Of the 39 centres inspected between April and June this year only 19 were judged to be outstanding or good, while 16 were graded as requiring improvement and four were judged to be inadequate.
The latest figures are the first from Ofsted’s new inspection regime that inspect groups of centres together and has replaced its satisfactory grade with the term "requires improvement". Of those inspected between April and June, 10 were groups of centres and the rest were standalone sites.
The proportion of centres to be judged good or outstanding is 15 per cent down on the previous quarter.
The Pre-school Learning Alliance’s chief executive Neil Leitch fears that Ofsted is automatically downgrading centres when a complaint or an incident of concern is self-reported by the centre.
He said: “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.”
Ofsted says that with just 39 centres or groups of centres inspected the sample size is small and “may not be representative of the quality of all centres”.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, says that even though it is a small sample, “the pattern emerging will only add to the sector’s unease over Ofsted inspections”.
She added: “What we would like to do is work with Ofsted to find a way to resolve the current issues and find a way forward which ensures a robust, confident sector.”
The results for April to June also show that standalone centres performed better than groups. Of the 10 groups of centres inspected none were considered outstanding and only one was judged to be good.
Despite the overall decrease in performance, inspectors noted improvements in the level of access families have to centres and the quality of services on offer.
An Ofsted spokeswoman said: “Ofsted makes no apology for promoting improvements in children’s centres and early years provision. Parents will be pleased to hear that our new, more rigorous children’s centre inspection framework is helping to raise standards.
“The statistics published this week show 39 children’s centres were inspected, whereas in a similar three-month period around 4,000 early years inspections took place. Children’s centre and early years inspections cannot be directly compared as the provision is very different with children’s centres offering a broader range of services.”