Preparing for OFSTED in your nursery:
Some questions to ask

Ursula Daniels
Education Consultant, Registered Nursery Education Inspector

This article first appeared in Microscope Early Years Special June 1997

So the letter has arrived! You have a date for your inspection!
No doubt preparations have been in hand for some time, but what about information technology? Has that been forgotten or simply pushed to the bottom of the queue? And what will be expected anyway?

The 'Desirable Outcomes' state that pupils should 'use technology, where appropriate, to support their learning'.

What does that statement really tell us? On the face of it -- not a lot! But if that outcome is to be effectively implemented, it requires the same thought and preparation as other aspects of the curriculum.

Let's start with the term 'technology'. Instinctively, people think 'computers'. But technology or information technology (IT) is broader than that. And in many pre-school settings there are other good examples of information technology around -- tape recorders, video recorders and fax machines -- maybe even programmable toys and electronic music devices. Whilst some settings may have a computer, or access to one through a close link with a primary school, others as yet may not. If you are one of the latter, try at least to make use of technology in the broadest sense.

The second part of the statement is even more important. It's to do with how technology is used -- it has to be appropriate and to support learning. So it's not simply a question of having a computer switched on -- or a programmable toy or anything else, whatever it is. It has to link with the rest of the curriculum -- for example, to develop skills that are being worked on in other areas, such as number recognition or reasoning, or it may develop further understanding of a topic such as the sea or the farm.
From this a whole series of questions emerge.

Is information technology included in curriculum planning?
Whilst in small settings with only a few staff, planning can work successfully on a less formal basis, larger nurseries will require a greater amount of written information so that all members of staff can be made aware of the purpose of IT activities and understand the context in which it is taking place.

This detailed planning should also contribute to continuity and progression so that staff build upon the children's existing knowledge, understanding and skills.

Which areas of learning are being supported through the use of information technology?
If IT is being used, it may have developed on an ad hoc basis rather than through deliberate planning. At this point, it would helpful to list the uses that are made of IT. As far as the use of computers is concerned, this may well have been determined by the software available, rather than by the aspects of learning or skills that are being developed. For instance, there may be a glut of language programs, but little on numeracy. A programmable toy may be developing a wide range of skills, but these may now need to be reviewed and extended in the light of the desirable outcomes.

Does information technology improve the quality of teaching and the quality of learning?
In order to do this, IT needs actually to make a positive contribution to develop progress in learning and raise attainment. This is why the purpose needs to be clear in the planning. It is not enough that they are having a 'dabble' or simply gaining awareness of technology. Information Technology can be put to a far better use than that.

If IT is being used well, it should be approached in the same way as other activities. For example, there should be good interaction with the children, effective and challenging questioning to develop thinking and language, and a growing independence should be encouraged.

Does it raise expectations of the staff for pupils' attainment?
One danger when IT is first introduced is that staff underestimate children's capabilities or are so impressed by the outcomes that they neglect to analyse the skills involved. For instance, a computer can produce a beautiful hard copy/print-out in colour of the children's work and the fact that a child is able to manipulate the mouse or other input device may seem a massive achievement to a less confident member of staff.

The important questions are:

How can it support individual pupils?
Work with IT, as with all other teaching, must meet the needs of all children:

The great strength of IT as a resource is that it can make a strong contribution to the teaching of able children and to those with special needs, enabling the latter to carry out tasks that they might otherwise not have been able to tackle, boosting their confidence and self-esteem and reinforcing skills which they find it difficult to master.

How is information technology monitored?
Being aware of the strengths and weaknesses in the use of IT within the setting will enable improvement to take place.

What happens if there is no information technology?
Obviously this fact would rear its head in the report. In fact it could appear in several places -- not only as a weakness in the section on knowledge and understanding of the world but also as a weakness in the quality of teaching, in resourcing and as a key issue for action.

So, look around and see what IT you can find. If there is very little, recognise this as a weakness and decide how it will be tackled both in the short and long term. If you've got that far -- at least you've made a start!


How can IT support the six areas of learning?

1. Personal and social development

2. Language and Literacy

A multi-sensory approach -- pictures, words and sound.

3. Numeracy

Visual representation of mathematics.

4. Knowledge and Understanding of the World

Children have a natural curiosity about the world and about information technology itself.

5. Physical development

6. Creativity

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