Currently, school-based nurseries, children’s centres and childminders receive an inspection notice of often a few days while private and voluntary nurseries do not.
In its response to a consultation on plans to introduce a common inspection framework across early education, Ofsted has promised that “in early years, we will move towards aligning the notice of inspection period provided with schools”.
Unannounced inspections will still take place across all early years and education settings where there are safeguarding concerns, the inspectorate added.
The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), which had previously raised concerns that a single inspection process could lead to further "schoolification" of the early years, has backed the move but urged the inspectorate to ensure the change is brought in swiftly.
Claire Schofield, the NDNA’s director of membership, policy and communications, said: “We have been calling for a level playing field with schools on notice for private and voluntary sector nurseries for several years, so we welcome Ofsted’s commitment that it will align notice.
“The private, voluntary and independent early years sector will now be keen to see prompt action by Ofsted to make equal notice for all a reality.”
In launching the consultation response, Ofsted’s national director of schools, Sean Harford hoped that the new framework would “ensure a consistent approach” to inspections.
He also pledged to improve the expertise of inspectors, something the early years sector had been calling for.
Pre-school Learning Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch said: “The early years sector has long raised concerns about the quality of inspections, and as such, we welcome the news of more stringent assessment and quality assurance processes for contracted inspectors. This is an important and much-needed first step in improving the fairness and consistency of early years inspections.”
The move was also backed by Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, who said: “It makes no sense to have different expectations between schools, colleges and early years providers and it is important that the approach to inspection is consistent across the system.”
However, Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said the plans fall short of radical reform and “leaves us some distance from the self-improving system desired and required in education.”
The ATL also questions whether the quality of inspectors will improve and instead wants to see locally based education professionals leading inspections, which should have a stronger focus on collaboration and improvement.