Ofsted clamps down on 'satisfactory' nurseries

In future, early years settings will have four years to reach a good grade or face being closed down by Ofsted.

From September, the satisfactory grade will be replaced by ‘requires improvement’ for all early years providers to bring them in line with the inspection regime in schools and colleges.

The proposals are set out in Ofsted’s consultation, ‘Good early years provision for all,’ published today.

Nurseries and pre-schools that are graded as ‘requiring improvement’ will have more frequent inspections, and Ofsted will impose a four-year time limit for them to reach a good grade.

Those settings that fail to achieve ‘a good’ after two consecutive inspections are likely to have their registration cancelled.

The inspectorate will also focus more on reporting on the qualifications held by early years staff, because of the clear correlation between the level of qualifications and quality of provision.

Speaking at Thomas Coram Early Childhood Centre in London today, Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said that despite ‘huge investment by successive Governments' nurseries were ‘not improving fast enough’.

Sir Michael said, ‘Ofsted will be tougher on settings that are less than good. I want this new designation to act as a catalyst to get early years providers to good as soon as possible.’

He added, ‘Nurseries should not be able to languish in their inadequacy.’

Too many nurseries and pre-schools were only satisfactory or inadequate, the attainment gap was not closing, and that this was a particular problem in disadvantaged communities.

Ofsted’s consultation includes two proposals to challenge nurseries and pre-schools to achieve higher standards.

Early years settings will have four years to improve or they are likely to be ‘judged inadequate and Ofsted will recommend closure and deregistration’, he said.

Sir Michael also said that there was far too much regional variation between settings employing well-qualified staff and suggested that the Government should think about re-distributing funding, because it was ‘not well-targeted enough’ across the sector, with the weakest providers in deprived areas.

Ofsted figures show that 22 per cent of places offered by early years providers are in settings that are graded satisfactory or inadequate.

Childminders are not included in the consultation proposals, because the Government is yet to finalise plans around childminder agencies.

Sir Michael said that he was ‘strongly supportive of childminder agencies’, which will be able to monitor quality and support.

‘In the coming months we will consult on proposals for the inspection of childminders and childminding agencies.’

Ofsted also plans on ensuring that inadequate settings that have closed down cannot re-open and re-register with Ofsted under a new name, and is in discussions with the minister about how to change this in legislation.

More early years inspectors will also be employed by Ofsted who will lead good practice workshops and seminars.

Outstanding and good settings and children’s centres will also be encouraged to support weaker settings.

Ofsted will become regionalised with a senior inspector for early years in each region.

During a question and answer session Anand Shukla, chief executive for the Daycare Trust and the Family and Parenting Institute, said that there was ‘a lack of enthusiasm in the sector for setting up childminder agencies’ and questioned therefore how their support and improvement role would work.

In response, Sir Michael suggested that there should be a financial incentive to encourage nurseries and children’s centres to take on that role.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, told Sir Michael that there was ‘not enough investment’.

He questioned the Government's £7 billion figure, saying that the figure quoted in More Great Childcare was £5 billion, ‘but when you add up the figures it’s £4.5 billion, and in May 2012 it was £6 billion. We’re going all over the place with this,’ he said.

Sir Michael also announced that a new report ‘Access and Achievement’ will be published by Ofsted shortly focussing on closing the gap in areas of deprivation, with ‘early years situated at the heart of this report.'

There was currently ‘poor tracking and assessment’, despite the overlap between the early years and Key Stage 1’ and this document would include plans for ‘a baseline assessment at the start of Year 1.’

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