Record grades for nurseries - but childminder numbers continue to fall

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The number of nurseries graded good or outstanding is now at a record high of 90 per cent, according to the latest Ofsted figures.

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The quality of early years settings is rising

There is also an upward trend among all providers with the proportion of them good or outstanding the highest ever, with 86 per cent of all childcare providers achieving these grades.

However, since August 2015, the proportion of nurseries graded good or outstanding at their most recent inspection was higher than that for childminders.

The report points out that this is partly due to a difference in inspection policy. Since November 2013, nurseries judged requires improvement have been inspected within 12 months, while childminders have not. This means that nurseries have more opportunity to show improvement than childminders.

The report, childcare providers and statistics up to 31 March, also confirms that there has been no let up in the ongoing decline in childminder numbers.

While there has been a slight fall in the number of nurseries, at just under 1 per cent, since the end of December 2015, childminder numbers fell by 1.6 per cent.

More than 11,000 childminders have left the profession since the end of the previous inspection cycle in August 2012, with a loss of 23,000 childcare places.

While sector organisations welcomed the news that grades were at an all-time high there was concern about the fall in providers.  

Both PACEY and the Pre-school Learning Alliance highlighted their concerns in the decline in childminding numbers, particularly given how critical the Government has said they would be to delivering the 30 hours. Both agreed that childminder agencies - of which the report confirms there are now eight - are not the answer.

Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY said urgent action was needed to attract childminders into the sector and to encourage those already working in the profession to stay.

Ms Bayram said, ‘The sector has made huge progress over the last few years, yet the steady increase in number of good and outstanding settings that we have seen is now under threat.

‘Childminders have done as much as they can, but with the dramatic erosion of local authority support for training and development, the fact that funding levels have been frozen and the discrepancies surrounding re-inspection, it was inevitable that we would see this unfortunate dip in the number of good or outstanding childminders. There is only so much that childminders can do on their own and we urge government to address this through its much-anticipated workforce development strategy to ensure that childminders have more support for training and development.’

PACEY also highlighted how the inspection system put childminders at a disadvantage, because they have to wait much longer for re-inspection.

Ms Bayram added, ‘PACEY has also continued to raise with Government and Ofsted the need for a level playing field for re-inspection. Childminders and childcare on domestic premises have to wait for the next inspection cycle for their re-inspection if they receive a 'requires improvement' grade. This can mean that their re-inspection is some years away. Non-domestic settings such as nurseries and pre-schools, on the other hand, are guaranteed a re-inspection within 12 months. How can childminder settings be expected to maintain the necessary high standards of quality childcare when their support is at an all-time low?

‘With so much uncertainty in the sector and the added country-wide concerns of Brexit, this continued lack of support for childminders means they will struggle to stay in business, and families will then miss out on the childcare support they so desperately need to return to work and give their children a great start.’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘These statistics reflect the continued commitment, passion and dedication of the early years workforce and serve as an effective rebuttal to those who continue to unfairly question the quality of provision delivered by the PVI sector.’

But he joined PACEY in voicing concern about the decline in childminder numbers and agreed that childminder agencies were not the answer.

‘The Government has made it clear that it expects childminders to provide the solution to the problem of limited nursery and pre-school capacity when the 30-hour free entitlement offer rolls out next year – but when the number of childminder places has dropped by nearly 23,000 in less than four years, we simply cannot see how this is possible.

‘The DfE has rightly identified childminders as a vital source of flexible early years provision, and yet has done little to tackle this continuing trend. It’s clear that childminder agencies are not the answer – with only eight registered, and none inspected, since they were introduced in 2014 – and yet the department continues to focus its efforts on this failed policy.

‘Government must do more to identify and tackle the reasons for this trend. Failure to do so could place even greater pressure on a 30-hour policy that is already on shaky ground.’

An Ofsted spokesperson said, ‘Early education has never been better: 86 per cent of nurseries and other kinds of early years register providers are now good or outstanding.

‘This long term rise in quality is taking place across England. And it matters because there is overwhelming evidence that high quality early education makes a big difference in preparing young children, particularly those from poorer families, for their first day at primary school.’

Commenting more generally on inspections, the spokesperson added, ‘Our new way of inspecting early years settings is now fully embedded. Teaching is now particularly important and early feedback has been positive. Our consultation events have indicated that most providers have taken the changes in their stride and are not finding the increased emphasis on certain aspects difficult.

Ofsted also reiterated that this time next year, early years inspections would be managed entirely in-house, with Ofsted having ‘full control over the selection, training and management of inspectors, and complete oversight of the quality of inspection. But with these changes, we will continue to focus on quality, consistency and impact.’

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