Ofsted have announced that they will now provide a separate grade in their school inspection reports regarding the quality of nurseries, receptions and post-16 provisions (even if they form part of a primary or secondary school). The separate grade will not limit a school’s overall judgement but inspectors will consider the outcome in the context of the school to help them form a final verdict on their overall effectiveness.

The changes are designed to ensure that inspectors place as much emphasis on both the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), and the sixth form as well as 5-16 provision as these are such vital stages in a child’s education. Ofsted recognise that nurseries and receptions set children ‘up for life’ in terms of their overall learning and that a clear understanding of how well a sixth form is performing can help students decide where they want to continue their post 16 studies.

The comments following the consultation that took place during May to June 2014 suggested that inspectors should have a good understanding of EYFS and sixth forms; as both stages require separate knowledge and expertise. Also, it was felt that the separate judgement should influence the overall judgement. For example, a school should only be judged outstanding if its EYFS provision is judged at least good. The small minority that disagreed in both cases felt that the EYFS and sixth forms were part of the whole school and should therefore not be judged separately. They felt that this was a retrospective step that could unnecessarily complicate the inspection process. Neil Leitch, Chief Executive of Pre-school Learning Alliance said, “We welcome the decision to introduce separate inspection judgements for early years provision. Early years care and education is pivotal to a child’s long-term learning and development.” 

Ofsted first indicated that it was considering a separate grading system in July 2013.  The proposals have been welcomed by the FE sector as it will allow school sixth forms to be directly compared with colleges. The Sixth Form Colleges’ Association had been campaigning for a separate grading system in school sixth forms for some time before Ofsted announced their proposals.  Joy Mercer, the Association of Colleges director of policy, said Ofsted had “made the right decision”.

The Association of School and College Leaders suggested that any criticisms of Ofsted’s new grading system could possibly be ‘put down to’ concern that a school’s overall inspection grading will be ‘brought down’ by the nursery or sixth form grade. This would only be a concern if the standard of a school’s nursery or sixth form provision was low compared with that of the rest of the school.