Observations from the North-West Ofsted Big Conversation January 2023.
This blog was originally going to cover the whole Ofsted Big Conversation event. However, after trying to fit in all the information and re-writing it several times I have decided, to provide you with concise and useful information, this particular blog will just cover Ofsted’s main focus at the event – Communication and Language.
On the 28th January 2023, along with around 700 other attendees I took part the Northwest Ofsted Big Conversation. The main theme from the Ofsted section centred around communication and language.
Amanda Spielman, Head of Ofsted, was the first Ofsted member to speak, followed by Ofsted colleagues from the Northwest Region, Kirsty Godfry, Head of the Curriculum Unit who spoke about communication and language curriculum requirements, and Rachel Flesher, a Senior Ofsted Inspector who spoke about how Ofsted look at communication and Language during inspections.
Amanda spoke about the importance of rebalancing the curriculum to give greater weight to communication and language. She emphasised, that as far as Ofsted are concerned, spoken language and communication is the most vital area in Early Years. I can see where Ofsted are coming from given the impact of the pandemic lockdowns seen on children’s speech and language abilities, however I think it is very important to judge your children’s skills and needs yourself as not every child has been affected in the same way. I also think it is a mistake to forget about the holistic needs of the child. I have worked with children with communication difficulties, but this does not mean that the other two prime areas of learning, personal, social and emotional development and physical development, were not equally as important to their development. I am glad that the Early Years Alliance have been challenging this with Ofsted and the Department of Education.
The Curriculum for Communication and Language
After Amanda’s speech, Kirsty Godfry, spoke about the curriculum for communication and language. These are the main points:
- The curriculum for communication and language underpins all areas of learning. This is now re-iterated in the EYFS: ‘The development of children’s spoken language underpins all seven areas of learning and development.’ Statutory Framework for Early Years Foundation Stage, Page 8.
(While this is true, I would personally also argue that all three prime areas perform this function and if you neglect one area you will find children struggling in the others.)
- Your communication and language curriculum MUST be based on the education programme laid out in the EYFS. (The section under the Communication and Language title on page 8 of the EYFS in case you are wondering. You can find links to the EYFS and other important documents on my Official Documents Links page here:
- Leave the teaching of formal reading and writing until reception. There is no need to be teaching phonics to the children. I would agree with this. The way phonics is taught can be complicated and can differ from school to school so unless you have specific training that matches the school your children will move onto and work closely with the support and blessing of the school I would leave formal reading and writing alone.
- It is important to give children words so that they can express their thoughts and feelings.
- Activities are not enough. This is the second time I have heard this new Ofsted mantra. Kirsty explained it by giving an example of a group of children playing at a beautifully resourced mud kitchen. She argued that a child without appropriate speech and language skills will be less keen to get involved and will therefore not learn as much as the other children. I do not necessarily agree with this. I had a little one with severe communication difficulties who would happily get stuck into any activity with their peers because their personal skills were strong, this in turn meant that I could support them with their language development as they were engaged and happy. Again, I personally feel, it comes back to a combination of all the prime areas. However this is the position that Ofsted are currently taking so be aware of it.
- The difference between curriculum and pedagogy. (For anyone who has not heard this term before, pedagogy refers to how you teach something.) Curriculum is what you teach. Pedagogy is how you teach it. Your curriculum must come first. Put simply, decide what you want to teach and then how you are going to do it.
How Ofsted look at communication and language in inspections
- Ofsted have laid out how they inspect in the Early Years Inspection Handbook. (You can find a copy here:)
Early years inspection handbook for Ofsted-registered provision – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Ofsted will look at what it is like to be a child in your setting.
- They will talk about how you decide what your children need to learn, what you do to help them learn it and how you know it has worked. (In other words, intent, implementation and impact!) This will probably form part of your learning walk. (Or learning ‘sit’ for childminders as Rachel referred to it.)
- Your inspector will be observing how you use things like storytelling, role play, conversation and sensitive questioning to support the children’s language development.
Your Inspector will also be interested in finding out:
- How all the children benefit from your curriculum.
- What topics or themes do you use, what vocabulary you want the children to learn, is it age appropriate and how will you share this with their parents?
- How do you encourage children to use new vocabulary and how do stories, rhymes and songs link into what you want the children to learn?
- What are you doing to help any children who have fallen behind catch up?
- Are you giving the children enough time to speak and practice new vocabulary and language structures?
- Are you giving children enough exposure to new language as well as repeating new vocabulary so they can learn it.
- Are children demonstrating that they have remembered vocabulary by using it in their free play?
You may find the Kids To Go Guided Self-Evaluation Pack helpful to help you think about these sorts of questions. You can buy it on its own or save yourself £6.50 by buying it with the Ultimate Childminding Checklist as part of the special Inspection Pack:
I hope you find this information useful. What do you think? Did you attend too? Do you agree with my points, or have you got another point of view? Let me know in the comments below.
Although I have included a lot of information here this is a very condensed version of what was discussed. As I mentioned in the introduction, far more information was shared during the event than is sensible for me to include in one blog. Therefore, please look out for further blogs about the event from me coming really soon.
The Big Conversation event has evolved since the Covid Pandemic and it is now possible to attend either in person or buy an on-line ticket. I opted to join in via the computer as living in West Cumbria means getting anywhere takes hours, not to mention factoring in things like childcare, transportation and accommodation costs, etc. I hope the organisers continue to provide this option as it really does make the event more accessible to different people. If you have always fancied taking part but find the travel part of the procedure too daunting then joining in on-line may be the way forward for you too.
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