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Ofsted introduces tougher standards for early years inspections

12/08/2013 Joanna
Many staff in early years education jobs will need to raise standards in their settings to comply with new tougher requirements introduced by Ofsted this month.

This comes after a consultation in which most respondents voiced support for these new criteria, although questions have been raised in other quarters about their viability.

No more 'satisfactory' ratings

As of November, Ofsted will replace the 'satisfactory' rating for early years providers falling short of being 'good' with one of 'requires improvement', in line with changes implemented in school evaluations in September 2012.

Providers that fare even worse and are deemed 'inadequate' by inspectors are likely to receive another visit six months later. Should they fail to show sufficient improvement and be rated 'inadequate' again, the education watchdog may take steps to cancel that setting's registration.

Furthermore, pre-schools and nurseries assessed as needing improvement will face re-inspection within a year in the expectation that they will raise their level to 'good' within two years, with those that fail to do so likely to be classed as 'inadequate'.

The early years 'are crucial'

Explaining these new measures, Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw asserted that "the early years are crucial" in a child's education and pre-schools and nurseries therefore need to provide them with "a solid foundation".

He argued that two years is a long time in a child's life and long enough for a setting to improve and that, while the country spends £5 billion a year on funded early education, many pre-schools and nurseries are not yet good enough, especially in deprived areas.

Sir Michael added: "Early years provision is only as good as the quality of interaction between adults and children.

"The best providers understand the importance of teaching children through their play while also giving them structures and routines which bring order and security into their lives. It is vital that very young children make good progress so that they succeed in later years. I am clear that we ignore early education and care at our peril."

Consultation supports reforms

These tougher standards are being introduced following a consultation that ran during April and May, drawing 2,280 responses to an online questionnaire, as well as a further 223 responses from Ofsted Parents' Panel.

Abolishing the 'satisfactory rating' garnered at least moderate support from 55 per cent of online respondents and 76 per cent of Parents' Panel members surveyed.

However, a third of online respondents opposed this measure, many of them countering that 'requires improvement' carries negative connotations and advocating that it be made clear which necessary improvements are major and which are minor.

The consultation also showed 78 per cent of online respondents and 82 per cent of respondents from the Parents' Panel agreed there should be statutory grounds for cancelling the registration of a setting that is rated 'inadequate' at two consecutive inspections.

In relation to Ofsted's proposals that it re-inspect non-domestic settings judged as needing improvement within at least two years, 83 per cent of those who responded online agreed, as did 88 per cent of the Parents' Panel participants.

Many commented that two years was too long a period, prompting Ofsted's decision to introduce re-inspections within a year for non-domestic settings that fall short of being 'good'.

Rating pre-schools and nurseries 'inadequate' if they fail to climb from 'requires improvement' to 'good' within three inspections also received the backing of 69 per cent of online respondents and 78 per cent of Parents' Panel respondents.

Sector bodies question new inspection regime

However, some organisations representing early years settings were more critical of Ofsted's new measures.

For example, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance highlighted some existing dissatisfaction with inspection standards and argued certain settings could be unfairly penalised under the new regime.

He also warned that as it is harder for settings in more deprived parts of the country to attain 'good' and 'outstanding' ratings, these measures could have a disproportionately negative impact on childcare in these areas.

Mr Leitch's counterpart at the National Day Nurseries Association, Purnima Tanuku, likewise referred to concerns among some settings about downgraded ratings.

She added that replacing 'satisfactory' ratings with 'needs improvement' would turn 'good' into a very broad category and said this made transparency over how judgements are made vital.

Posted by Charlotte MichaelADNFCR-2164-ID-801624068-ADNFCR
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