Call for reform of Ofsted inspections triggered by complaints

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The Pre-School Learning Alliance has renewed calls for reform of Ofsted’s inspection system, after figures from a Freedom of Information request show that more early years settings are downgraded following inspections triggered by complaints, than during routine inspections.

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A total of 4,758 complaint-driven inspections were carried out between 1 September 2012 and 31 July 2013

This is the second FOI request on inspections data made by the Alliance, after it was forced to re-submit a ‘scaled-down’ request in September.

Ofsted’s figures showed that 29 per cent of complaint-driven early years inspections carried out since September 2012 have led to a downgrade.

A total of 4,758 complaint-driven inspections were carried out between 1 September 2012 and 31 July 2013.

Ofsted’s data shows that 1,383 of these inspections resulted in a downgrade.

This is much higher than the figure of 16 per cent, that is 887 out of 5,506 early years inspections, of settings downgraded following routine inspections carried out during the same time period.

However, the figures also show that 'good' settings were most likely to keep their good grade, with 59 per cent of providers that had previously been graded ‘good’ retaining their good grade, following a complaint-initiated inspection. This equates to 32.5 per cent of all complaint-driven inspections.

The Pre-School Learning Alliance is now calling for Ofsted to change the way it carries out inspections that have been triggered by complaints.

Chief executive Neil Leitch said, ‘These figures clearly show that providers are much more likely to be downgraded if they have undergone an inspection that has been prompted by a complaint or concern. This is despite the fact that Ofsted guidance states that a complaint-driven inspection should be a full inspection of all the matters set out in the evaluation schedule and not an investigation of the concern itself.

‘We, of course, recognise that there will be instances where the issue that prompted the complaint does, in fact, warrant a judgement downgrade, but the significant discrepancies in the inspection data suggest there is a bigger concern here.’

‘We are therefore calling on Ofsted to fundamentally rethink the way in which complaint-driven inspections are conducted. Guidance on this process should be clear and unambiguous, and there needs to be much more rigorous oversight to ensure that inspectors are adhering to Ofsted’s policies and procedures. No provider should have to go into an inspection feeling that the odds are stacked again them.’

The Alliance asked for a breakdown to show how providers grades changed following a complaint-initiated inspection. Ofsted provided the following data:

  Number Percentage
Good at previous inspection to outstanding 187 4%
Outstanding to good 159 3.5%
Outstanding to satisfactory 49 1%
Outstanding to inadequate 26 0.5%
Good to satisfactory 582 12%
Good to inadequate 293 6%
Satisfactory to inadequate 234 5%
Outstanding to outstanding 200 4%
Satisfactory to satisfactory 404 8.5%
Good to good 1541 32.5%
Inadequate to inadequate 27 0.5%

Ofsted also provided the following data:

Inadequate to good 29 0.5%
Inadequate to satisfactory 55 1%
Satisfactory to good 384 8%
Satisfactory to outstanding 16 0.5%

  
An Ofsted spokesperson said, 'We agree with the Pre-School Learning Alliance that Ofsted’s priority must always be the safety and wellbeing of children.
 
'All our early years inspectors have a professional background in the sector; they make judgments based on information they gather and what they see. We demand the highest standards of our inspectors, and always aim to inspect with rigour and fairness.
 
'Ofsted is required to inspect each registered provider at least once in each 47 month "cycle" and when we receive concerns, we inspect if we believe it is important to do so. But it is not the case that inspections which arise from a complaint all lead to lower grade - nor is it true that a nursery that has been the subject of a complaint is unable to receive a good or outstanding rating. Indeed, in the last year, hundreds of settings have improved by one or two grades and hundreds of good settings have remained good.

'However, where we find providers with weaknesses, and in some cases serious weaknesses, we make no apology for awarding a lower grade. That is what parents want; they rightly expect Ofsted to tell them how well their children are safeguarded and protected.'