Too good to be true?

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Natalie Perera argues that the early years sector should welcome scrutiny of Ofsted grades


The role of Ofsted in the early years has been the subject of heated debate over the past few months. However, it has acknowledged that it needs to communicate better with the sector.

I think there is a more fundamental question. Ofsted fulfils two important functions by providing: a benchmark of quality for parents – in theory encouraging greater choice and competition; a way of reporting the system’s quality and effectiveness to government and the public.

In 2016, EPI research showed that Good and Outstanding schools whose performance deteriorated substantially after inspection were not routinely prioritised for re-inspection. Schools with high levels of disadvantaged pupils were less likely to be judged Good or Outstanding. In its five-year strategy published last year, Ofsted committed to addressing both of these issues.

Coming back to the early years, there are questions over whether Ofsted’s data, showing 94 per cent of providers are Good or Outstanding, gives an accurate picture. Amanda Spielman herself cast doubt over whether this figure represents the quality of education in the early years at a recent Select Committee hearing.

I don’t doubt that this is an unpopular view among many providers, who want the sector to be recognised for the good and vital work it does. But consider this. If everything is going well, if the vast majority of providers are at least Good, then government may well consider that it has done its job.

But that’s not true either. The gap between the most disadvantaged children and their peers is 4.3 months by age five, representing around 40 per cent of the gap at the end of
secondary school. And whenever I talk to providers, they are keen for the workforce to be more professionalised, rewarded and funded.

If the Government thinks that everything is OK, it will not be incentivised to act on any of these issues. Parents could also be buying into a distorted and misrepresented market.
As we showed from our research into school inspection, shedding light on the reality of
system performance can result in a consensus to fix the problem. So the sector shouldn’t fear that light being shed – they should welcome it.

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