Call for ‘inspection holiday’ for nursery owners

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A childcare provider is calling for routine Ofsted inspections to be postponed when nursery owners are away on holiday.

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Nursery owner Michelle Drury said nursery owners should be able to book two weeks' holiday a year with Ofsted to make sure they are not inspected while they are away

  • Nursery owner has requested Ofsted not inspect if manager is away
  • Ofsted says such a system would be too complicated

A childcare provider is calling for routine Ofsted inspections to be postponed when nursery owners are away on holiday.

Michelle Drury, who owns I Learn Education – a group of three settings in North Lincolnshire – has written to Ofsted requesting it allows nursery owners to book two weeks’ holiday a year when they can’t be subject to a routine inspection.

Ms Drury (pictured), a former Ofsted inspector, says nursery owners should have the opportunity to take time off to relax as head teachers can during school holidays – inspections of schools only take place during term-time.

Currently nursery owners can e-mail Ofsted to let it know of any holidays they are taking. However, it is down to the individual inspector whether they decide to inspect the setting in their absence regardless.

Ms Drury told Nursery World, ‘Head teachers get their holidays to relax and switch off; nursery owners – those who operate all year round – never get a holiday where they can fully switch off.

‘While settings should run the same even if you [an owner] aren’t there, nursery owners have put blood, sweat and tears into their settings.

‘If you spent three years making a sculpture you were going to show at an exhibition, but you were told the exhibition had been moved a month later when you were on holiday and your friend would show your sculpture for you, is that fair?’

She added, ‘Obviously it wouldn’t apply if an inspection was complaint-driven.’

Ofsted’s response

Ofsted’s deputy director of early years, Gill Jones, said it would consider Ms Drury’s request. However, she warned that the inspection planning team do not have access to the details of individual providers, and it would be difficult to align their systems.

Replying to Ms Drury in an e-mail, Ms Jones said, ‘This is something we have considered every time we make a change to the framework.

‘I think the reason we’ve not done this previously is because, unlike school holidays, it would be more difficult for our inspection planning team to work out when to schedule inspections around holiday time. School holidays are set, and a large volume of schools take the same break, which makes it easy to plan. For example, August will never have inspections of schools. It is far more complicated with nursery providers.’

She added, ‘I do understand the frustrations in this area.’

Owner of Pumpkin Pie Childcare in Northumberland, Lucy Grieve, who missed her setting’s first routine inspection while on holiday, has backed the call for a two-week holiday break from inspection.

She said, ‘My deputy manager called me on the second to last day of my holiday to tell me the setting was to be inspected. It was the nursery’s first inspection after being open for 18 months.

‘As the nursery is quite small, I am involved heavily in the day-to-day running of the setting. As I wasn’t there at the time of the inspection, my deputy manager had to step in, who isn’t as knowledgeable on certain elements of the business.

‘I am definitely for having two weeks’ holiday when Ofsted can’t inspect the setting. The nursery moved sites in June to a bigger premises so we are due another inspection. To ensure I don’t miss it this time, we will be holidaying in the UK this year.’

‘Sensible approach’

The National Day Nurseries Association said the move would allow owners a ‘real, relaxing break, which they truly deserve’.

Chief executive Purnima Tanuku explained, ‘We welcome this forward-thinking and sensible approach. We have raised this issue with Ofsted several times.

‘However, this idea must be handled carefully so it doesn’t inadvertently open any risks. We would want this to be a confidential agreement between a designated nursery manager or owner and Ofsted, so nobody else is aware of this. Any safeguarding concern during this period should automatically trigger an inspection in the usual way.’

Nursery case study

Lisa Marie Wakley-Davies, who owns Little Stars Day Nursery in Cambridge, left her family holiday last year for an Ofsted inspection.

‘Last April I was in Tenerife with my family and I got a call from my nursery to say Ofsted were coming to inspect the setting, giving a half day’s warning. When the inspector called, my staff told her that I wasn’t in the country and could the inspection be postponed, but she said it couldn’t,’ Ms Wakley-Davies explains. ‘My staff arranged a flight home for me so I could be there when the inspection took place.

‘The inspector only realised I had rushed home from my holiday when she saw I was still wearing the all-inclusive wristband. I joined my family in Tenerife again after the inspection.

‘It’s not that I was concerned about the setting being inspected when I wasn’t there as I have two managers and four deputies in place, but the nursery is like my fourth child – I wanted to be there for support. My staff worry when I am out of the country. With our after-school club, I don’t have to worry as it’s not open in the holidays.

‘In the future, I will have to schedule further-afield holidays around the Ofsted inspection cycle.’

While Ms Wakley-Davies acknowledges it was her decision to return from her holiday for the inspection, the nursery owner, who is pregnant with her third child, says she wishes she could take six weeks’ maternity leave safe in the knowledge her setting won’t be inspected.

She adds, ‘Maybe at a certain point [depending on the quality of a setting], Ofsted could guarantee nurseries aren’t inspected for a period of time if owners are away?’

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