The need to develop a more constructive relationship in the future between early years providers and the inspectorate was the subject of a series of events held across England last weekend attended by more than 600 people.
The Ofsted Big Conversation campaign saw childminders, nursery providers, early years associations and representatives from local authorities come together to discuss their concerns about the regulator’s new tougher approach to inspections, which has seen significant numbers of nurseries downgraded over recent months.
June O’Sullivan, chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation who spearheaded the initiative, said event attendees debated topics including the training of inspectors, inspection feedback and Ofsted’s complaints and appeals procedures.
O’Sullivan, who led a meeting in London, said: “Generally it was a grown-up and good discussion. We don’t need any more evidence – we know about Ofsted not sticking to their own guidance, poor feedback on them not sticking to their own timelines on appeals and about access to information, which is very hard to get.
"We want consistency, transparency and fairness. We put in quite a number of solutions, which I think are very fair and practical all round.
“I hope that Ofsted will look at what we’re saying and have some conversation with us. We need a collaborative partnership.”
National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) chief executive Purnima Tanuku, who met with Ofsted’s director Sue Gregory last month to discuss concerns about inconsistent and complaint-driven inspections, said: “The weekend provided a opportunity to gather constructive ideas for Ofsted and the Department for Education on how the system can be improved.
“We will be continuing discussions with our members on how to take the issue forward and talking to the Ofsted Big Conversation organisers so we have a co-ordinated approach to tackling these problems.”
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, who attended events in London and Worcestershire, said: "There was universal agreement that confidence in Ofsted has never been worse. Along with providers, the alliance is not prepared to stand back and allow the current inspection framework to destabilise the entire sector.
"Given the strong feeling of injustice from those who spoke, it is abundantly clear that the current approach by Ofsted simply cannot continue."
Responding to the criticism, an Ofsted spokesperson said: “It is Ofsted’s job to shine a light where provision is just not giving sufficient attention to the children’s learning, safety and wellbeing. That is why we have been looking at settings about which concerns have been raised and why we will introduce a ‘requires improvement’ judgment into our inspections from November.
“We know that is a challenge for some in the early years sector, but too many children are in provision that is not good enough. As always, we continue to meet with and listen to the sector as we seek to improve the quality of early education and care in England.”