FOI request shows very few Ofsted complaints upheld

Katy Morton
Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request filed by a 'downgraded' nursery provider has revealed that only a tiny percentage of settings have had their complaint upheld by Ofsted and judgement changed.

Steve Taylor, owner of Winchcombe Farm Day Nursery in Warwickshire (right), filed the request after being downgraded by Ofsted from ‘good’ to ‘inadequate’. The judgement has led to a 90 per cent drop in online bookings and the nursery losing £70,000.

Ofsted’s response shows that of the 691 Stage 1 complaints made between April 2012 and March 2013, only four judgements (0.58 per cent) were changed or declared void. Of 138 Stage 1 complaints upheld, or partially upheld by the inspectorate, just three per cent of judgements (four) were altered.

Of the 111 Stage 2 complaints, 34 were upheld or partially upheld, and nine per cent of those (three) saw their judgements changed or declared void.

In its response Ofsted said, ‘Where a complaint has been upheld or partially upheld, this can include a failure to apologise when an error has occurred, or to provide sufficient clarification of why an inspection judgement has been reached. In some cases, this can lead to changes to the wording of an inspection report including a change to the judgements awarded.’

Commenting on the figures, Mr Taylor said, ‘As I have suspected all along, it is abundantly clear from the data that Ofsted’s appeal procedure is a sham.

‘These figures only take us to March. I suspect those for the last six months may be even worse.

‘Anecdotally I know of many settings that have spent many thousands of pounds on lawyers, consultants etc, trying to defend their reputations, but blissfully unaware that the odds were heavily loaded against them.

‘I suppose this is what happens when the companies that conduct the inspections also conduct the appeals, a conflict of interest.’

Last month, the Pre-School Learning Alliance had its FOI request partially rejected by Ofsted on the basis that it would prove too costly to provide the information.

The Alliance has had to re-submit a ‘scaled-down’ Freedom of Information request.

Chief executive Neil Leitch said, ‘The fact that only four complaints out of almost 700 were revised beggars belief. Probability analysis alone tells you something is seriously flawed with Ofsted’s complaints process and robustness.

‘Unfortunately, we do not know as yet the circumstances of these complaints or how many followed re-inspections triggered by a parental complaint or a self-reported incident. Our own Freedom of Information request for much of this detail was rejected by Ofsted on the grounds of it being too expensive at over £600.

‘The Alliance has long argued that the appeals process is inequitable and slants in Ofsted’s favour. The fact that there is no independent provider representation at an early stage may well lend itself to a system that produces less than one per cent of complaints being overturned.  

‘When the new inspection framework was introduced by Ofsted in September 2012 the inspectorate warned the sector that it would be more difficult to obtain a good or outstanding rating or to keep such ratings, and that we should expect more satisfactory or inadequate ratings. We all want the best outcomes for children but need to have confidence in the inspection process and that it is not stacked against us.’

The FOI response comes as Sarah Steel, managing director of The Old Station Nursery Group, has joined a growing number of providers calling for changes in the way the inspectorate works after one of her settings was recently downgraded.

The Old Station Nursery in Gloucestershire was downgraded from good to satisfactory after a ‘compliance’ issue was flagged up.

Ms Steel says the issue, which related to a member of staff recording a dose of medicine incorrectly, occurred eight months before the inspection took place and had been dealt with.

The nursery owner appealed the decision, but it was rejected and the grading upheld.

Ms Steel said, ‘Ofsted’s grading system and the appeals process is alienating those working in the sector and could lead to hundreds of settings losing their funding to offer free childcare for two-year-olds.

‘I feel that the voice of providers is simply not being heard and Ofsted will always find something to hang the grade on as they see fit, following complaint or compliance issue.

‘The more cynical part of me cannot help but think that Ofsted will use the poor statistics to beat everyone in the sector with, making it easier to reduce funding levels.’

An Ofsted spokesperson said, 'Ofsted carried out around 25,000 early years inspection and registration visits last year. These figures show that around 3 per cent of those visits were the subject of a complaint, and in a small number of cases, complaints were upheld by Ofsted.

'Our inspection reports are subject to robust quality assurance checks, and the vast majority of providers tell us they are satisfied with their inspection. But if we get it wrong then we will say so.

'We will continue to use inspection as a catalyst for improvement so that young children get the best start in life.'

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