Some of you may be aware of the many concerns that are currently being voiced by the Early Years sector regarding the role of OFSTED. The number of complaint-driven inspections has rocketed over the last 6 months and we were on the wrong end of this process at our Innsworth nursery in May, where we received an inspection from OFSTED following a compliance issue in October 2012, were graded ‘GOOD’ by the inspector, but then told we were going to be downgraded to ‘SATISFACTORY’ a week later, due to the fact that we still had the compliance issue on our record. Other nurseries have fared even worse, some being downgraded from ‘OUTSTANDING’ to ‘INADEQUATE’ on a technicality, following a complaint by a parent or member of staff.
We all want to promote high quality provision and we all care deeply about safeguarding the children in our care. However, the balance of the inspection regime has tipped too far in the wrong direction and the whole sector feels embattled with OFSTED. Last month over 500 providers met at different locations around the UK to discuss our concerns and to seek solutions; this was known as #OFSTEDBIGCONVERSATION and social media played a key role in bringing us all together.
At the end of last week a Freedom of Information request from a fellow nursery owner showed that between April 2012 and March 2013 only 4 judgments out of 691 made by OFSTED were changed or declared void. This does seem like a ludicrously low number and hardly gives faith in the system for nurseries that are concerned about how the inspection was carried out or the behaviour of the inspector. Surely in any organisation that is dependent on people, the error level might reasonably be above 0.58%.
Today has seen the publishing of a response to the Big Conversation by Sue Gregory, head of Early Years at OFSTED. To read the whole response see http://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/article/1214950/exclusive-ofsted-responds-big-conversation. All I can say is that I am hugely disappointed by this response; this is not someone who is listening to the sector or who wants to engage in exactly the degree of self-evaluation and continuous improvement that we in Early Years are expected to demonstrate. There are clearly huge cracks in the whole OFSTED process at the moment and confidence levels of practitioners and parents are at an all time low. This response reads more like a politician; desperate to insist that everything is fair and transparent, when the reality is a million miles from this. Come on Sue, you can do better than this. As a sector we want to be part of the solution, but for that to happen, you will have to listen to us and not just pretend that everything is fine. Children only get one chance, we all know that and we want to work with OFSTED to make that chance the best possible.