Stockton on Tees - Journey to Outstanding

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Early Years

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Stockton-on-Tees Quality Improvement Document for Early Years

Local authority/local area:

Stockton-on-Tees

Summary

`A Journey to Outstanding’ is the Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council quality improvement programme designed to enable childcare providers to raise standards in care and education. By taking part in the programme settings are able to demonstrate their commitment to excellent by going above and beyond the requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

1. The context and rationale

Background

Having had previous experience of a quality improvement programme which created a high level of paperwork but didn’t make a difference in the room, practitioners had become disheartened by the amount of files that had been created which were gathering dust and that didn’t change or improve practice. In 2010, after having reviewed what other LAs were doing and considered available programmes, the LA began working in partnership with a wide range of local providers to create their own programme. This involved representation from everyone engaged in the delivery of childcare, and resulted in Stockton producing and endorsing its own quality improvement document - `A Journey to Outstanding’ – which has continued to evolve to reflect changing legislation and expectations.

The document builds upon Ofsted inspection ratings and allows Stockton to involve settings they perceive to be ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in the delivery of a variety of initiatives including the Free Nursery Entitlement and the two year old funded offer. Similarly, where the Council has concerns around a setting, the document is used to ensure that the correct support and challenge is provided to encourage improvements.

Knowledge base

Evidence from long-term studies in the US and UK shows that in the early years the quality of early learning and childcare is second only to parenting in determining children’s outcomes –both short and long term. It is particularly important for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who may get less support at home, and can help to narrow gaps in achievement.

Research shows that high quality early learning and childcare helps children to do better in school, with the effects lasting to at least age 10. This improves their social and cognitive abilities and helps to identify learning and developmental needs early, thus reducing the risk of long-term underachievement and disaffection. However, these benefits are only associated with high quality early learning and childcare. Poor quality early learning and childcare adds no value in the long term.

The aims of the “A Journey to Outstanding” process are to:
• Be provider focussed
• Involve providers in the on-going development process in order to promote ownership
• Support all providers to implement strategies for continuous improvement
• Clearly take into account the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)
• Promote reflective practice
• Provide settings with support and challenge
• Provide a method of monitoring quality in settings
• Use the Ofsted self-evaluation form (SEF) to contribute to the inspection process
• Bring together strategies for monitoring and evaluation in order to prevent duplication
• Inform the childcare sufficiency agenda with particular reference to quality free nursery education for two- and three-year-olds
• Enable the LA to plan, resource and support requirements provide a structure for ongoing support and challenge between the provider and the relevant LA officer.

2. The practice

At the outset, a consultation paper was circulated widely across the early years sector to seek expressions of interest in being part of the core group to produce the document. This ensured that everyone had the opportunity of being included in the working group and no voices were left out. This core group worked with a high level of political and officer support from the LA. Key individuals, such as the Director of Children’s Services, were strong advocates for the development work and shared a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve. Everyone actively contributed by constantly going back to their own setting to ask what questions they wanted answers to. Local settings were also vital to providing photographs.

“A Journey to Outstanding”:

The document provides an evidence based system to ensure that the council works closely with providers to meet their expectations in relation to the provision of outstanding childcare services that promote a high quality curriculum for all children. By taking part, providers are able to demonstrate a commitment to parents by undertaking to work in full partnership with them, ensuring that the individual needs of their children are met.

In practice the document is a CD which comprises two elements:

• The document itself which is a PDF and cannot be changed
• Interactive sections that can be downloaded so that information can be inserted into templates, e.g. evidence logs and action plans

The following sections are provided:
1. Introduction and Guidance
2. Your Setting
3. The Quality of Provision in the EYFS
4. Contribution of the Early Years Provision to Children’s Well-being
5. The Leadership and Management of the Early Years Provision
6. The Overall Quality Standards of the Early Years Provision
7. EYFS – Promoting Quality Learning Through Play
8. Supporting Children with Additional Needs
9. Childminders
10. Out of School Clubs
11. Developing Practice with Babies
12. Professional Development
13. Evidence Log Sheet
14. Supporting Information

`A Journey to Outstanding’ is directly linked to the SEF completed by each setting/childminder and used by Ofsted as part of the inspection process. It also refers to other Ofsted and early years documents about how to be ready for inspection and how to be outstanding.

The document enables the LA to work in partnership with settings to support and
challenge the quality of Early Years and Childcare provision and underpins the process of continuous improvement, enabling settings to demonstrate to Ofsted how they have developed since their last inspection.

There are further sections within the document directed towards specific sectors and
specialist areas, designed to assist the setting/childminder address gaps in provision
and/or their SEF document, all of which could contribute towards achieving a good or
outstanding judgement. These include:

• Learning and Development
• Professional Development within the Early Years sector
• Special Needs
• Treasure Baskets

Some sections include sample planning sheets alongside guidance to support practice, such as key messages, activities and resources.

Each section is discrete so, when working on a particular area, it is possible to go straight to that section. Each section has a ‘key judgement’ table at the end which allows a grade to be recorded. This process enables settings to identify key areas for development and improvement. An overall grading is considered, in conjunction with a LA officer when appropriate.

There is a template for a Setting Action Plan which enables recording of areas for development with proposed timescales. It also identifies roles and responsibilities within the setting to ensure the improvement takes place. There is also a format for an evidence log which allows settings to detail key pieces of evidence to support their judgements, for example, including the location within the premises.

While the CD does not have audio, it does have local photographs, grade descriptors, questions and prompts to match particular areas, acting as an aide memoire. The examples are given as ‘bubbles’ from principles into practice cards. The prompts are designed to act as triggers for thinking about what could be done. They can also be readily used for training, staff meetings and supervision.

Writing the SEF can be daunting to those who prefer working directly with young children and this comprehensive CD is there to help. It provides a clear guide through the process for those who may not be entirely familiar with what quality looks like. It includes reference materials and is accessible through high quality photos for those who are more visual learners and are assisted by looking at what you would see if, for example, you were setting up a particular environment. The time scales and outcomes are owned by the practitioner and are not reliant on having to wait for a visit from someone from the LA. It encourages practitioners to become reflective and confident as well as providing a useful tool for the LA in being able to support and challenge providers.

The document is very user friendly, contains a wide range of ideas and is created in a language which is readily accessible to early years practitioners. It is given to early years providers and schools to ensure consistency. The wonderful local photos, taken across settings, schools and childminders’ homes makes everyone feel valued and included. Evidencing practice becomes a way of working through “A Journey to Outstanding”.

3. Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

“A Journey to Outstanding” helps providers to better understand the EYFS framework, what they should be achieving and how it meets the needs of children. Complementary resources are the audit toolkits:

• Welfare audit
• Learning and development audit, which has been compiled by Stockton Early Years team based on the statutory requirements and Ofsted expectations

The audits are designed to be carried out in conjunction with a member of Early Years team providing evidence for challenge. Support is available through a named Early Years Development Officer and Early Years Development Adviser for every setting and childminder.

A programme of differentiated support has been developed if, for example, a setting is causing concern. Each team member is able to identify issues and is solution focussed. Hence it is possible to look for patterns that might be occurring and to address these through taking a strategic approach. For example, leadership problems are addressed with management training. Officers then follow through on the impact of training and ensure the embedding of high quality practice.

An outcome is exceptionally good partnership working. All settings are well known to a well-established team. There are excellent relationships with schools and mini partnerships have been developed between schools and providers. In turn, providers and practitioners have excellent relationships with children and their families. For example a central Hub has been set up to meet twice a year bringing Health, children’s centres, schools and the private providers together focusing on joint sharing of paperwork and communication particularly with regard to the two year progress check.

The Local Partnership meetings have been exceptionally valuable supporting the private provider and school nursery practitioner in more robust transitions and enabling school to complete the baseline on entry. This has also enabled the Early Years team to deliver joint Early Years training to both the school and private provider practitioners meeting the needs of the young children across Stockton-on-Tees.

The journey will never be finished as government policy and local priorities are kept under regular review. For example, initially there was a large section on business but as business support is no longer provided by the LA signposting to Business Link is more appropriate. “A Journey to Outstanding” is a living document which will never be done and dusted.

The data below shows the Ofsted inspection ratings for early years providers from August 2012 to August 2014 illustrating a year on year improvement and increasing numbers of Good and Outstanding ratings:

August 2012

Total providers with current inspection judgements

Outstanding

Good

Providers good or better

Requiring Improvement

Inadequate

Providers less than good

 

 

No.

%

No.

%

No.

%

No

%

No.

%

No.

%

TOTAL PROVIDERS

223

17

8%

123

55%

140

63%

83

37%

0

0%

83

37%

CHILDMINDERS

171

15

9%

89

52%

104

61%

67

39%

0

0%

67

39%

SETTINGS

52

2

4%

34

65%

36

69%

16

31%

0

0%

16

31%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 2013

Total providers with current inspection judgements

Outstanding

Good

Providers good or better

Requiring Improvement

Inadequate

Providers less than good

 

 

No.

%

No.

%

No.

%

No.

%

No.

%

No.

%

TOTAL PROVIDERS

211

17

8%

136

64%

153

72%

57

27%

1

1%

58

28%

CHILDMINDERS

163

15

9%

100

62%

115

71%

48

29%

0

0

48

29%

SETTINGS

48

2

4%

36

75%

38

79%

9

19%

1

2%

10

21%

 

July 2014

Total providers with current inspection judgements

Outstanding

Good

Providers good or better

Requiring Improvement

Inadequate

Providers less than good

 

 

No.

%

No.

%

No.

%

No.

%

No.

%

No.

%

TOTAL PROVIDERS

217

20

9%

161

74%

181

83%

34

16%

2

1%

36

17%

CHILDMINDERS

164

16

10%

115

70%

131

80%

32

19.5%

1

0.5%

33

20%

SETTINGS

53

4

7%

46

87%

50

94%

2

4%

1

2%

3

6%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feedback

“At Redhill Nursery we use the Journey to Outstanding document to support our question of the day. This is a question that is asked to all practitioners throughout the day, to enable them the opportunity to develop reflective skills. By posing questions from the Journey to Outstanding, we initiate discussion, which reflects on the practice that we are offering and extends ideas to develop our provision further. We are then able to use the information gathered to enhance our Ofsted SEF”. Redhill Nursery, PSLA.

Quotes from childminders:

“It is really helpful, especially when you’re going through your SEF.”
“It gives you all the prompts.”
“It inspired me to go off and produce a notice board with headings, post-its.”

4. Sustaining and replicating your practice

Retaining a commitment to updating the document in response to Ofsted changes has been key to sustaining practice. It has also been important to recognise that, in particular, new provisions need allocated support, in order to start their journey to outstanding. Support from the very beginning of their professional life is vital to ensure quality through joint working using the welfare, learning and development tools. Childminder support groups are held every term and Early Years Development Officers/Development Advisers are involved in working with new childminders at the end of their training.

Costs and replication:

The programme has been costed for another North East LA that has purchased the programme (CD and audits) for a total sum of £7,000. This has included personalising the CD through using local pictures along with support time to present.

There are bespoke options available for other LAs by individual negotiation. These are:

• A local foreword written by the Director of Children’s Services with logo and distribution rights within the LA
• “A Journey to Outstanding” as a stand-alone CD
• The welfare, learning and development audits as stand-alone tools
• Local photographs
• Support for introduction through a PowerPoint package for early years teams and providers that can be tailored and used to cascade the programme within an LA

Learning from the experience

`A Journey to Outstanding’ works because of its emphasis on improving quality in a way which is flexible and responsive to policy framework changes, providers’ need for support and practitioners’ different learning styles. It ensures that support is focused directly where it is needed through identifying gaps and the need to improve practice.

Disseminating the CD has extended the early years’ team’s ability to work directly with all providers, particularly childminders who can be isolated. Hence, the number of childminders with whom the LA is not engaged, has decreased significantly. Childminder network meetings, and locality support groups now all ‘talk the same language’ as advisers and other professionals can link to `A Journey to Outstanding’. This approach is further promoted through linking the Journey to training e.g. ICAN training. Children’s Centres use the Journey as another way of looking at the environment they provide. The LA is also developing Early Years Hubs to support partnerships across the sector, including Health.

Challenges

Initially, dissemination was a challenge but a launch event helped to overcome this. On-going challenges include the need to frequently update and re-align. However a benefit of this has been the sharing of the work amongst the early years team which has served to further embed both the approach and their commitment.

Some settings have requested a CD for every room rather than the setting.

The key challenge for the LA currently is increasing the number of two year old places to meet the 40% funded childcare for disadvantaged children programme which means 1,153 places. However, the investment in “A Journey to Outstanding” has increased the number of Outstanding and Good providers year on year thus increasing potential capacity.

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