The early years sector tells Ofsted: 'This is what we want'

Catherine Gaunt
Monday, September 16, 2013

Consistency, transparency, fairness - the same words kept cropping up during the Ofsted Big Conversation meetings held this weekend.

More than 400 early years practitioners, sector leaders, childminders and nursery owners, gathered to have their say as part of a weekend of action.

The London group was expertly chaired by June O’Sullivan, chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation and the initial driving force behind the weekend, whose discussion on Nursery World’s Linkedin group had kickstarted the debate.

On Friday and Saturday, nine meetings were held across the country with the aim of finding solutions.

Each meeting had the same agenda, setting out to look for answers to seven key issues: Ofsted dual roles of regulation and improvement, Ofsted rationale for complaint-initiated inspections, going back more than ten years, Ofsted’s quality assurance process, inspector training and support, inspector decision making and feedback, significant incidents, and the new inspection regime in November.

Some ideas and thoughts mooted from the London meeting include:

  • A call for ‘stakeholder inspections’, for example involving a parent
  • two inspectors for inspection at settings;
  • a stop on complaints-driven inspections going back as far as ten years, unless there is a safeguarding issue, and a tracking system to flag up ‘serious’ complaints – with a clear definition of what constitutes a serious complaint;
  • ‘The biggest problem now is that complaints are now being dealt with as part of inspection’
  • Malicious complaints
  • ‘Nurseries being inspected by owners ten miles down the road!’

Although everyone in the room had their own experiences to share, personal agendas were put aside and channeled into a united front, with everyone eager to solve the problems at the heart of inspection and regulation for the whole early years sector.

As June writes in her blog, ‘The tone of the meeting was good humoured, positive and constructive.’ As one attendee noted during the meeting, ‘We are a really powerful forum.’

This was echoed by Hayley Chart, operational area manager for Nannas Day Nurseries, Colchester, who said, ‘Both myself and my colleague Carrie thoroughly enjoyed it and left feeling positive for the future of early years! I feel as a collective we can be a strong driving force for change and the ideas we gathered as a group were practical and necessary.I also thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone else who were just as like-minded and positive to make change.’

In response to the Ofsted Big Conversation weekend, an Ofsted spokesperson said, 'We make no apology for wanting the best for young children, particularly those from poorer backgrounds.  
'Nurseries and other early years providers do a very important job in giving young children a good start in life. However, it is Ofsted’s job to shine a light where provision is just not giving sufficient attention to the children’s learning, safety and well-being. Parents expect this of inspectors. They rely on Ofsted to provide assurance, as far as possible, that their children are safe and get the good standard of early education which they deserve. That is why we have been looking at settings about which concerns have been raised and why we will introduce a "requires improvement" judgment into our inspections from November.
'We know that is a challenge for some in the early years sector, but too many children are in provision that is not good enough. As always, we continue to meet with and listen to the sector as we seek to improve the quality of early education and care in England.'

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