Dee Gasson, Ofsted principal officer for childcare registration and enforcement (right), said that nurseries need to develop a 'searching analysis of what they do well' when filling in the Self-Evaluation Form (SEF), and understand the importance of Ofsted's underpinning judgements in the key areas of safeguarding, quality and diversity and continuing professional development.
But Ms Gasson came under fire from some delegates who said the equality and diversity and safeguarding elements could be 'discriminatory' for their settings if they are not having to cater for particular needs at the time of their inspection. Some also wondered whether there would be consistency under the new outsourcing arrangements.
Other delegates questioned the fairness of no-notice inspections and defended the right to have notice, in line with schools and children's centres.
While Ms Gasson was unable to provide any reassurance that notice periods might change, she said that the three-year rolling inspection cycle will be adhered to, giving all settings the opportunity to gain a quality premium under the Early Years Single Funding Formula.
Ofsted's key findings from last year reveal that children in deprived areas still receive poorer quality provision, despite Government investment, Ms Gasson said. 'However, there are settings which buck that trend, and we are keen to explore how those achieve outstanding despite local issues.'
Children's centres were a hot topic at the conference, with a question mark hanging over the national evaluation, which was started nine months ago.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the NDNA, said, 'The former Government achieved its target number for children's centres, but we now need to monitor sustainability. We want to know if those who manage the childcare element are having their contracts renewed.'
June O'Sullivan, chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation, said more scrutiny must be given to the way children's centres commission their services and work in partnership. 'If we don't get it right we will lose them,' she said.
A business outlook for the sector as a whole was provided by Courteney Donaldson, director of Child Centric Sectors at Christie & Co. She highlighted the needs-driven nature of the business and its potential resilience, while recognising the challenges of location.
Ms Donaldson said, 'One of our nursery clients which serves a housing estate recently saw its occupancy rates plummet when local jobs were lost in construction. We are now looking at many cities being severely affected by cuts in public sector jobs.'
The conference provided an opportunity to find out about qualifications changes. Gill Mason, community and society advisor at awarding body City & Guilds, outlined the move to a credit-based qualifications system, with the new Level 2 and 3 Certificates and Diploma.
Philip Richardson, associate solicitor at Stephensons Solicitors, explained how changes to pension legislation will introduce an extra cost for employers who do not already contribute to schemes.