Nurseries unite to tackle consistency of Ofsted inspections

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The early years sector has united amid growing concerns about the number of childcare settings being downgraded by Ofsted.

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Providers have organised a number of meetings in regions across the country for the sector to come to together to discuss how to effectively engage with Ofsted.

The meetings in London, St Austell in Cornwall, Northampton, Worcester and Manchester are being held on Friday 13 and Saturday 14 September, and have been dubbed the 'Ofsted Big Conversation' weekend (#ofstedbigconversation).

They are being hosted by June O'Sullivan, chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF); Jennie Johnson, chief executive of Kids Allowed in Manchester; Tom Shea, owner of the nursery chain Child First; Mandy Richardson, co-founder of Naturally Learning Childcare; and childminder Penny Webb.

The Pre-School Learning Alliance, which has offered its support to the 'Ofsted Big Conversation' weekend, has filed a Freedom of Information request with the inspectorate on the number of early years settings that have been downgraded following a complaint-initiated inspection and during the quality assurance process over the past two years.

It has requested data on the number of formal complaints made by early years providers and on how many have resulted in a setting's Ofsted grade being downgraded or improved.

The request also asks for information on the number of inspectors who hold a relevant early years qualification including Early Years Professional Status, or a related Level 3 qualification.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance (PLA), said, 'For months, the sector has been voicing its concerns about the fairness and consistency of Ofsted inspections.

'The sheer volume of complaints about such incidents shows that this is an issue that cannot, and must not, be ignored and yet, for all intents and purposes, Ofsted seems to be doing just that.

'It is vital that the information on inspection downgrades that we have requested is released as, unless Ofsted recognises the scale of this problem, the issue will remain unresolved.'

An Ofsted spokesperson said, 'Our early years inspectors are fully trained experts who have a background in early childhood before they are even considered for the job. They base their ratings on what they see and hear at inspection, and what they know about the provision.

'More than nine out of 10 nurseries and other early years providers say they are satisfied with their inspection. If a provider is not content with the way the inspection was undertaken, we will be happy to discuss the matter with them.

'Anyone can see current and previous ratings for early years providers on our website.'

As the sector begins to come together to discuss a way forward with the inspectorate, more and more providers are reporting settings being downgraded in their last Ofsted inspections.

It appears that most of these inspections continue to be complaint or incident-initiated, with some settings being told the maximum grade they can be awarded is satisfactory, although this appears to run counter to Ofsted's own guidance.

It also seems that providers are still being told by inspectors that they have achieved a certain grade, only to find their judgement has been downgraded following the inspectorate's quality assurance process.

This is the case for a new nursery in the South East, which was downgraded from good to inadequate within the space of a year following a inspection prompted by a parent complaint.

The owners, who are seeking legal action, say that the inspector was driven by the complaint throughout the process.

They claim that the inspector appeared inexperienced as there was no structure to the inspection, she did not observe practice in the areas she criticised, and found fault with some of the setting's policies and procedures that it was previously commended on in its first inspection. The report also contains factual inaccuracies.

The owners of the nursery say at the end of the inspection, the inspector told them they had achieved a grade of satisfactory. But the next morning, she called to say their grade had changed to inadequate, suggesting they were downgraded during the quality assurance process.

Nursery World has also learnt of a nursery in Merseyside that is having to close as a direct result of being downgraded in its last Ofsted inspection.

Rockland's Day Nursery's routine inspection in May saw the setting, previously rated satisfactory with elements of good in 2011, receive a grade of inadequate.

According to the nursery's owners, after being judged inadequate, parents on their waiting list withdrew their interest. It also lost its funding to deliver the free early education places for any new children.

The owners of the 50-place nursery appealed against the outcome of the inspection on the basis that the inspector was 'inexperienced, had a lack of understanding and demonstrated inappropriate conduct'.

The nursery's complaint was dismissed and its inspection outcome upheld. It is expected to close at the end of September.

The National Day Nurseries Association says it has also seen a rise in calls from members worried about inconsistent and complaint-driven inspections, which has prompted it to hold a series of workshops to address providers' concerns.

The half-day workshops, which will take place throughout September and October, will explain the background to Ofsted's complaints-driven inspections process and how to ensure time spent with inspectors is productive.

  • To book a place on the National Day Nurseries Association's Ofsted inspection workshops, taking place in London on 12 September, St Albans on 3 October, Bath on 10 October and Woking on 15 October, visit www.ndna.org.uk/events-campaigns/events-calendar or call 01484 407064

OFSTED BIG CONVERSATION MEETINGS

Details of meetings


CASE STUDY: WINCHCOMBE FARM DAY NURSERY IN WARWICKSHIRE

Winchcombe Farm Day Nursery in Warwickshire received a complaint-driven inspection last October, which saw the setting downgraded from good to inadequate.

The original complaint was found to be 'spurious' and 'without foundation', says the nursery's owner Steve Taylor, who has appealed the outcome.

As a result of being downgraded, the nursery has seen a 90 per cent reduction in website bookings and has had to make five members of staff redundant.

Mr Taylor told Nursery World that he believes the inspection report - which states that members of staff do not carry out effective observations in planning for children's individual needs and that assessment arrangements do not identify children's current stage of development - bears no resemblance to the setting.

He also claims that the report is not only unrepresentative, but in parts factually wrong. One mistake within the report was the number of children in the nursery's care.

Ofsted has since apologised for the factual mistakes, which accounted for four of the 29 grounds of complaint made by Mr Taylor.

The nursery owner, who says he has the full support of parents, argues that the inspection should be declared 'void' as the inspector did not go into all of the rooms in the setting.

He added that Ofsted has failed to follow its own guidelines as it has not carried out a re-inspection after the setting provided the inspectorate with proof that it had taken action to overcome issues outlined in the report, which Mr Taylor says Ofsted initially denied receiving.

Following a further apology, the inspectorate has told the nursery it will visit again in October.

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