Tougher inspections for nurseries

Nurseries and childminders to face tougher inspections (BBC news)

Ofsted warns failing nurseries and childminders may be shut down (Guardian news)

Ofsted Chief Inspector Michael Wilshaw said “too many providers are not good enough, particularly in the most deprived areas. We must be tougher on weak settings.” Which sounds fair enough. But how are these settings going to improve when the Government proposes that ongoing, regular support from Local Authorities is cut? Removal of LA’s early years role raises alarm A spokesperson from Brighton and Hove had this to say about the idea: ‘From our perspective, the work of the local authority has been a major contributor to raising quality. We know that our local conditions for receiving the early years free entitlement funding, and our role in quality improvement, training and support, have led to our impressive Ofsted outcomes -second in the “top 10 table”. Many others support this view.

But Mr Wilshaw has an answer to the problem of who will support quality improvement in nurseries “Sir Michael added that Ofsted would encourage good or outstanding childcare providers to support weaker ones.” Good luck with that Michael. I am more than happy to support colleagues in other settings (and have done so) but am not replacing the job of an Early Years Adviser unless I get paid for it and I very much doubt that’s what he has in mind.

The government also proposes to relax adult to child ratios for nurseries and childminders   How will this improve quality? In fact it will enable providers to employ less staff with no obligation to pay higher wages and private nurseries will therefore be able to make more profit. There is also no proposal to force a reduction in fees to parents which was one of the reasons given for making this change. Even if a setting employs a (well-paid) graduate leader and minimal numbers of nursery practitioners, this will not improve quality in itself. I know from experience that a 1:6 ratio of adults to 2 year olds is completely unworkable and the fact that my setting is led by me (a qualified Primary School Teacher with Early Years Professional Status) does not make up for several more pairs of competent hands. The current ratios are not high enough and I always exceed them.

Nurseries in deprived areas are being specifically targeted as clearly they have a particular role to play in improving the life chances of the most vulnerable children. What is required, particularly when you work (as I do) with hard-to-reach families, is regular positive support and encouragement (as is currently available from Local Authority advisers), not a crack of the whip from Ofsted every couple of years. There is no financial incentive for new providers to fill the gap which will be left by the ‘inadequate’ settings  that have been closed down by Ofsted (breaking even is a struggle) so I suspect we will end up with even less childcare where it is most needed.

P.S. The Guardian says “Almost a quarter of a million children are being let down by inadequate nurseries and childminders” This is scaremongering and misleading; later in the article it says “Ofsted figures show that since August up to 243,400 children were being cared for by nurseries, childminders and pre-schools that were not considered good”.  ‘Not considered good’ is not the same thing as ‘inadequate’.



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