Kent Quality Mark (Quality Assurance Scheme)

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Early Years
  • General resources

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

  • Narrowing the gap in outcomes for young children through effective practices in the early years

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Kent County Council - Education, Learning and Skills, Early Years Quality and Outcomes

Local authority/local area:

Kent County Council

The context and rationale

The practice involves the development of an effective Quality Assurance scheme, the Kent Quality Mark (KQM) to acknowledge, sustain and extend good practice in early years settings in Kent across the private, voluntary (PV) and maintained sectors. (91% of early years settings in Kent are run by private independent and voluntary providers).

Settings receive accreditation, and this takes 1 year, followed by 2 years of annual review and a planned re-accreditation in the third year. Settings have to meet a set of rigorous entry criteria, as the scheme is intended to extend already strong practice. 

KQM is one part of a systematic strategy for quality improvement in Kent for all early years services. All 671 settings on the Ofsted register are within the Kent Setting Improvement Partner Programme and most are supported by a team of Teaching and Learning Advisers who act as the Setting Improvement Partner (SIP). The County’s 1600 childminders are also supported through the National Childminding Association (NCMA) QI processes for individuals and networks. The KQM, launched in 2008, is designed for settings already demonstrating good practice and its aim is to harness internal capacity for self reflection to move from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’ or to maintain excellence when an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted judgement has been achieved. The scheme relies on setting autonomy, drawing on and strengthening reflective practice through self-evaluation. This process requires less input from the local authority, yet still provides improvement in early years education and care provision which leads to improved outcomes for children. 

The KQM requires settings to undertake action research having highlighted necessary areas of development through self-reflection and the use of the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale and the Infant (ECERS) and Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS) audit tools. Two action research studies (also referred to here as case studies) are carried out over the course of a year. These studies show how a setting has used a ‘whole setting’ approach to improve provision and outcomes for children. The KQM process consists of two units (A and B) and the case study work forms the basis of Unit A (Using Action Research to Improve Outcomes for Children). The Leuven scales are used by settings to undertake screening of children’s well-being and involvement three times per year. The action points are then used to improve practice and outcomes. (High levels of well-being and involvement enable deep level learning).

The Unit B work focuses on leadership of learning and involves managers undertaking a leadership audit tool which looks at a broad range of areas of practice and evidence to demonstrate how they meet the criteria. This is monitored and reviewed by an evaluator. Staff questionnaires also form a central part of the KQM and explore the effectiveness of leadership in sharing the leadership vision with staff, and the ability of all staff to be part of the reflective process. 

Settings receive the support of an evaluator/mentor who leads the initial and end of year ECERS/ITERS audit review and offers three half day visits. The evaluators are members of the early years teaching and learning team, and have all benefited from two half day training sessions in KQM processes. 
The use of ECERS in Kent was considered to be a contributing factor to its improved Ofsted data, and further local research in 2006 on the use of Professor Ferre Laevers’s scales concluded that significant gains were made in the way practitioners supported young children. Therefore it was decided that both would be key elements within the new scheme.

The following principles were agreed to form the basis of the KQM:

• The child is at the centre.
• Wellbeing and involvement are key indicators of quality.
• The Themes, Principles and Commitments of the EYFS are embedded.
• The Every Child Matters agenda is embraced.
• Equality and diversity is threaded throughout.
• A whole team approach was promoted.
• Parents as partners in early learning is central to the scheme.
• There was a leadership focus on continuing quality improvement.
• There was a commitment to improving outcomes for all children.
• There was an ethos of reflective practice to inform improvement planning.
• There was a commitment to continuous professional development for all staff.
• Settings embarking on KQM would have regular networking opportunities provided through Network Group Meetings as well as a KQM Forum on the EYFS Forum Website.

Other key national documents used to inform the development of the scheme were:

• The Early Years Foundation Stage (2008).
• The Quality Improvement Principles (NCB, 2007).
• The Early Years Quality Improvement Support Programme.
• Key Elements of Effective Practice (KEEP).
• The Ofsted Self Evaluation Form (SEF).
• The Every Child Matters agenda (ECM).
• The Parents as Partners in Early Learning Tool (PPEL).

The practice

Kent identified a pilot group of 20 settings who were invited to apply (2008). The initial pilot ran successfully and this was fully evaluated through questionnaires to both evaluators and settings. 

The findings of this evaluation informed the planning of the 2009 cohort which was adapted to ensure only those settings demonstrating a high degree of reflective practice and autonomy could apply. The decision to raise the bar with the entry criteria was influenced by the fact that those pilot settings who were not functioning at the required level found difficulties in meeting the high standards required, and often required additional evaluator support. 

In 2009 cohort 50 settings were successfully accredited. 

2010 saw a further refining of some of the processes within the scheme and a cohort of 24 settings were successfully accredited.

2011 welcomes 42 settings who have met the criteria.

A working group oversaw the development of the original scheme, and once established the KQM Manager continued to coordinate and further refine the scheme, supported by 2 Early Years Advisers with significant experience of mentoring within a quality assurance scheme. An early years project officer was able to support with the administrative arrangements which proved very valuable.

The intended measurable outcomes were:

• Sustained and improved OFSTED gradings.
• Improved EYFSP data using developing ‘progress matters’ tracking systems (started in academic year 09/10).
• Extended leadership capacity within settings.
• Greater engagement of parents in children’s learning. 
• A strong ethos of reflective practice.

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

Kent’s KQM accredited settings have demonstrated that they offer practice of a high standard which is over and above that required by Ofsted. The level of reflection shown by these settings supports their practice ensuring that all children and families are effectively supported through the early years. 

Each accredited setting has a strong Self-Evaluation Form (SEF) with clear priorities identified for improvement, recorded in a SMART action plan which is regularly monitored and updated.

The leadership and management processes ensure that all KQM settings have sound policies which reflect their individual practice and that inclusive practice is demonstrated throughout the provision.

Partnership with parents is strong in KQM settings. 76% demonstrated an increase in parental involvement in their children’s learning (2010 cohort) as measured through the ECERS and PPEL audit tools. National and international research evidence clearly shows that where parents are involved in their children’s learning, outcomes are improved. Use of the Parents as Partners in Early Learning audit tool (PPEL) has encouraged practitioners to strive towards achieving full engagement with parents and carers.

The use of action research/case studies in KQM settings has meant that real issues are addressed, showing clear improvements in practice and outcomes for children. The experience of carrying out such research has enhanced practitioner knowledge and confidence. 

Examples from case studies demonstrating improved provision include:

• Improving outdoor play leading to enhanced learning opportunities in particular for boys.
• Re-evaluation of group times for toddlers to ensure these children are not being required to spend extended periods of time sitting – thereby offering children more freedom and choice and the opportunity for active learning.
• Focus on improving resources for problem-solving, reasoning and numeracy leading to greater understanding of mathematical concepts for those children observed.
• Enhanced practice in supporting transitions across a full day care nursery to include both vertical and horizontal transitions.

Ofsted Outcomes – at January 2012:

50% of KQM PVI settings have an overall ‘outstanding’ Ofsted grade compared to 18.3% PVI in Kent generally.
100% of KQM PVI settings have ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in comparison to 87.6% generally.

31% of the KQM maintained settings have an overall ‘outstanding’ Ofsted grade compared to 6.6% maintained in Kent. 
88% have of KQM maintained settings have overall ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in comparison to 65.6% generally.

KQM settings having Ofsted inspections between 2009 and 2010: 72 settings

79% improved in Overall Effectiveness (7% improved by two grades).
53% improved in Quality of Provision.
58% improved in Being Healthy.
62% improved in Staying Safe.
58% improved in Enjoying and Achieving.
58% improved in Positive Contribution.
56% improved in Leadership and Management.

Managers report that they feel considerably more confident in the leadership and management processes and this has been reflected in Ofsted reports where settings have been more confident in discussions with inspectors and have sourced a range of good quality evidence to support their judgements.

The requirement for the completed and updated SEF has ensured KQM settings are constantly reflecting and reviewing their practice and this is recorded in the SEF in liaison and partnership with key stakeholders.

Setting staff are more reflective in their practice and confident to use action research to learn more about children and what makes a difference in improving outcomes for children.

The whole setting approach required by the scheme supports staff morale and the vision of the setting is shared and embraced by all.

Each individual cohort of the KQM in terms of the systems and processes has been evaluated, together with evaluating the impact on outcomes for children in a variety of ways as follows:

Evaluation forms were sent to both evaluators and settings to ensure not only that the processes are workable, but also to give an opportunity to gather examples of impact on outcomes for children. 

Evaluation forms for 2009 cohort – a sample of the summary findings were:

Unit A - Improving Outcomes for Children – improvements were observed in:

o Greater opportunities for play and learning.
o More time for interaction and observations of key child.
o Listening to children and high levels of involvement.
o More opportunities for sustained shared thinking.
o Accessing EYFS inside and out. 

Unit B - Leadership and Management – improvements were observed in:

o Opportunities for staff training.
o Supported policy writing.
o Strengthened partnership with parents and My Unique Child embraced (Kent’s recording document for child’s progress).
o Staff and parent questionnaire beneficial to gain views.

Ofsted reports were scrutinised showing where settings undertaking KQM had moved forward in achieving a higher grade and this was compared with the progress made by other settings.

One case study – Abacus Nursery – demonstrates the KQM process as experienced by one setting – and gives examples of the outcomes for practice and children’s learning.
Kent has recently introduced ‘progress matters’ – a tracking system to measure children’s progress across areas of learning in the EYFS. This system will be used increasingly to evidence changes in outcomes for children within KQM settings.
Further evidence of the impact of the scheme can be seen through the number of practitioners in settings achieving KQM who are now part of Kent’s Leading Early Years team. This team is commissioned to provide in-reach/out-reach work with other settings requiring support.

Case studies
Link to evaluation

Sustaining and replicating your practice

Kent continues to re-evaluate each year to ensure the KQM scheme meets the needs of children and families, and is still up to date and in line with recent research.

Through the Annual Review and Re-accreditation processes Kent is able to ensure the high standards achieved for the KQM are being maintained. Alongside these processes the Setting Improvement Partner programme offers all KQM settings on-going support to ensure that they continue to reflect and improve practice leading to greater improvements in outcomes for children.

Although the initial and final ECERS/ITERS will be used as a central element, a range of additional tools can be used to focus on specific areas which need development.

These tools include:

• Let’s Listen (NCB).
• Every Child A Talker monitoring tool.
• Inclusion Development Programme (IDP).
• Adult Engagement Tool (Bertram and Pascal).
• Early Years Quality Improvement Support (EYQISP) (National Strategies).

This allows settings to unpick to a greater depth those areas they wish to focus on.


51 (2009 settings) will be alerted to the re-accreditation process in January 2012, with the view that they will receive a visit in the Spring Term where they will be provided with the finer detail of what is required. They will need to finalise their re-accreditation work by the end of the Summer term.

In order to achieve re-accreditation, settings will be required to:

1. Demonstrate they still meet the robust entry criteria.
2.Undertake an ECERS audit. 
3.Undertake the Leadership Audit (Unit B).
4. Provide an up-to-date improvement plan which will demonstrate actions addressed through use of the ECERS and the leadership audit tool. 
5. Provide evidence of on-going self-evaluation and reflective practice.
6. Provide a written reflective account of how the well-being and involvement work has improved outcomes for children in the setting. This should include reference to progress data for different aspects of learning.
7. Attend a half-day reaccreditation workshop. 


Stationery and materials £5,232. 
KQM evaluator time commitments 2010 – 2011 = 420 days (approx £105 per day).
Kent’s proposals for the future are to merge all Setting Improvement Partner visits with KQM visits so that KQM settings will not incur additional days work. They propose that settings will undertake their own initial and final ECERS or ITERS audits removing an additional 2 days of time. They are considering charging settings to attend the ECERS/ITERS training and possibly to pay for the award itself in future. They feel this demonstrates the scheme is sustainable even with a reduced workforce. 

Hot Tips:

• Involve settings in the development of the scheme and run a pilot cohort which allows you to make changes before running a full scheme.
• Ensure settings embarking on the scheme are working at a high level of autonomy as there will be little time for additional support over and above the standard number of evaluator visits.
• Continue to reflect on and increase the range of audit tools used – this will give the settings the opportunity to make decisions and take ownership of areas they would like to work on.
• Ensure the timing of the training is accurate, for example, do not put the training on too far in advance or evaluators/settings may forget some of the processes required.
• Provide strong internal systems to support the evaluation process such as guided Notes of Visit, helpline for evaluators and clear mentor training.


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