The vast majority of Ofsted Inspectors are current practitioners and their expertise and experience has greatly enhanced our communications and relationships with the early years sector.

Big Conversation events are an opportunity to stop any inspection myths before they gain currency

That is the feedback my colleagues and I have been hearing when we attend Ofsted Big Conversation events. These events take place across England and are a chance for a frank, face-to-face conversation with early years managers and staff. They were set up by early years leaders themselves as a way of raising any concerns or issues. For my team and I, they are an opportunity to stop any inspection myths before they gain currency.

The Big Conversation events complement the National Consultative Forum, which meets at Ofsted every few months or so. This is my chance to talk to Neil Leitch and June O’Sullivan, Chief Executives of the Pre-School Learning Alliance and London Early Years Foundation respectively, and many others who have devoted their professional lives to young children. At the last forum we discussed how we will use our continued engagement to support the development of the Education Inspection Framework for September 2019. And as I noted earlier, Amanda has also attended this forum herself.

So, we have an open and frank relationship with the early years sector that we value and that will continue in the months and years ahead.