28 May 2014, Catherine Gaunt
In its report on the childminder agency inspection consultation, it said that it had received more than 600 responses, with most people largely in favour of how it plans to inspect agencies.
Around seven in ten respondents agreed with Ofsted’s plan for no-notice inspections for agencies.
The majority of respondents (63 per cent) agreed with proposals that agencies should be rated using a four-point scale.
Ofsted said that it will expect agencies to ask for the views of its individual childminders and parents as a way of assessing quality, and that this would be likely to contribute to judgements that it makes about the quality of the agency.
Ofsted said that its inspection framework for agencies, which will be introduced in September, will set out more details about how it will inspect agencies, including how it will sample individual childminders registered with an agency as part of the agency’s inspection.
Nick Hudson, Ofsted’s early years director, said, ‘Childminder agencies represent a new concept in the early years landscape and we plan to judge them on a similar basis as other providers when they come into being later this year.
‘We will only inspect agencies, not the individual childminders who they serve. Our inspectors will therefore be keen to see what agencies are doing to improve the quality of the childminders they represent.
‘What matters to Ofsted is quality. Like nurseries and other forms of early years provision, agencies will not get any notice of an inspection. They will be judged according to the same four point scale as other providers inspected by Ofsted.
‘Our measures will help to give reassurance to parents about the childminder who looks after their loved one, and to childminders who may be considering joining an agency.’
But Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said that unanswered questions remained.
'The scope of this consultation was always too narrow, as the focus was on the quality of service provided by agencies, and not the quality of care provided by the childminders themselves,' he said.
'As a result, while this report has given the sector a slightly clearer idea of how agency inspections will work in practice, the bigger concerns about the potential implications of removing individual inspections for registered childminders have been completely ignored.'
'For example, it is still unclear what will happen if a childminder previously rated "good" or "outstanding" registers with an agency that is subsequently rated "requires improvement" – will they, by default, be seen to "require improvement" as well, even if the quality of care they provide is excellent? And how will this impact on their ability to access free entitlement funding?
'Given that agencies are set to be introduced in little over three months, it is deeply concerning that there is still no clarity on this, and until questions like this are answered, many childminders will remain rightly sceptical of the whole initiative.'