The last London Ofsted Big Conversation took place on 11 April at
the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) head office in Marsham Street.
It was hosted and chaired by June O'Sullivan, chief executive of LEYF,
and co-chaired by myself.
This was an open meeting for the sector to come along and meet Debbie Jones, Ofsted regional director for London and national lead for social care. She was accompanied by Jane Wotherspoon, an HMI with the national lead for Early Years Foundation Stage, and John Kennedy, a London HMI. Both Ofsted and the sector engaged in a respectful and constructive conversation lasting over three hours.
The aim of the 'conversation' is to identify how Ofsted inspection and regulation helps the sector achieve our shared goal of delivering outstanding early years education and childcare for all children and families.
So did we achieve our aim? It takes 21 days to develop a habit and a lifetime to get rid of it, so let's get some perspective!
It was an excellent start and we hope both sides felt positive that the dialogue was achieving much-needed change. Personally, I found the inspectors to be very keen to listen and at times they appeared shocked by what they heard.
COMPLAINTS ABOUT COMPLAINT-LED INSPECTIONS
What did we discuss? It was the usual list of concerns, but this time we felt we were being listened to and that Ofsted was keen to inform the sector that it is aware changes are needed in some areas and is working on it.
Complaint-led inspections remain a huge issue, with the sector reporting that the majority are malicious and yet anonymous. Many providers write to me at the Ofsted Big Conversation website each week and a key theme is the parent who complains because they owe the setting or childminder money.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, noted that 69 per cent of complaints triggered by parents were by parents with debt and fee issues. This is backed up by my #OBC mailbag.
Another issue is that the first stage of the complaints process - relating to the inspector or the inspection process - is being undertaken by the contractors themselves. Providers would prefer it to go straight to Ofsted.
There remain terrible inconsistencies between inspections and problems with inspectors who are not adequately trained. The need for all inspectors to be trained to the same required level was repeatedly emphasised.
There are also inspection reports being posted on the Ofsted website without any indication that they are under appeal.
Meanwhile, reports are taking up to five months to arrive (the target is 15 days). Perhaps the sub-contractors should be working on time delay penalties?
We raised that childminders are given only 24 hours to agree their report, when they may not check their emails for 24 hours or more. More time or text alerts would be sensible.
Another serious concern relates to quality improvement support when a setting is judged inadequate or requires improvement. This is particularly worrying in the light of the local authority role changing.
Bring back Ofsted inspectors or at least let the sector help in the commissioning process.
The sector has experienced the good, the bad and the ugly and it is unanimous in its view on what is very wrong with the current regime and just how it can be improved. Ofsted, too, has had a hard time with some of the shenanigans of its sub-contractors.
SEEING THE LIGHT
It was agreed the regional structure of meetings worked well. It is important to connect with providers and childminders in their location and hopefully respond faster to issues.
We agreed that the regional structure was best as Ofsted could get a grasp on local issues and respond faster through local seminars and good practice examples on the website.
There have been changes to compliance-led inspections and they no longer immediately trigger a full inspection and the options are open for judgements to go up as well as down.
My mailbag is beginning to see the light, with more positive inspections, so I for one am hopeful.
Catriona Nason is founder of Daycare Doctor www.daycaredoctor.co.uk