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The Early Years Inspection Handbook, 3 I’s, reflective practice, and more

let’s break down an Ofsted inspection
10 min of reading
22 December 2021
The Early Years Inspection Handbook

There are many factors when it comes to an Ofsted inspection. We have received an Ofsted Outstanding rating ourselves for our Blossom Tree Montessori setting, so we’ve broken down requirements that will be examined during your inspection to help you get that Outstanding rating too.

What you can expect:

    What Are Ofsted Nursery Ratings?

    There are 4 ratings Ofsted assigns. These are: Inadequate, Requires Improvement, Good, and last but not least, Outstanding. What does each rating mean exactly?

    Ofsted Nursery Rating


    The lowest rating Ofsted hands out is “Inadequate.” This states that the setting does not provide proper or an acceptable quality of education and care for children. Serious improvements will have to be made immediately (or at least in time for the next inspection in the following 3 years).

    Requires Improvement

    For an Ofsted Requires Improvement nursery, you provide an acceptable quality of education and care for children, however, it still needs work. Areas needing improvement will be identified by your inspector.


    This is where most Early Years settings are sitting. For an Ofsted Good rated nursery, you usually receive a brief, 1-day inspection as Good settings provide for all children’s needs and prepare them well to continue their education journey.


    And finally, “Outstanding.” To receive this rating, your nursery needs to be exceeding expectations on every level and ‘stand out’ from the average. From practitioners to administrators to children. At an Ofsted Outstanding nursery, your staff are brilliant role models who put caring for the children first. And the children are well-behaved and happy.


    Outstanding settings receive fewer inspections (unless concerns are raised).

    The Early Years Inspection Handbook

    To achieve an Outstanding, The Early Years Inspection Handbook needs to be studied and it’s principles put into practise at your setting. This is the guide your inspector will follow to a tee, so everything you need is there – it’s the execution that can get a bit tricky!

    Expert tip

    Audit your setting against these criteria. This will help you - and your staff - gain a thorough understanding of what an Outstanding setting entails.

    Pay extra attention to part 2 of the handbook for your Ofsted nursery. This includes the evaluation schedule which specifically sets out clear criteria for each inspection judgement. Your inspector will be trained to use these grade descriptions when confirming grades. Therefore, it’s important for you and our staff to have a good read of this handbook.

    Insider tip!

    Take note of your policies and procedures. Inspectors are unlikely to check all policies, however, according to the Early Years inspection handbook, ones to get ready most likely are:

    Practitioners can access the Early Years inspection handbook anytime once uploaded to the Blossom platform.

    What are the 3 I’s?

    When it comes to Ofsted nursery ratings, consider the 3 I’s. Separately they are: intent, implementation, and impact. However, it should be noted that your inspector will not judge them separately. Rather, they will reach a single graded judgement for the quality of education at your Ofsted nursery (backed by the evidence they’ve gathered during their inspection).

    Ofsted 3Is : What does each I actually mean


    When Ofsted use the word ‘intent’ they are referring to your setting’s overall way of working. Mainly, the aims you have to help your children develop and learn. So whatever particular educational approach you take (whether it be Montessori like ours or others), show how it centres around the children’s growth. Your inspector will be looking how your ‘intent’ helps children make progress across the seven areas of learning, and is play-based.


    This is about how you exercise your stated ‘intent.’ What do you do every day at your setting that ensures your children are making progress? This is what your inspector will be looking for. Specifically, your inspector will examine:


    How do you know that what you’re doing at your setting is making a difference? This is what the final ‘I’ refers to. Show your inspector the impact your setting has on your observations and assessments for each child. On top of this, describe to your inspector how well you do in fact know your children. Talk about their likes and dislikes (as well as any milestones hit since joining your nursery).

    Insider tip!

    Covid-19 has a very real and serious impact on children and their development. Be prepared to show how your children’s needs and wants are being met in the context of the pandemic.

    Record key moments, access the new EYFS 2021, share ‘golden’ moments with our digital diaries- to name a few!

    What is reflective practice?

    Razia Nurmohamed, Quality Director at our very own Blossom Tree, shares her thoughts:

    “Reflective practice is a critical tool to improve. It helps us to think honestly and raises our self awareness. This self analysis is uncomfortable for many people until they realise the impact it has on developing and extending their knowledge and practice. It is a continuous process that guides our decision making and drives our individual and collective practice forward. It is important to consider the positives as well as considering things that don’t always go well. We incorporate the 3 I’s into everything we do from planning to behaviour management to any change we wish to implement. These are all analysed and evaluated. The impact of this self reflective practice takes us [children, staff and parents] from strength to strength.”

    Some suggestions to encourage reflective practice at your setting:

    Customise children’s likes and dislikes on their profile, communicate regularly with parents thanks to our 2-way messaging feature, organise meetings quickly by managing work schedules easily.


    Early years settings should be safe environments where children can learn and develop without the threat of abuse or harm. Although inspectors will not provide a separate grade for this crucial aspect of a provider’s work, they will always make a written judgement in the report about whether the arrangements for safeguarding children are effective.

    It is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased safeguarding risks EY settings. Make a point to inform your inspector on how you have adopted your approach and policies to ensure that:

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