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Lack of practical support for nurseries facing ‘tougher’ Ofsted inspections

Article By: Julia Corbett, News Editor

The Pre-school learning Alliance has raised concerns over a lack of support for nurseries following a significant decline in ratings from Ofsted’s latest inspection.

The alliance is concerned many nurseries that have been downgraded cannot access any practical support to help them understand and improve their services to meet the new standards which Ofsted described as having ‘raised the bar.’

Published earlier this week, Ofsted revealed the proportions of early years providers graded ‘requires improvement’, previously a ‘satisfactory’ rating, has increased to seven per cent up from three per cent between September 2012 and August 2013.

Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch said: “Ofsted have repeatedly attributed the steady decline in outcomes we have observed over the past year to the new tougher approach to inspections, but ‘raising the bar’ without providing any additional practical support is surely a recipe for disaster.”

The increase in ‘needs improvement’ ratings has accompanied a decrease from providers being rated ‘good’ or above, falling form 74 per cent to 67 percent.

Mr Leitch said: “At a time when the government is planning to remove the duty of local authorities to provide vital support, training and advice to providers judged ‘good’ or better, Ofsted has admitted that half of providers previously rated ‘outstanding’ declined by at least one grade this year. We are extremely concerned that little, if anything, is being done to buck this downward trend. Providers need to be adequately supported if they are to improve quality, or maintaining existing high standards. Removing this vital support while still expecting providers to be able to meet new, tougher standards, makes absolutely no sense.”

The alliance has also called for a more specific breakdown of inspections statistics, to highlight areas in the country which need extra support and to understand the changes occurring during the time period inspected.

Mr Leitch continued: “Given the number of significant changes that have been made to the inspection framework over the past few years, it is difficult to make direct comparisons between inspection outcomes of different periods of time. This has been a particular challenge over the past academic year as Ofsted has been prioritising the inspection of ‘weaker’ providers, skewing the overall data. This means that providers, and crucially, parents, may not be able to get a clear picture as to the current state of the sector.

“As such, rather than simply publishing a summary of outcomes for a particular three or 12-month period, it would be far more useful if Ofsted could also provide detailed data on what proportion of providers of each grade improved, declined or stayed the same at their most recent inspection. This would allow for a far better grade-by-grade comparative analysis with the previous quarter or year.

“It is concerning that when we tried to obtain this kind of data recently, we had to file an official Freedom of Information request to be able to do so. Surely such information should be readily available for anyone who should wish to access it?”

“When the new inspection framework was announced in August, Sir Michael Wilshaw said that ‘too many pre-schools and nurseries across the country are not yet good, particularly in the most deprived areas’. More detailed information on how settings and childminders in these areas are performing would help us better quantify the extent to which the current lack of investment is impacting on outcomes there. We hope that, as an organisation committed to transparency, this too is information that Ofsted will be willing to provide.”


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