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A detailed guide on Scottish nursery inspections: how to prepare plus what to expect

Advice from HM Chief Inspector of Education, Gayle Gorman, and Strategic Director for Scrutiny at Education Scotland, Janie McManus
15 min of reading
17 August 2022
Blossom Educational - Guide on Inspections by Education Scotland - cover
What to find on this article:

    As all early learning and childcare services in Scotland are subject to inspection, you can expect the proverbial ‘knock on the door’ to happen sometime. We recognise that you may be nervous and keen to ensure that you demonstrate all the great work your setting is doing for learners.

    Keep the heid! We’ve interviewed Gayle Gorman, HM Chief Inspector of Education, and Janie McManus, Strategic Director for Scrutiny at Education Scotland. Read this guide on inspections to make the whole process simpler, and maybe even enjoyable!

    How will I be notified of the Education Scotland inspection?

    Your nursery setting will be given a 2.5 week notice period between receiving the notification email and the inspection taking place. In unique circumstances, a re-scheduling of the inspection date can be approved. Education Scotland works to be responsive to a setting’s circumstances, so if you require a re-scheduling (although nothing is guaranteed) simply speak with your managing inspector.

    What needs preparation before the actual inspection?

    Before the inspection, there is some pre-preparation required. After your notification email, you will also receive a phone call to discuss the administrative arrangements, and any documentation that must be prepared. This is your time to ask any questions that you may have.

    The required documents for your Education Scotland inspection

    Working together with your local authority, you need to complete the brief self-evaluation summary form as well as a child protection and safeguarding self-evaluation form. Don’t worry, you aren’t expected to produce a thesis! Rather this is a brief summary which will form the basis for your discussions with the inspectors during the in-house inspection. We recommend that you take your time with this and don’t rush your points made.

    This is your very first interaction with the inspectors and it’s a good idea to set the scene with concise and well-thought through forms. Education Scotland has stated that, “When self-evaluation evidence is robust and accurate, we use it as part of the inspection evidence.”

    We don’t want to create any additional work in the setting. We will simply look at the documentation that the setting already has available. There is absolutely no need to update any policies.

    How to write a brilliant brief self-evaluation summary

    There are points to highlight in your summary to start your inspection on a strong foundation. Remember to:

    Expect a team of inspectors

    You can expect a team of inspectors to arrive at your setting.The team will have individual responsibilities, but it is a team approach rather than set individual responsibilities during the inspection. The inspectors will be focusing on the children and examining their learning according to the Quality Indicators (QIs) in the How Good is our Early Learning and Childcare? framework released in 2016.

    We work to ensure that the size of the inspection team is proportionate to the size of the setting itself, as well as the number of locations. And at all times, the team of inspectors work to promote improvement, and listen to the providers.

    How to prepare staff for the inspection

    One thing staff must do before the inspection week is complete the pre-inspection questionnaire. So ensure they are given enough time to do so. And understandably, some of your staff may experience anxiety around the inspection. If so, do not ignore this, and, of course, do not add to the pressure. Education Scotland nursery ratings are important to staff as well. Remind them that it’s alright to acknowledge where they are making improvements, and emphasise that the inspection is a celebration of accomplishments that your staff should be proud of. Education Scotland has also put together a helpful document on preparing staff (and leaders) which you can circulate.

    How to write an excellent inspection notification message to staff

    When announcing that the inspection will be taking place to your team, make sure you create excitement rather than anxiety. Some things to consider include:

    Insider tip:

    If this is the first time your setting is being inspected, we suggest hosting a session to run through the inspection process, and what is expected from staff. During this session, you can address any concerns or questions that your staff may have. The aim with preparation is to reduce any stress and anxiety that comes with the inspection.

    How are your parents/carers involved in the inspection?

    Communicating the inspection with your parents/carers doesn’t need to be a demanding task. Education Scotland requires you to notify your parents/carers as they wish to get the voice of your parents/carers during their inspection time spent at your setting. Gayle Gorman, HM Chief Inspector of Education, “We know that parents and carers are essential to a child’s education journey. That’s why it’s important for us to get their voice during the inspection.”

    This is where parents/carers completing the pre-inspection questionnaire proves valuable. You can expect the inspection team to speak with parents/carers during drop-offs, and at specifically arranged times. Parents/carers also have the opportunity to set up one-to-ones to speak with the inspectors. If parents/carers are unable to attend the allotted times or to arrange an in-person time, you can encourage your parents to speak with the inspectors over the telephone or set up video calls.

    How to write a brilliant inspection notification message to parents and carers

    Should you prepare your children?

    What should you say to your children about the inspection? Should you say anything? Education Scotland advises that you mention some unfamiliar adults will be coming into the setting.You can say something along the lines of: “We’ll be having some visitors. They want to see what you’re learning and doing.” Simply have a light conversation with no pressure or any specific conversation with them. Children often have lovely comments to add or questions to ask which will enhance your inspection experience.

    How to establish a good relationship with your inspectors

    The inspection in your setting takes place over a couple of days, so you want to establish a good relationship with your inspection team. So how do you build a strong foundation for this? Gayle Gorman, HM Chief Inspector of Education provides valuable insight: “We want to establish a professional dialogue with the setting. It’s all about collective working. At Education Scotland, our inspectors work with settings based on our core values of respect, and courtesy. Remember that we have a shared agenda. Speak with your inspection team, ask them questions, share your views, and ultimately work in partnership.”

    What will the inspectors be looking for?

    Your inspectors will be measuring your setting according to the QIs set out in the How Good is Our Early Learning and Childcare? framework as mentioned earlier. These include:

    QI 1.3

    Leadership of change

    QI 2.3

    Learning, teaching and assessment

    QI 3.2

    Securing children's progress

    QI 3.1

    Ensuring wellbeing, equality and inclusion

    The inspectors will take a look at your playrooms, observe children learning, and speak to your staff and children about their experience at your nursery setting. You can also expect the inspectors to examine children’s workbooks and/or progress reports of their learning and development journey. So it’s a good idea to have those readily available beforehand.

    What kind of preparation does the inspection team do?

    You may be thinking, “I know what preparation I’m doing for the inspection, but what are the inspectors themselves doing to prepare?” Instead of any behind the scenes research, the brief self evaluation summary form you will submit will form the core of the team’s preparation.

    Additionally, there is a starting conversation held on the first Monday which will be valuable for the team as here you will set the scene for the inspection. Also the parents’ and carers’ pre-questionnaires will be reviewed by the team as well.

    When will both Education Scotland and The Care Inspectorate be present for the inspection?

    It is possible that your setting may be inspected by both Education Scotland and The Care Inspectorate. If so, rest assured that your setting hasn’t done anything wrong! By having both organisations present during your inspection (a Care Inspectorate representative will be present as part of the inspection team) the organisations work together to streamline the inspection. The aim is to create efficiency around the process, and actually make it easier for your nursery business by removing the need to duplicate inspections.

    What to expect when it comes to activities

    When organising your chosen programmed activities for the inspection, keep in mind that the inspectors are evaluating the overall experience of all children at your setting, and what outcomes are achieved. In order to make their professional judgments, inspectors will be focussed on gathering evidence and quantitative data, and speaking with parents and carers.

    The fundamental question inspectors want to answer is: What is the quality of care you provide and what experience do children have at your setting? For the activities during your inspection, focus on the impact these have on the children, as well as the capacity for improvement.

    What is the PRAISE Framework?

    This will be used as a guide for your Education Scotland inspection team when they are conducting the inspection. This constitutes what is the core ‘best practice’ in Scottish nursery settings. The inspectors will be keeping in mind:


    a clear purpose of the inspection with a shared agenda.


    creating and sustaining meaningful relationships.


    a high level of awareness of the context of the inspection.

    Information gathering

    gathering and analysing evidence while being mindful of assumptions.

    Sharing information

    frequent and clear communication before, during and after the inspection.


    upholding the core values of Education Scotland which is treating people with respect, and working in partnership by providing useful feedback.

    Education Scotland also goes into more detail about the PRAISE Framework.

    What types of questions can you expect from the inspectors?

    We don’t have a fixed set of questions that we ask providers. We like to keep the conversations open. We want to hear about the work your nursery is doing, and engage in a dialogue with you.

    What happens after the inspection?

    After the inspection is concluded, a SIF (Summarised Inspection Findings) document will be shared with you detailing your inspection. You will have the opportunity for your staff to provide comments in the following week on this document. The time from when you provide your comments on the SIF and when it’s published depends on certain circumstances. If you require more time to provide feedback for example, Education Scotland works to accommodate this. Afterwards, they will publish their findings on their website within 10 working weeks. You and your local authority will be sent an advanced copy before it’s made public.

    And what sort of follow up can you expect? In some occasions, your setting’s progress may be reviewed after your inspection. If there was an area that required further work, don’t worry as a brand new inspection won’t take place. You won’t start from step one! Instead, Education Scotland will follow up with you on progress made and steps implemented in the following months. You can also expect a follow up visit. This may be conducted by Education Scotland themselves, or a representative from your local authority may create a report on your progress in the areas of development.

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