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'The quality of early years provision continues to rise’ with 91 per cent of all active early years providers now good or outstanding, the chief of education watchdog Ofsted reports.
In his fifth and final annual report as the Government's outgoing chief inspector of education, Sir Michael Wilshaw says the number of good or outstanding early years providers has risen by almost a quarter (22 per cent) since 2010.
Between 2012 and 2016, Ofsted completed over 80,000 inspections of early years registered providers, resulting in Sir Michael Wilshaw concluding that inspection results were 'high in all types of early years provision'.
'Parents are now much more likely to have access for their children to a good local nursery or school than when I first took up my post', he said.
Improvements in deprived areas
The Ofsted chief's report said the improvement in early years quality 'has been widely distributed across the country'.
In 2010/11, in deprived areas of the country, less than half the early education provision available was good or outstanding but he said 'the last five years have seen considerable change for the better' with the proportion of good and outstanding nurseries and pre-schools 'now almost identical in the least and most deprived areas'.
This year, in every local authority area in the country, at least eight out of 10 childcare places are in registered providers of early education judged good or outstanding. In 2016, over two thirds of young children reached the government’s ‘good level of development’ compared with just over a half in 2013.
Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY (the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years) said: “It is a major achievement for 91 per cent of providers to be graded as good or outstanding; a testament to the hard work and dedication of childminders, nurseries and pre-schools everywhere.
"Looking ahead, the key question is how this can be sustained when costs are rising for providers whilst the quality training and support they receive is reducing.”
The annual report also stated girls continue to outpace boys in early years 'though the gap between the sexes is narrowing'.
Sir Michael Wilshaw said early years workers in outstanding or good provision are likely to be paid more than those in provision that requires improvement or is inadequate. He noted: ‘the dominance of young workers and apprentices contributes to the overall low pay in the early years and childcare workforce’, because statutory minimum wage rates are lower for the under 21s and apprentices.
The Government's chief inspector of education also reported the qualification level of the early years workforce had improved.
In his report, he stated: 'Our inspection evidence shows that around 75 per cent of staff in nurseries and pre-schools now have relevant qualifications at level 3 or above.'
50,000 fewer childcare places
But while the report said there is an estimated 240,000 more children aged under five in England (2009 to 2015) there are 50,000 fewer childcare places in early years registered provision (2009 to 2016).
Loss on funded places
Sir Michael Wilshaw's report cited research by the National Day Nurseries Association’s (NDNA) that 89 per cent of nurseries are currently making a loss on funded places for 15 hours per week.
In response to the early years sector’s funding concerns for 30 hours free childcare, he referred to the Government’s 30 hours free childcare consultation response highlighting the increased annual investment of £1bn for the early years entitlements (within the ring-fenced Dedicated Schools Grant by 2019–20.) This includes £300m per year from 2017–18 to uplift the average funding rate paid to providers.
He stated: 'The government, local authorities and providers must plan further to ensure that enough funded places are available.'
NDNA chief executive Purnima Tanuku said: “Standards have risen considerably, despite the increasing pressures facing providers.
“These include chronic underfunding of ‘free’ childcare entitlement which is set to double next year, the recruitment crisis caused in part by stringent qualifications requirements for level three practitioners and increased business costs such as the National Living Wage and rising business rates.
“The Government must respond to these issues, ahead of the free entitlement increasing from 15 to 30 hours per week for three and four-year-olds in September.
“Nurseries will deliver more ‘free’ hours only if they can remain sustainable. Our members have told us that funding rates will not cover their costs.”
Following sector campaigning, Sir Michael Wilshaw, who was appointed in January 2012, introduced a half-day’s notice for nursery inspections, bringing the policy into line with schools, and is committed to bringing early years inspections in house in 2017. Ms Tanuku added: “NDNA continues to campaign for greater rights of appeal over inspection judgements.”
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: "We share Ofsted's concerns about the lack of capacity in the early years sector. At a time when the need for childcare places is at is highest, we continue to see providers - and particularly childminders - exit the sector. If this continues, it is likely that many families across the country will find it increasingly difficult to find and secure childcare places."
To read ‘The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2015/16’ click here