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The chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance has expressed his concerns about the “worrying” downgrading of children’s centres by Ofsted.
Neil Leitch has spoken out after the body published the first results under its new inspection framework, which reveal that just under half of the centres inspected since 1 April were judged to be either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ – a 25 per cent reduction from the previous quarter – while more than half were rated to be either ‘satisfactory’ or ‘inadequate’.
Commenting on the latest ratings, Mr Leitch said: “On the surface it would appear that children’s centres are faring as badly under Ofsted’s new inspection regime as day nurseries, pre-schools and childminders. That more than half have been rated as being less than ‘good’ is extremely worrying, particularly as this has grave implications for the Government’s expansion of the free early years entitlement to the 20 per cent most disadvantaged two year olds, many of whom will live in the vicinity of a children’s centre.
“If this trend continues, Ofsted runs the risk of dismantling fundamental services where they are often needed most.
“Although Ofsted says these latest statistics ‘may not be representative of the quality of all centres’, this apparent downgrading aligns with an overall concern across the sector that Ofsted is unfairly targeting the sector and has embarked on a campaign to see sector ratings fall.
“The sector is growing increasingly concerned about how Ofsted appears to automatically downgrade inspection ratings following a complaint or self-reported incident. While we do not know how many of these children’s centre inspections were triggered by these events, we would not be surprised to learn that some have, resulting in a lower rating.”
Asked about Mr Leitch’s concerns, an Ofsted spokesperson said: “Parents would agree that Ofsted should make no apology for wanting to maintain high standards in Early Years provision. They will be equally pleased to hear that our new rigorous inspection framework has helped to raise standards.
“When analysing the statistics it is important to understand that the total number of Early Years providers is much larger than the number of children’s centres specifically. In fact, in this period there were only 39 children’s centres inspected whereas in a similar three-month period of Early Years providers there would be around 4,000 inspections. The two frameworks cannot be directly compared as the type of provision offered can be very different, with children’s centres offering a broad range of services.”