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Education watchdog Ofsted gets tough on nurseries with new inspection regime

Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

Education watchdog Ofsted has introduced tough new inspection rules, which means nurseries found to be ‘inadequate’ will be re-inspected after six months and if they have not improved they will face closure.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector

Under the new rules which came into force on 4 November, ‘good’ will be the minimum standard expected of nurseries and pre-schools.

Early Years settings will be treated the same as schools and colleges with a rating of ‘requires improvement’ replacing ‘satisfactory’. Nurseries rated as ‘requires improvement’ will be monitored and reinspected within a year. They will be given two years to get to ‘good’.

Over the last five years, Ofsted has inspected 67,708 early years providers. Of these, 77 per cent were judged good or better at their most recent inspection.

Ofsted has already made its inspection regime more rigorous last year when it changed the way it handled complaints and began to carry out complaint-driven inspections in response to concerns raised about nursery providers. The new inspection framework in September 2012 also meant inspections focus more on children’s education and their personal and emotional development. Sixty nine per cent of those inspected under the new framework were graded good or better at their most recent inspection.

Earlier this year, when Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector announced the changes, he said: “The early years are crucial. That’s why only a good standard of education and care is acceptable for our youngest children.

“Pre-schools and nurseries need to give children a solid foundation. Two years is a long time in a child’s life and it’s long enough for a setting to improve. I agree with the parents who told us in our consultation that four years is too long to wait for a nursery to reach the good standard that every child deserves.”

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children called the new inspection regime “an encouraging example of what we hope is a fundamental and continuing shift in this country’s approach to early years childcare”. She added: “While giving nurseries two years to turn things around is a tight time frame, let’s never forget that for a child, those two years are ones that can never be repeated. Consequently, we must strive to get it right for every child, every time.

“Above all, we need to move past the traditional view that a child’s early years are just a passive waiting room for school and a time when the only thing that matters is children’s safety. Instead, we need to fully embrace the fact that the early years are a crucial time in a child’s life, which fundamentally shape their future.”

Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY (Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years) is also in favour of the new inspection regime believing that the Ofsted regulation and inspection system is the best way to drive up quality.

She said: “The new ‘requires improvement’ grading, so long as it is underpinned by robust Ofsted inspection processes, will mean parents better understand what good quality care looks like for their children. It will also encourage more providers to improve. This is critical when we know that it is only high quality childcare and early learning that delivers the best start in life for all children but in particular for children living in disadvantage.”

However she added: “PACEY is also keen to ensure that inspection judgements remain holistic in their focus. The Early Years Foundation Stage guides childcare professionals to support children's social, emotional and physical development as well as their educational development. We are concerned there is creeping over focus on educational attainment.

“PACEY's recent report on school readiness made clear that childcare professionals, parents and teachers, all share the belief that a play-based approach to supporting a child's social and emotional development (so they are confident, independent as well as a curious to learn) was more important than more formalised teaching that supported their basic reading, writing and maths skills at this young age.”

Davina Ludlow, director of, expressed concerns over the change in ratings and warned: “While we believe that every child deserves the very best education, we are concerned about the impact this downgrade could have on nurseries and hard-working staff members. The change being brought in by Ofsted risks adversely impacting staff motivation, resulting in more harm than good. What nurseries need is more support from local authorities and national government if there is to be any improvement across the sector.”


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