Opinion: To the Point - Practice versus paper

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Inspections are up for bids, says Julian Grenier.

If the time ever comes to look back with amusement at the current, crazy times in early years education, then the appearance on E-bay of Ofsted-friendly smoke alarm logbooks, policies and even Self-Evaluation Forms (SEFs) is one of the moments I will recall.

In the old days of the Early Excellence programme, before Sure Start, Children's Centres or the EYFS, I remember one of the select band of Early Excellence centres being inspected by Ofsted for its education, and by the local social services department for its childcare. The lead inspector from Ofsted commented that the social services team were nothing more than an irritant, riffling through folders and paperwork, counting toilets, peering at soap dispensers, and checking out rooms with tape measures.

Nowadays, I think I would be pretty pleased to see those old social services daycare officers, who took a kindly interest in the children's welfare when they were not burrowing through their files. When completing an SEF, it can feel like Ofsted is less concerned with the reality of daily life for the children than it is with measuring everything. Schools are even asked to account for how they ensure that threeand four-year-olds get the skills they will need in the workplace, a question that apparently led one primary school to cite role play in the nursery around vets and hairdressers as a way of preparing children for their future employment.

However wonderful your work with children is, you would be advised to prepare for trouble if there are any flaws in your filing or recording of information. I will not speculate on whether a nursery with great paperwork but dubious practice could come out well in its inspection. Let's hope not.

So, it is hardly a surprise that E-bay is full of SEFs, policies, posters and logbooks to help people cope with the current inspection regime. I applaud the ingenuity of all those resourceful childminders and nursery managers who are making a little bit on the side for what would otherwise be hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime, hunched over paperwork and laptops at home in the middle of the night. But if the buying and selling of this stuff on E-bay doesn't make us wonder whether something is wrong with the state of early years education and care in England, what will?

- Julian Grenier is head of Kate Greenaway Nursery School and Children's Centre in London.

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