Early years sector slams Ofsted over inspection plans

By Laura McCardle

| 02 June 2014

Ofsted's failure to bring childcare inspections back in-house mean it is treating the early years as a "second-class service", sector leaders have said.

Ofsted has said that "existing contractual arrangements" with early years inspection providers will continue. Image: NTI

Key early years organisations have accused Ofsted of treating the sector differently to schools, further education and children’s services after the inspectorate failed to bring the management of the service back in-house in line with its other remits.

On Thursday, Ofsted announced plans to regain control of all school and further education inspections in September 2015 after contracts with the current providers expire in August 2015.

Some of the early years sector had expected the inspectorate to also announce plans to bring the management of childcare settings back in-house but Ofsted has said “existing contractual arrangements” for the early years will continue.

The move follows recent concerns raised by childcare practitioners about the quality and training of inspection staff hired by Tribal Group, which handles inspections for the south of England.

Despite the concerns, which were put to a panel of Ofsted representatives during an Ofsted Big Conversation event, a spokeswoman said it was not the right time for large contractual changes due to “wider changes” in the sector.

Childcare consultant Sue Chambers has accused Ofsted of treating the early years as a “second-class service”, while Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, has criticised Ofsted for treating the early years differently to the rest of the education system.

He said: “We are extremely disappointed that Ofsted has disregarded sector feedback and chosen not to bring early years inspections back in-house.

“It is clear that there has been a steady decline in the quality of inspections since the outsourcing of this service in 2010.

“That Ofsted has chosen to maintain the current flawed system of early years inspection, while at the same time bringing schools and further education inspections in-house, is particularly galling.

“If outsourced inspections aren’t good enough for schools and further education institutions, then they aren’t good enough for early years providers.”

Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (Pacey), is also disappointed with the move.

She said: "Given ongoing concerns about the poor quality of Ofsted's inspection of many childcare settings and Ofsted's commitment to becoming the sole arbiter of quality, it is a missed opportunity not to bring in-house the inspection of childcare settings at the same time as Ofsted does this for schools and further education colleges.

"Pacey will be raising its concern about this decision at the next Ofsted Consultative Forum it attends."

Meanwhile, Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Assocation, said: “The quality and consistency of Ofsted inspections has been a real issue for the sector and whether the inspections are outsourced or brought in-house, the problems surrounding quality and consistency must be addressed.”

The move appears to contradict recent comments from Ofsted’s director for early years Nick Hudson and chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw.

On Tuesday, Hudson told CYP Now that Ofsted is keen for “equality across different aspects” of Ofsted’s work, while in March Wilshaw said inspection is too important for the inspectorate to “simply have oversight of third-party arrangements”.

The early years contracts, with Tribal Group, Prospects Services and Serco Education and Children’s Services, are due to expire in September 2015.

Ofsted has declined to comment further.

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