The Adventure of Sending Your Child to an Ofsted-Free Nursery

As a teacher, I know all about Ofsted. I have been through three Ofsteds and conclude that the pressure an inspection puts on the staff in a school is inhumane. A couple of years ago, the Ofsted criteria was changed to become more challenging. Good is no longer good. Good is as expected; good is satisfactory. Teachers are given target levels for every pupil, targets generated by computers. I worked hard to make sure my pupils were on target. Some were, some weren’t, but for most of my classes, the underachieving and overachieving levelled out. My classes were on target and I was proud of this. Then, one day in a meeting, the head of department told us that according to Ofsted, a class where all pupils were on target was only “satisfactory”. The biggest issue I have with being a teacher, is that I give it my all and my all is only just good enough according to Ofsted. I have never actually been given an official grade by an Ofsted inspector, but if I had been, I’m pretty sure I’d have been given a 2 (a good). The lesson would have taken hours to prepare. They would have seen everything I’d got. I don’t mind the fact that I’m “good”; I mind the fact I have no idea how to be outstanding.

Just before we moved to Vienna, I had a part-time teaching position and worked Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. One Tuesday lunchtime when I was at a soft play with Noah and some of the mothers and babies from our NCT group, I got a text message telling me Ofsted would be in the school the next day. I had five lessons (a full day) and knew I’d have to produce five detailed lesson plans before the morning. Noah was 18 months old. My husband was already in Vienna. My mum and dad were at work and wouldn’t be home until after six o’clock. Noah, with his sixth sense for these things, picked up on my stress and refused to go to sleep that night. I started my lesson plans at 8pm and by 1pm I had only done four of them. Noah had woken up and needed settling six times. By 5am he was awake for the day and so was I. I was already sleep deprived and had a chest infection. It crossed my mind to call in sick. Why not? Why put myself through it? I still hadn’t done my lesson plans and I had another four to do for the next day. I knew I’d be leaving that school in a month’s time. I was stressed out of my mind. What did I owe them? But I went in anyway.

Do I think schools should be monitored? Yes. Do I think that we should expect high standards from the English education system? Of course I do. But surely, there are better ways than this?

The point of this rant is: I am not a fan of Ofsted.

And yet.

When I was going back to work after maternity leave, I wanted Noah to go to an “outstanding” nursery. He ended up going to the nursery which was on the site of my school. I couldn’t fault it. I had a perfect view of the garden from my classroom window. At 10am on Mondays and Fridays, I could usually be found gazing lovingly at Noah as he blundered around below, moving from one toy or activity to another. Meanwhile, if the classroom was in chaos around me, I was oblivious.* It was a brilliant nursery. And yet, a few months after we moved to Vienna, they had an Ofsted inspection and suddenly it is no longer an “outstanding” nursery.

*If any Ofsted inspectors are reading this, then I’m only joking. Ha ha ha…

I often wonder what Ofsted would make of Noah’s kindergarten in Vienna. There are three members of staff to seventeen children. The group is aged 1-3. Noah is the oldest child there with one other girl. The staff are strict with behaviour. They really tell the kids off. There are few structured activities. Sometimes the children make things but Noah has recently decided he doesn’t want to take part in craft activities and they do not press him. Children in Vienna have no official learning until they are 6. In England, Noah would be starting to learn the alphabet and write his name. In no way is he being challenged here. He isn’t really developing his social skills as much either, seeing as the majority of the children are a lot younger than him. There are stairs in the room which lead up to a play area – one year olds who are just learning to walk can make their way up and down. If Noah falls over, no one notices and cleans the cut. There are no incident forms to sign. Before he was toilet trained, he was often there for four hours without his nappy being changed. Or he was put in a nappy two sizes too small. Their support when Noah started toilet training was non-existent. They refused to let me leave his potty and tried putting him on a big toilet on day 1. He was afraid he was going to fall in and decided he was never, ever, under any circumstances going to go to the toilet at kindergarten. And apart from on two occasions in the past year, he hasn’t. I suppose Austrian kindergartens must be subjected to rules and regulations but over here, there is no such thing as Ofsted.

The time has now come for me to find Noah a nursery or pre-school place for January when we come home to England. Some pre-schools have told me to contact them nearer the time. Most are full up for the year. One nursery told me they had a place for him. Great, I thought: I’ll put him down for that one and it’s all sorted. One less thing to worry about. But wait. I’ll just check with a friend who sent her children there to see what she thought of it. And I’d better read the Ofsted report.

Inadequate.

As soon as I saw the 4 at the top of the report, there was no way my Noah was going there.

Why was it inadequate?

  • Because the teaching isn’t consistently good. At Noah’s kindergarten, there is no teaching: there is only supervising.
  • The garden isn’t made full use of. At Noah’s kindergarten, they take them to the park most days (across a road with the kids walking two by two). Noah often comes home with mud in his hair and leaves in his pants. There is also a small balcony for a bit of fresh air.
  • Documentation isn’t up to date and readily available. I have no idea what documents are kept at the kindergarten.

So why am I worried about an inadequate nursery in England, when it would not be of any lesser standard than the kindergarten he currently attends here in Vienna? Because I want the best available for my son.

The kindergarten here leaves a lot to be desired, but it is still good for him. It is important he is left with others, not with me 24/7. He’s enough of a Mummy’s Boy as it is, I dread to think what he’d be like if he was never out of my company. The kindergarten has high expectations for behaviour and the staff aren’t afraid to raise their voices if the children are misbehaving. When we went to the parents’ meeting, they were astounded that Noah was ever naughty at home. At kindergarten, he always does what he is told. So at least we know he can be an angel when he wants to be. He has also made firm friends which he probably wouldn’t have done at such a young age going to nursery twice a week like he did in England. There is also the fact that it is a German-speaking kindergarten. He has been immersed in a culture different from his own. He has learnt about Austrian traditions and been exposed to the German language. He won’t retain any of this but I think his brain has been made receptive to it as a result. It will stand him in good stead.

In England, the best available is something else. Noah will not be milling around in a playtime world of his own imagination until he is 6 years old. He will have to flourish in the hard, cruel world of Ofsted inspections, of KS2 SATS data and a government which is currently talking about implementing an assessment system for 4 year olds. My Noah will not be going to an inadequate nursery or pre-school. Think again.

Noah, his lollypop and the masterpiece he produced at kindergarten this morning.
Noah, his lollypop and the masterpiece he produced at kindergarten this morning.


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