Ofsted set out its goals to improve the quality of childcare settings' self-evaulation and boost the engagement of parents and carers at the Inspection and Regulation in Early Years conference.
Jean Humphrys, deputy director of Children’s Directorate for Ofsted, said, ‘We are informing the review of the EYFS and thinking about how changes to inspection can help to drive up quality in the sector.’
Ms Humphrys reported that 95 per cent of the providers found to be inadequate in 2008-9 have been re-inspected and are now rated satisfactory or better. But she voiced concern that early years settings continue to be less good in areas of deprivation and said this is a focus for Ofsted going forward.
‘We need to understand the features of success in deprived areas,’ she said.
Early years sector representatives raised concerns about current Ofsted inspections.
Speaking from the floor, Sarah Lambert, head of early years at Blackpool Council, asked why a setting in her area which had been deemed inadequate on two inspections was still waiting to be re-inspected.
Ms Humphrys gave credit to Blackpool as a shining example of high standards and said that Ofsted did try to follow up swiftly on settings that were graded indadequate. ‘However, we do try to draw a balance between giving an LA time to help with improvements, and intervening,’ she said.
Sue Chambers, early learning advisor at at Wokingham Borough Council, pointed out that there was a lack of communication between local authorities and Ofsted. She cited examples in her area where settings had been identified as being in need of a high level of support but had been graded by Ofsted as good.
Ms Humphrys replied, ‘We are working behind the scenes with the DfE to develop formal ways to engage with LAs. But we have to look at the evidence that will come from reviews – such as the EYFS review - before taking action. In a time of economic change we are looking at our own processes, and we believe it is important to take into account all the evidence and work together.’
Tracy Clarke, deputy service manager, London Borough of Merton, said that in the wake of the recent nursery abuse cases, and with the move to outsourcing inspectionsl, she was concerned about quick inspections and inattention to safeguarding issues.
‘Some nurseries have been graded satisfactory where there is a member of staff without a CRB and where staffing ratios are not maintained,’ she said.
Ms Humphrys asserted that most of the inspectors were the same under the new regime, and many were trained-up senior practitioners from outstanding settings. ‘If anyone is finding discrepancies we need to know. We hold our contractors to account,’ she said.
Delegates also raised questions about the criteria for deciding on eligibility for the free entitlement for disadvantaged two year-olds, and whether local authorities would be able to use their own criteria to fill places.
David Fitzgerald, deputy director of Early Years and Childcare Division, DfE, responded that the pilots suggested there would be scope for local discretion beyond the regulations which are to be mapped out.
On the subject of tackling child poverty, Eleanor Schooling, director, Chidren’s Services, Islington Council, said ‘In the past we have had the resources to try things out but now we have to use money differently. We ought to be able to do what we need to do if have learnt from a time of plenty.’
The message from Sir Paul Ennals, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, had a greater sense of urgency. ‘We must press for continued investment otherwise the sector will not survive,’ he said. ‘We must not step back from improving the skills of the workforce, or stop at Early Years Professional.’