Under Ofsted's tougher early years inspection framework, which comes into force today (Monday), the grade of "satisfactory" has been scrapped and replaced with "requires improvement".
This change is likely to lead to increased Ofsted scrutiny for more childcare settings, as any provider handed the "requires improvement" grade will have their efforts to improve monitored by the regulator within six months and face being reinspected within a year. They will have two years to attain one of the two highest grades of "good" or "outstanding" or face being automatically judged as "inadequate".
Anand Shukla, chief executive of Family and Childcare Trust, said the new approach must be matched with adequate local authority assistance for providers to improve.
He said: "During the last inspection cycle a significant proportion of providers dropped a grade so it is crucial that support extends to all settings.
"The government’s intention to limit statutory support requirements on local authorities to only low-quality providers risks reducing the capacity of early years teams and creating blind spots in the monitoring and quality improvement system.
“There is a real need for government to clarify the respective roles of Ofsted and local authorities in early years quality improvement. At the moment the responsibilities of the two are blurred and this ambiguity undermines the effectiveness of the regulation and quality system.”
Under the framework, "inadequate" settings will be reinspected within six months, rather than 12 months under the old inspection system.
Ofsted’s director of early years Sue Gregory said: “Young children deserve the very best start in life and inspection can be a catalyst for improvement.
“Very many nurseries, pre-schools and childminders provide a good or better service, but we want to help others to become good through our inspections.
“Our revised framework will give further reassurance to parents, and give the early years sector the opportunity to demonstrate that they are providing a high-quality service in which young children can develop in a safe environment.”
The plans were developed following a consultation earlier in the year based on Ofsted's Good Early Years Provision For All document.
The consultation attracted more than 2,000 responses from the early years sector and parents but only 55 per cent agreed or strongly agreed with the scrapping of the "satisfactory" judgment. A third felt that the term "requires improvement" was too negative.