Making sure young children develop and are safe

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Ofsted Early Years Director Nick Hudson explains the reasons for the latest moves on inspection

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When we published the Ofsted Early Years Annual Report in April, the focus was quite rightly on quality.

The reasons were clear. High quality early years nurseries and other providers are best placed to help young children get a better start in life and be ready to learn when they arrive for their first day at school. That is particularly the case for poorer children.

Learning and development

So if you look at the updated early years documents we have published today, you will see an emphasis on learning and development. We have published documents about early years registration, early years inspection schedules and childcare regulations requirements.

Inspectors will want to see that early years providers are helping young children develop well and be ready to begin to learn when they are at primary school.

I’m sure we’d all agree that learning and development lie at the heart of all early years provision. This emphasis on quality should not be controversial and I think it is wrong to see it as somehow unconnected to safeguarding; they are two sides of the same coin. That does not mean that we are placing less emphasis on children’s safety – quite the reverse.

If Ofsted hears that young children may not be safe at an early years provision then we will respond.

Contact

There has been some media coverage over the summer about the potential length of time between inspections and an attempt to link this to Ofsted putting children at risk. I’d argue that it would be wrong to assume that because our early years inspection schedule sets out that each provider will routinely be inspected within 47 months, that that’s Ofsted’s only means of ensuring children are kept safe.

We respond very quickly when we are alerted to any significant risks to children, and will close down a registration if we think that’s best for the children concerned.

Moreover, early years providers, and there are more than 30,000 of them, are legally bound to tell us if a child suffers an accident or significant ill-health. Our trained staff then risk assesses this information and will prioritise visits if we decide that’s the best thing to do.

We have a duty to inspect all providers by the end of July 2016. We quite rightly prioritise inspections of those who need it most. That often means those whom we have judged to require improvement, or are the subject of concerns.

Minimising risk

Accidents and safeguarding problems at early years provisions are mercifully rare. Ofsted inspectors are working across England to make sure we minimise that risk.

It is now close to one year since we revised the way we inspect and raised the bar for early years providers, introducing the 'requires improvement' judgement in place of 'satisfactory'.

I am pleased that so many early years providers have risen to that challenge and shown that they really are good or outstanding. They have passed a tough test.

We still have a long way to go to raise standards across the board, but we must maintain our drive. The result will be that more young children, particularly those from poorer homes, will be more prepared to learn when they start school.

Complaints

As early years leaders will know, since we were appointed to our senior early years roles, deputy director Gill Jones and I have been talking a great deal with the sector. It was with this in mind that we have been looking at how we can make our processes swifter and more efficient. Of course, we’ve never lost sight of the fact that we have to ensure that children are safe in nurseries and other kinds of early years settings.

So back in May we started a four-week trial whereby we dealt with complaints about providers in a new way. During that period when we received a complaint we either did an urgent inspection; or we wrote to the provider to tell them that we will follow it up when the next scheduled inspection takes place. We stopped bringing forward the full inspections within 30 days.

I am really pleased at how this trial has gone. So much so that we have decided to continue this permanently. I believe it strikes the right balance of making sure children are safe, while treating early years providers in a proportionate way.

This was a direct result of our talks with early years leaders and staff. So we would be very glad to hear of other constructive ideas.

Childminders

From next month childminders will be able to register with a childminder agency rather than Ofsted. This is a new innovation and one that we welcome, since it will provide greater professional support for childminders and will mean their quality is assessed more frequently than under an Ofsted inspection. We will soon publish documents about childminder agencies.

There are many good and outstanding childminders out there. But, to return to the issues identified by our Early Years Annual Report, there are too few of them in poorer areas. So it is my hope that agencies will help to raise standards in those areas where they are most needed.

  • Today (20 August) Ofsted has published early years documents and these are online here
  • Nick Hudson will be speaking at Nursery World's Business Summit on 12 November