Three in ten settings downgraded following complaints-driven inspections

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Nearly a third of nurseries and childminders inspected following a complaint have seen their grade drop, according to figures released by Ofsted.

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Statistics released by Ofsted also highlight the rise in complaint-driven inspections since September 2012, when the inspectorate started to complete unscheduled inspections in response to concerns raised about providers.

While 118 childcare providers were inspected following complaints last September, the figure rose to a high of 788 in April this year and in the last four months to July – the latest month for which the figures are available – has been running at between 600 and 700 complaint-initiated inspections a month.

Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has released the statistics in response to parliamentary questions tabled by former shadow children and families minister Sharon Hodgson.

The figures show that around three in ten (29 per cent) early years inspections that have been triggered by a complaint have led to the nursery or childminder receiving a downgrade.

According to the written response 4,758 childcare providers have received unscheduled inspections following a complaint since September last year, when Ofsted changed how it handled complaints.

Twenty-nine per cent of these providers were downgraded following their inspection, with a much lower percentage – just 14 per cent- receiving a higher grading.

Of those that were downgraded from outstanding or good, a quarter of them were subsequently rated inadequate.

Forty-five per cent of providers that had previously been outstanding or good were graded satisfactory.

Only five childcare providers out of a total of 405 who complained about their inspection succeeded in having their complaint upheld.

The response also shows that 44 inspectors were the subject of three or more complaints relating to unscheduled inspections completed following concerns raised with Ofsted.

Early year organisations have expressed serious concerns and are calling on Ofsted to reform the way that complaints are handled.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said, ‘We would never condone poor practice, however the fact that nearly 30 per cent of such inspections result in a downgrade, and that quarter of these downgrades are from Good or better to Inadequate, indicates that there is something fundamentally wrong here.’

He added, ‘Ofsted says it makes no apology for holding providers to tougher standards; however in its own practice, it appears unwilling to take the same rigorous approach. It shouldn’t take a parliamentary question, or a freedom of information request, for this kind of data to be extracted, analysed and published. Ofsted should be continuously monitoring inspection data and trends, and thoroughly investigating anything that is a cause for concern. How else can providers be expected to have any confidence in the inspection process?’

‘At a time when many providers are concerned about an increase in unsubstantiated or malicious complaints, it’s clear that we need a much more robust screening process for anonymous complaints.

‘It’s time for Ofsted to start taking the sector’s concerns seriously, and recognise that they have equal responsibility in supporting the raising of standards by reviewing their own internal processes. As a priority, fundamental changes need to be made to the way they manage complaint-triggered inspections.  If they continue with their current approach, they risk causing irreparable damage to the sector.’

The National Day Nurseries Association said the figures reflected its members’ concerns about unfair inspections, warning that they threaten nurseries’ sustainability and the free places for two-year-olds.

NDNA says rapid increase in number of nurseries being downgraded by Ofsted highlights concerns about consistency in inspections.

Chief executive Purnima Tanuku said, ‘These figures will concern nurseries already worried about the quality and consistency of inspections.

‘Providers' concerns are exacerbated by a lack of clarity in the new inspection guidance published by Ofsted last week. Providers need to understand how they are being judged.

‘The rapid increase in the number of inspections being made following complaints is also a cause for concern. Ofsted and their inspection service providers will need to manage this workload and the potential for impact on the routine inspection schedule.’

Commenting on the figures, an Ofsted spokesperson said, ‘We know there is some unease about inspections carried out after a concern has been raised about a provider. However, we believe that all parents and the vast majority of early years providers will agree that Ofsted simply cannot ignore concerns which, if legitimate, mean that young and vulnerable children are at risk. Parents expect Ofsted to act robustly and firmly on their children’s behalf and we will not fail to do so.

‘These figures demonstrate that previous suggestions that any concern led inspection would automatically result in a lowering of a judgement were unfounded.’

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