Ofsted trials new complaints process following feedback

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During May, Ofsted is piloting a new way of dealing with complaints about early years settings, Nursery World can exclusively reveal.

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Nick Hudson says Ofsted's pilot of a new complaints process came about from talking to early years providers

The move is a direct response to discussions with the sector during feedback from the Ofsted Big Conversation.

In an exclusive interview with Nursery World, Nick Hudson, Ofsted's director, early years, said the pilot was spurred by messages it received when talking to providers.

The pilot is the second stage of action that Ofsted is taking to look at how to change the way it responds to complaints and streamline the process - whether that is a complaint about the inspection system or complaints about a provider that triggers an action by the inspecting body.

It follows the decision in February that Ofsted will no longer automatically carry out a full inspection following a compliance investigation.

If implemented, the move should bring relief to 'good' and 'outstanding' settings that have received a series of inspection visits following complaints, which in some cases are clearly of malicious intent.

Mr Hudson said that Ofsted has reviewed how it handles complaints and its assessment process and has adapted the level of risk. The 30-day brought-forward option for inspections has been removed.

During the month's pilot, there will be just two options for dealing with complaints: calls that come into Ofsted's Manchester office will be assessed, and either the complaint will be viewed as 'acute' and Ofsted will visit the setting that day or that week, mainly for safeguarding concerns; or, if the complaint is deemed a 'one-off', Ofsted will 'park it' and the inspector who carries out the routine inspection of the setting will deal with the complaint as part of the normal inspection cycle.

'It's really, really difficult for us to ascertain whether it is malicious or not,' Mr Hudson told Nursery World.

'We can't tell if someone, when they write in, is actually doing so because they don't like the fact that the setting's fees have gone up. We can't tell that - it's impossible to tell.

'But what we can do is make an assessment of whether or not it seems like a serious complaint. I think we can ascertain that.'

He said he has heard a few times of settings that have had a number of visits and been re-inspected even though they have 'a string of "goods"'. He added, 'What this now enables us to do is to absolutely take this into account. Someone that's been judged good on more than one occasion - why would we want to go back and look at that?'

Those handling complaints about nurseries and childminders will look at the range of evidence, the history of the setting, previous inspection grades, and whether there have been any other complaints received from different sources.

Information about the complaint will be put to one side as evidence for the inspector who carries out the routine inspection of the setting.

Early years settings will only be told of the complaint during their next inspection visit.

Mr Hudson said, 'This is completely consistent with absolutely everything else we do. If a complaint comes in about a local authority before they're inspected for social care, the inspection team will look at it when they go to inspect; it's the same for schools and for a further education institution.

'It's not necessarily significant, not necessarily going to even create a line of inquiry. It is important, we feel, that the inspector has all the information available to them. We have to get a balance. We can't just rip up complaints that we've had.'

But he added, 'The important thing is, there will be an assessment of the complaint - it must be a low-level complaint (to not trigger an immediate investigation); if it is an acute one, we would go out immediately.'

At the end of this month, if the pilot is deemed to have made a difference, Ofsted will revise its guidance on priority and brought-forward inspections.

  • Read our exclusive interview with Nick Hudson and Gill Jones, Ofsted's deputy director, early years