Early childhood education joins calls for Ofsted reform

The charity Early Years Alliance, which represents nurseries, preschools, and childminders, desires an evaluation of Ofsted's grading system. The charity conducted a brief survey of early childhood educators, which revealed that many of them found inspections to be distressing.

Ofsted acknowledges that inspections can be difficult and desires that they be as constructive as possible. After head teacher Ruth Perry committed suicide, teaching unions demanded a halt to school inspections.

In addition to receiving a single aggregate grade, nurseries, pre-schools, and childminders are evaluated against a distinct set of criteria than schools.

They are rated as outstanding, excellent, needs improvement, or the lowest grade of inadequate, which can result in a school's closure if the council decides to withdraw funding. Zoe O'Malley, the proprietor of a nursery, and her staff have had sleepless nights since an Ofsted report in December rated her nursery as "inadequate." She referred to the inspection as the "worst day of her life."

The Ofsted report indicated that safeguarding at Busy Bunnies Day Nursery in High Peak, Derbyshire, was ineffective because not all staff knew how to protect children from radicalisation, female genital mutilation, and child exploitation. It also stated that infants were given "too much toothpaste," which constituted a "health risk."

Zoe believes that a six-hour visit did not provide a comprehensive picture of the nursery, and that some of the issues raised could have been resolved immediately. Inspections are important, she mentioned but staff found it difficult to respond to safeguarding questions while caring for children and one has since left the sector as a result.

The council has asked each family for permission to keep their infant at the nursery until the next inspection in June. Ofsted stated that inspections are conducted primarily for the benefit of children and their guardians, to instill confidence in the management of nurseries and child care facilities.

Neil Leitch, the chief executive officer of the Early Years Alliance, stated that recent conversations about Ofsted have centered on schools, but that these inspections are increasingly viewed as "something to fear" in early years' contexts.

The National Day Nurseries Association, which also represents providers, is concerned that the early childhood staffing shortage is having an effect.

Purnima Tanuku, the organization's chief executive, states that while they support inspections, it is detrimental to the stability and continuity of care of children when a nursery closes due to a poor rating. Approximately 96% of early years' providers are rated as excellent or outstanding, but Ofsted has stated that it sometimes must make difficult decisions when standards fall or children's safety is compromised.

Vanessa Dooley now operates the nursery and preschool consulting firm Jigsaw Early Years Consultancy.

"Inspections should give settings the opportunity to shine and say, 'Come and see what we're doing,'" she explained, "rather than shying away and causing that enormous, enormous anxiety."

The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) has asked for more regulatory authority so that it can examine how organizations with multiple nurseries operate in order to ensure positive outcomes for children.