The Importance of Play in EYFS Ofsted Inspections

Playground Climbing Equipment

The Ofsted publication ‘Teaching and play in the early years – a balancing act?’ was written to address ‘the recurring myth that teaching and play are separate, disconnected endeavours in the early years.’ It is clear from this statement that play is an integral part of the learning process and, as such, will be scrutinised during EYFS inspections. Here, we take a closer look at what Ofsted will look at and what it expects.

According to the EYFS Inspection Framework, inspectors visiting a school, nursery or other EYFS provider ‘must spend as much time as possible gathering evidence about the quality of care, teaching and learning by observing the children at play.’ In particular, they will look at how staff interact with children during both planned and child-initiated play activities to see how they communicate and model language. Besides examining how staff explain, demonstrate, explore ideas, encourage and question, they will also look at how they facilitate and set challenges, taking into account the equipment provided and the attention given to the physical environment.

Crucially, this applies to both indoor and outdoor play and is the first indication in the framework that the quality of the outdoor space and playground equipment, and how these are used for learning, are important elements of the inspection process.


Communication and language

Communication and language are two of the main areas of learning that inspectors will focus on according to the inspection framework, because ‘the development of children’s spoken language underpins all 7 areas of learning and development’ in EYFS. Additionally, it says that a key part of an inspector’s information gathering around communication and language will come through ‘incidental conversations prompted by observing the children at play and the interactions between them and adults.’ With this being a key focus for Ofsted, it is clear that EYFS providers need to create settings and install playground equipment that encourages and facilitates communication and language learning. Storytelling corners, alphabet and phonics markings and equipment that encourages role play and mark making are all very useful here.


Other areas of focus

This, however, is just the start of what Ofsted expects. The inspection framework goes on to add that it is the role of the EYFS provider to ‘help children experience the awe and wonder of the world in which they live, through the 7 areas of learning.’ As the focus here is clearly on providing children with ‘experiences,’ providers need to carefully consider the type of playground equipment they install to ensure that it offers awe and wonder. This can include creating nature spaces with bird feeders and bug houses, magnetic water walls, outdoor percussion instruments or thrilling climbing equipment.

To be successful in an Ofsted inspection, the EYFS provider’s curriculum must have a highly effective impact on what children know, can remember and do. The framework says that children can demonstrate this through being deeply engaged in their play and sustaining high levels of concentration. Indeed, to achieve outstanding, the children need to ‘have consistently positive attitudes to their play and learning,’ be highly motivated and very eager to join in, share and cooperate. Again, the quality of the play equipment is crucial to helping EYFS practitioners achieve this.

Installing playground equipment that boosts physical activity and skills is also something EYFS providers need to consider. EYFS practitioners should ‘provide a range of opportunities for physically active play’ and give clear and consistent messages to support healthy choices around exercise.

In establishments rated as good by Ofsted, observations will show that children are physically active in their play and develop motor, cardiovascular and physiological skills, including showing ‘good control and coordination in both large and small movements appropriate for their stage of development.’ Climbing frames, play towers, age-appropriate Trim Trails, traversing walls, sports and stepper markings are all helpful for developing physical health and movement skills and can provide the range of opportunities that Ofsted are looking for.

Climbing frames, play towers and Trim Trails are also useful in that they promote children’s confidence, resilience and independence. This is important, as another area of Ofsted assessment will look at how well EYFS providers ‘teach children to take appropriate risks and challenges as they play and learn both inside and outdoors, particularly supporting them to develop physical and emotional health.’ These types of playground apparatus address all these key areas.



Ofsted sees play as a vital part of learning. During inspections, they will consider how ‘leaders and practitioners create and plan the play environment’ and observe children at play when gathering evidence. To ensure a successful inspection, therefore, EYFS providers can benefit from installing equipment that engages, motivates and inspires children to learn across all seven areas of the curriculum.

For more information about our wide range of EYFS playground equipment, visit our Early Years page.


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