Dropping Ofsted grades would improve provision

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There are rumours of a potentially major change to the way Ofsted rates England’s childcare providers and I, for one, couldn’t be happier about it.


Jennie Johnson: 'If the constant pursuit of Ofsted’s approval meant children’s care improved, of course, I’d support it. But it doesn’t!'

If rumours are true, Ofsted will scrap its current grading system of ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ and ‘inadequate’ in favour of a simple ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ approach and as founder of a childcare provider with multiple and consistent ‘outstanding’ grades, it might surprise you to hear that I’m backing the proposed change wholeheartedly. Indeed, I have been a vocal advocate of exactly this for years.

Let me explain why.

Schools and nurseries have become obsessed with attaining the elusive ‘outstanding’ grade. But at what cost? If the constant pursuit of Ofsted’s approval meant children’s care improved, of course, I’d support it. But it doesn’t!

Intentionally or not, the system has created a culture in which professionals do things, change things, say things and try to be certain things ‘for Ofsted’. Schools and nurseries don’t exist ‘for Ofsted’, we exist for children, and everything we do should be to improve the way we care for them, not to tick a box on some paperwork.  Indeed a multi-million pound industry of "experts" are selling services to providers to help attain the grade, money better spent on children and resources.

This isn’t an attack on Ofsted – no watchdog of this size would be able to manage an effective system of consistently grading thousands of schools, colleges and nurseries. I’m simply raising the question of whether it’s achieving what it sets out to achieve.

In my opinion, often the grade given doesn’t fairly reflect the actual performance of the providers. We all know of genuinely outstanding providers that didn't get the official grade and, conversely, those average providers that winged it on the day and somehow pulled it off. And yes, there are many who’ve justly achieved the right grade.

But on the whole, is this ‘one person, once every few years’ view of a provider the best way to drive standards higher in childcare? The Ofsted badge carries so much weight with some parents that a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ grade can lull them into a false sense of security. They might even sacrifice some of their more personal requirements because the Ofsted seal of approval is considered the ultimate criteria for choosing a provider.

I believe the current system allows some providers to rest on their laurels a bit too – and that’s not good in any business, especially ours!

Ofsted spends an inordinate amount of taxpayers’ money training inspectors to differentiate providers by grade and an even more obscene amount defending the grades they have given via a costly complaints process that rarely delivers a change in grade for the organisation complaining.

There are so many ways that time and money could be better spent in looking after young people.

So, from where I’m stood, this grading system doesn’t deliver. It’s not good for children, for those working in education, or for parents and it’s not good value for tax payers!

How it should work…

In my view, Ofsted should act like the health service for education, not the police! Working with providers to improve them – and quickly clamping down on those that don’t – would automatically raise the bar for a provider to stay open.

Ofsted should work together with the industry to set a high benchmark that protects and supports children. For those providers falling below the service level, they’re admitted to ‘intensive care’ to receive specialist support and a chance to quickly and consistently raise their game. For those that don't, their life support is switched off. That means closure – because there’s no room for blurred lines in childcare and no place for providers who deliver anything less than a great experience for children.

Comparing childcare to the NHS is a hard-hitting analogy but in two sectors with one mission – to improve lives – it’s an obvious one to make.

If we could return to Ofsted being a partner and not a police force, I honestly believe it could be a crucial part of the solution of transforming outcomes for children.

Here’s to losing the grades!

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