Ofsted: best practice guide – suitable people - Suitability test

Monday, June 24, 2019

What are the common problems with recruiting suitable people, and why does this come up so much in Ofsted reports? Hannah Crown looks at good practice at Elmscot

When it comes to recruiting suitable people, consultant Pennie Akehurst, who has analysed Ofsted reports, says key areas of concern include:

  • checks not being carried out fully e.g. settings being unaware of all the DBS requirements.
  • the designated safeguarding lead has some training but not a knowledge base to build on to act and appropriately guide staff
  • insufficient records kept of qualifications, and these are not checked
  • references are not genuine, e.g. by a family member
  • not checking, through a GP if necessary, that candidates are able to do the job – e.g. back pain, which might impede their ability to lift children.

At Elmscot, ‘arrangements for the recruitment and training of suitable practitioners are very robust’, according to Ofsted.

Stacey Thompson, manager of Hale Day Nursery, says, ‘We’re always forward thinking. As a group we work closely together – the managers get together to discuss problems or new approaches. We’re always trying to make the working environment better for the staff so we get the best out of them.’

Suitability checks

New candidates are immediately asked if they are on the DBS update service. This is an online subscription that allows people to keep their standard or enhanced certificates up to date, and allows employers to check a certificate online.

If the candidate has lost their certificate, the setting sometimes also pays a fee to awarding body CACHE to check when a person received a CACHE qualification, and also regularly uses the Government qualifications checker at https://bit.ly/2sW8grv.


The candidate is asked about different scenarios to ascertain how they react in certain situations.

The candidate also spends an hour on the ‘shop floor’ meeting staff and interacting with children. Ms Thompson says they spend an hour in the room where they can get into the activities. ‘Staff can ask them questions and they too can ask questions. Staff can feed back to me she was interested in xy or z and we get an idea of what the practitioner is going to be like.’

Some candidates will also have to prepare activities. Recently a teacher candidate had to prepare a literacy group activity, which she would present. The interview team also asked to see the planning and discussed with the candidate how it went.

‘I make it clear that we have high standards and explain the hours and what the job entails, and the research that the girls have to do,’ Ms Thompson says.

Sometimes the discussion of various scenarios reveals where there have been previous problems or areas of weakness. ‘People have always been very honest with us in interviews. They say this is what has happened and this is my explanation for it,’ she adds.

They aim for both a paper and a phone reference. Ms Thompson says, ‘If they’ve given us the name of their previous setting we always go and look at their website. It gives us an idea of what they were expected to do and compare what we offer. It gives you an idea of the standard of practitioner. We might phone up the other nursery and have a chat. You get a good idea [based on how they react] when you mention their name.’

Staff then have a three-month probation period and induction period where they have time with the manager and deputy to discuss aspects of the setting and role.

Keeping up to date

The group has links through the local authority (both regularly checking for new information on their website and in person), and regularly attends pan-sector meetings such as the Ofsted Big Conversation (where they heard about the update service).

Any updates are presented in team meetings. Every time there is a full team meeting, this is used as an opportunity to focus on a different aspect of safeguarding. Safeguarding and other training takes place regularly, including customer service training to help with the ‘multiple personalities’ needed for the role (e.g. talking to parents with differing sets of expectations for their child).

key questions on suitable people

(adapted from guidance by Gloucestershire County Council)

  • Does everyone who has unsupervised contact with children have an enhanced Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) check, also those living or working on the premises when children are present? (Childminders: anyone aged 16 or over in your home, including your own children)
  • Are you aware that you must make a referral to the DBS if a member of staff is dismissed because they have harmed a child or put a child at risk of harm?
  • Do all the adults looking after the setting’s children have appropriate qualifications, training, skills and knowledge?
  • Do you keep records of staff training?
  • Do you keep a record of any identity checks and vetting processes you complete on new and existing staff?
  • Is there at least one person who has a current local authority approved Paediatric First Aid certificate on the premises at all times and on all outings?

nursery overview

  • Name Elmscot group
  • Number of settings 6
  • Established 2001
  • Location Cheshire
  • Chief executives Stephanie Molnar and Dee Cross
  • Hopscotch early years consultancy comment: ‘Elmscot ensure they recruit well-qualified staff and also people who are willing to learn, undertake training and are passionate.’

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