Government review reveals red tape faced by sector

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A Government review of the childcare sector highlights the bureaucracy providers face in meeting regulatory requirements.

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The review highlighted the bureaucracy providers face in meeting requirements

The report by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ (BIS) reveals the extent to which nurseries and childminders are being given conflicting and often confusing advice from various regulatory authorities.

It is based on a total of 44 responses from the sector, along with face-to-face discussions and visits to 18 childcare providers.

According to the report, confusion exists among providers over demarcation limits between various regulatory authorities and their statutory remits.

Very few providers were able to explain to BIS’s Enforcement Action Team the differences between Ofsted’s general role in ensuring child well-being and those of other regulatory authorities, such as environmental health, which the report says has created a ‘clear overlap’. 

One example given was of a small rural day nursery being ordered by their local authority to register as a food business for the purposes of food safety regulation, even though children are only given cheese and crackers, with fruit, as a mid-morning snack.

Another provider complained of having to choose between the advice of fire authority officers to keep fire doors closed at all times and an Ofsted inspector who said that keeping the doors closed impeded free-flow play.

The authors of the report note that while free flow is not a legal requirement, fire safety regulations are statutory requirements.

Concerns were also raised by many providers that there is not a ‘level playing field’, as they believe parents’ ability to compare nurseries and childminders performance like-for-like across England is being undermined by inconsistent inspections and ratings by Ofsted, along with inaccuracies in some reports.

Some nursery owners complained about being marked down for ‘relatively trivial shortcomings’. One major provider revealed being criticised by Ofsted for stacking books in such a way that children were unable to access them, which affected the outcome of their inspection.

Providers also raised issue over the quality, volume and coherence of Ofsted guidance. In particular, smaller providers reported experiencing difficulties with familiarising themselves with guidance or finding an answer to a specific question amongst the 1,000 pages of Ofsted documents covering early years provision.

In response to the findings, Ofsted says it has taken the following action:

• Reduced the volume of all its website guidance relating to childcare by a quarter.
• Clarified that the only mandatory reading for childcare providers is the ‘Guide to Registration’ on the ‘Early Years Register’ and ‘Preparing for your Registration Visit’, and shortened these from 93 to 33 pages.
•  Strengthened its guidance to providers on preparing for their inspection, so they are clear about how to raise concerns.
• Provided further training for inspectors on checking accuracy and making consistent judgements.

Nick Hudson, Ofsted’s early years director, said, ‘We want to help nurseries and other early years providers focus on what matters: providing a safe environment for young children in which they can learn and develop, and preparing them well so that they are ready for school. That’s why we have clarified essential guidance so that early years professionals can see what really matters. I am confident that this will help early years staff get on with doing their jobs. If they have any requests for clarification then we will be happy to help.’

Commenting on the report and Ofsted's subsequent action, Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare & Early Years (PACEY), said, ‘PACEY members value their regulation and inspection by Ofsted. It plays a vital role in supporting parents’ confidence to leave their child in a childcare setting. As Ofsted is increasingly positioned as the sole arbiter of quality, this will be ever more so.

‘It is good to see the steps Ofsted is now taking, as a result of the Focus on Enforcement review of the childcare sector, to make guidance more accessible, to improve advice to providers on preparing for inspection and to further train its inspectors.

‘Now Ofsted is in more open dialogue with the sector, it can ensure remaining concerns are addressed in the coming months. Everyone working in childcare and early years wants the same thing - high quality care for children. By working with the sector Ofsted has the best chance of achieving this for our youngest children.’