09 Aug 2013,
The NDNA's chief executive Purnima Tanuku met with Ofsted's director of early childhood Sue Gregory last week to discuss worries expressed by NDNA members about complaint-triggered inspections, the inspectorate's complaints and appeals procedure and inspection notice.
Ms Tanuku presented Ms Gregory with a log of individual cases and their details, which Ms Gregory agreed to investigate and report back on.
A follow-up meeting, to which NDNA is hoping to take a group of member nurseries, has been agreed for September.
The association will also be meeting with the education and childcare minister Elizabeth Truss next month to raise the issue with her.
The NDNA says it will carefully consider Ofsted's response and its Ofsted working group - made up of experienced providers including NDNA trustee chair Sarah Carr and a legal expert - will decide on a plan of action.
Ms Tanuku said, 'The meeting was a positive start to what we hope will be a constructive dialogue to address the sector's concerns. We are glad Ofsted has agreed to investigate the cases and issues we have raised.
'We are all committed to a robust inspection process that parents and care workers can have confidence in, but in order for that to happen inspections must be accurate and consistent.We would urge members to keep telling us about their concerns.'
Meanwhile, growing anger over what settings see as inconsistencies with Ofsted's inspection process has seen childcare providers discussing ways to effectively engage with the inspectorate.
Suggestions include arranging a number of meetings across the country in the next few weeks.
Nursery World first reported an increase in the number of nurseries complaining about Ofsted inspections in May.
Since then many early years providers, including well-known nursery groups that were previously rated good or outstanding, have reported settings being downgraded in their last Ofsted inspections.
It appears that most of these inspections are complaintor incident-initiated, resulting in some providers being told the maximum grade they can be awarded is satisfactory, even though this appears to contravene Ofsted's own guidance.
Any concern or complaint received by Ofsted about a nursery can now trigger a full inspection, where previously Ofsted would carry out investigation visits. Following these visits, settings may have been issued with improvement notices if Ofsted felt any remedial action was necessary.
Both Kate Peach, owner of Each Peach Childcare in Hove, East Sussex (see case study) and Sarah Steel, owner of the Old Station Nurseries group and who has written a blog about her experience, have lodged appeals with Ofsted.
Jennie Johnson, chief executive of Kids Allowed, has also written a blog in which she calls for a change to the system so Ofsted knows more about a person making a complaint. Currently, complaints made to Ofsted can be anonymous.
Ms Johnson believes that introducing a requirement for complainants to provide a form of ID and additional information about themselves to Ofsted would stop the majority of malicious complaints and leave the inspectorate to deal with the ones that really matter.
Another issue raised by the sector is Ofsted's quality assurance process. Some providers have reported being told by an inspector they have achieved a certain grade, but following quality assurance the judgement is downgraded.
Andrew Clifford, managing director of First Class Childcare, which was involved in the pilot Ofsted inspections last year, said that the difference between inspections now and 12 months ago is 'definitely worrying'.
Commenting on Nursery World's LinkedIn group, Mr Clifford said that one former inspector told him she thinks the system is 'close to breaking point as inspectors don't want to do the job, the number of complaints is overwhelming, they can't recruit and some can't pass exams.'
June O'Sullivan, chief executive of London Early Years Foundation, has suggested that the current Ofsted strategy may be masking other motives.
Writing on her blog she said, 'Call me a cynic, but if you downgrade all the nurseries so they can no longer take the two-year-olds and you implement the recommendation from More Great Childcare to allow schools to look after this age without inspection or regulation, then one must assume that the childcare minister has decided that the cheapest childcare option is to put the two-year-olds into schools.'
Ms O'Sullivan goes on to list problems affecting the early years sector, such as complaintand incident-initiated inspections, the quality assurance process and fairness and equality.
An Ofsted spokesperson said, 'The safety of children is always our first priority and any decision made during a visit or inspection to a nursery will always reflect the seriousness of this responsibility alongside our considered judgement of the quality of care and education children are receiving.
'Overall inspection judgements are made according to the whole picture and whether there is compliance with the Early Years Foundation Stage requirements at the time of the inspection.
'Providers should be assured that only those inspectors who show a full understanding of the inspection framework will undertake Ofsted inspections.'
The inspectorate plans to toughen up early years inspections with the introduction of a revised framework in November. In three months, a judgement of 'requires improvement' will replace the current 'satisfactory' grade, bringing providers in line with schools and colleges. Pre-schools and nurseries requiring improvement will have two years to get to 'good' or could be judged 'inadequate'.
CASE STUDY: FOOTPRINTS (LEARNING FOR LIFE) DAY NURSERY, HARTLEPOOL
Footprints won a Nursery World award for team development in 2011.
The nursery, previously rated as good, underwent a complaint-driven inspection in May.
The nursery's business manager Suzie Yeniceri says that prior to the inspection the complaint was dealt with 'honestly and robustly', and the parent who made the complaint was satisfied with the action taken.
Despite this, and the inspector acknowledging the nursery went above and beyond to address the matter, Ms Yeniceri says they were told they could not receive any more than a satisfactory grade because of the parent complaint.
Ms Yeniceri said, 'The inspector was fantastic and the body of our report describes every descriptor for good, but in spite of this we were graded satisfactory.
'It appears that a pre-set outcome had been determined before the inspector's visit, and due to one incident that does not reflect our day-to-day practice we are now downgraded.'
The nursery has appealed against the decision.
CASE STUDY: EACH PEACH CHILDCARE, HOVE, EAST SUSSEX
Each Peach received its first Ofsted inspection last month after being open for five months. It was judged as being satisfactory and given a notice to improve, with concerns not raised in the inspection appearing after quality assurance in the final report.
Owner Kate Peach says that during the inspection, concerns were raised over sleeping arrangements, in particular for the over-twos, that staff did not communicate enough with the babies to tell them what they were doing and some learning journeys were incomplete.
However, Mrs Peach says that the Ofsted report states that the nursery failed to meet legal requirements of the EYFS, and that staff did not observe and plan for children.
Ms Peach called the inspection report 'a joke', as she said that staff are constantly observing and planning for the children.
She added that she has asked Ofsted for clarification on how she is failing to meet the legal requirements of the EYFS.
'I am happy to acknowledge that staff were not communicating with the babies perhaps as much as they should, but that shouldn't drag a setting from good to satisfactory.
'Our local authority was shocked as much as we were at the outcome and said it is not going to put us on special measures for the threeand four-year-old funded places.'