Froebel meets Ofsted: what makes an 'outstanding' nursery? 

Susana Castro

University of Roehampton

Ofsted statistics are clear regarding the fact that most nursery settings are rated as ‘Good’ and that the most deprived areas have fewer ‘Outstanding’ settings and more ‘Requires improvement’ when compared to the least deprived areas (Ofsted 2019 data).


Although Ofsted provides guidance on what to observe, final decisions about quality are ultimately individual judgements. Little is known about the common factors underlying those judgements, in particular those of qualitative nature. This information would be unique and important because it has the potential to highlight procedural challenges in the quality assurance system for early childhood education. The aim of this study is to generate evidence of what constitutes high-quality early years provision from the Ofsted point of view, while also examining how these judgements align with internationally recognised principles of early years education - Froebelian pedagogy. To achieve this, a nationally representative sample of Ofsted reports developed for early years settings will be gathered, in order to identify key factors characterising each category of quality. Additionally, the study will examine whether the socio-economic level of the postcode, staff qualifications/experience and the developmental profile of children attending each setting can predict quality ratings. Froebelian principles will be used as a matrix of categories for systematically analysing reports and interviews. For example, how are the ‘uniqueness of the child’, ‘play’, or ‘creativity’ considered in Ofsted reports and professionals’ discourses? Are they often linked to a particular quality rating? 

It is expected that this study will be beneficial to a range of audiences (professionals, academics and policy-makers) by: 1.Providing unique evidence that can inform policy-makers and professionals about any challenges in the provision currently on offer and consequent change management needs; 2. A renewed understanding of Froebelian pedagogy as a methodological research tool and a framework to guide quality assurance of early years settings. 


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