At an Ofsted Big Conversation event organised by the sector to discuss concerns with the inspectorate, the quality of staff employed by Tribal Group, a provider commissioned by Ofsted to deliver inspection services, came under fire.
Professionals criticised the company, which inspects settings in the south of England, for failing to adequately train inspection staff on the requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage.
A delegate at the event, former Ofsted inspector Debbie Alcock, who is now the managing director of Influential Child Care Training, questioned the ability of Tribal staff to pass judgments on settings.
She said inspectors from Tribal were making judgments of “requires improvement” despite having a lack of knowledge on what settings are expected to achieve.
“I worked for Ofsted for some time and I am so shocked by some of the things that are happening at the moment – unprofessionalism, the way people are working – just awful,” Alcock said.
“How can Tribal be doing complaint-led inspections if they haven’t got the training?
She added that a “requires improvement” rating has significant financial implications for early years settings, citing the example of a setting being downgraded after staff and the inspector “interpreted a requirement differently”.
As a result, the setting lost funding to deliver the government’s flagship free childcare entitlement for disadvantaged two-year-olds, which is only available to settings judged to be “good” or outstanding”. “In a school, if you are going to make ‘requires improvement’ you don’t lose thousands and thousands of pounds,” she said.
“In a nursery if you do that, they are taking away two-year-old funding.”
Alcock’s comments prompted Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, to ask the panel of Ofsted representatives, which included Ofsted’s director for social care Debbie Jones, if the inspectorate is planning to bring the management of early years inspections in-house.
The panel declined to answer the question, but stated that there are “a number of discussions ongoing”.
Early years consultant and trainer Laura Henry also questioned the ability of inspectors at the event, asking: "How can you go in and judge management and leadership if you have never managed a nursery?"
Several professionals criticised Tribal for failing to deliver inspection reports within the 15-week time limit recommended by Ofsted, with some claiming that they did not receive their report until eight months after the inspection.
A spokesman for Tribal Group defended the organisation’s inspection programme.
He said: “All Tribal inspectors are highly trained to carry out rigorous inspections using Ofsted materials.
“The majority have previously worked for Ofsted and all have a thorough knowledge of the statutory framework for the EYFS.
“Inspectors are trained to follow Ofsted guidance to judge how well early years providers meet the requirements set out under national legislation.”
He added that significant delays to the delivery of reports occur in “less than 0.1 per cent” of inspections.
Ofsted also commissions Prospects Services and Serco Education and Children’s Services to carry out inspections of early years settings in other parts of England.
An Ofsted spokesman said its contracts with the three providers are due to expire in September 2015 and that it is considering what inspection model should apply after that date.
The Ofsted Big Conversation was launched in September last year to give childcare providers across England the opportunity to regularly meet Ofsted officials and air their concerns about the regulator's approach to inspections.