Ofsted has just slipped into its annual report the fact that it has renewed the contracts for outsourced inspections with Tribal and Prospects until March 2017, something of a blow to the sector after continual calls for early years inspections to be brought in-house.
The move goes against recent improvements in communication and a willingness to engage with the sector that had really helped to mend the fractured relationship that had developed over claims of unfairness and inconsistency. It is not that all inspectors for the third-party organisations are below par, but that too many have fallen short of what is needed.
The extension of outsourcing is in some ways unexpected, given that inspections for schools and further education are being brought in-house from September, and the rationale given for preserving the status quo for early years was that contracts were running until 2016 and a change would be a 'distraction'.
But now we have the common inspection framework being implemented in September this year, which is intended to standardise inspections across different sectors. And the inspections for 'requires improvement' early years settings have already been brought into Ofsted - surely an acknowledgement that something was amiss.
If the move in-house for schools gives Ofsted 'tighter control over selection, quality assurance and training of inspectors', why is this not needed for early years? Is there a clue in the phrase 'value for money'?