June O’Sullivan, the driving force behind last weekend’s #OfstedBigConversation has published the feedback from the meeting she chaired at the London Early Years Foundation. She hosted over 50 industry professionals who formulated responses to the 6 key issues being discussed.
Question 1: Ofsted dual role of regulator and agent for improvement.
There is anxiety about Ofsted’s ability to be both regulator and agent of improvement. There is a trust issue and the sector is uncertain as to how Ofsted can improve standards when it’s not operating securely as a regulator. We need to have a lead person in Ofsted with robust and credible experience, qualifications and strong knowledge of Early Years. There need to be a practitioner forum / advisory group to advise, improve and innovate with Ofsted as a collaborative process. This needs to be broad and reflect different settings and approaches and be regularly changed. Ofsted needs to find ways to link with the local authority so that improvement is continual and constructive. Better to have a partnership approach especially for those served with notice to improve. Finally, we need accessible communication such as a central search engine. Information and guidance is impossible to find and inhibits good relationship building.
Question 2: Why have inspections responding to complaints over ten years old while all those inspections currently due remain incomplete?
Stop the complaints that are over ten years old now. Separate complaint initiated inspections from full inspections. Revert to model of past when complaints were investigated separately. Complaints that have been dealt with satisfactorily should not influence the inspections unless significant. Tribal and Prospects should change inspectors if requested by settings especially when there is an obvious conflict of interest. (ex staff member returning as inspector and settings down the road inspecting yours). Follow your own published guidelines.
Question 3: Quality Assurance
Make the process clear and open. Guarantee that the QA is led by qualified and skilled people. QA should only be used to cover statutory issues. Be quicker it’s taking too long. Feedback to judgements should be in writing. A QA that overturns an inspection judgement should make the inspection null and void. Ensure there are no perverse incentives to inspections providers.
Question 4: Ofsted Inspectors Training and Support
Ofsted need to articulate and reflect a clear consistent pedagogical approach in all their activities. This will mean the sector understands what Ofsted believe is good practice. This needs to be applied in all communication and guidance and so limit the frequencies of inspector’s idiosyncrasies and contradictions. Where possible nurseries would prefer inspections led by two inspectors. Tribal and Prospects are contracted by Ofsted and therefore Ofsted needs to take full responsibility for this and not blame their contractors or demand knee jerk responses when things go awry.
Question 5: Inspection Decision and Feedback
Ofsted must address a QA process that is preventing inspectors of giving a confident outcome because QA may overturn it. Either employ inspectors trusted to collect evidence and apply their experience and common sense or abandon the inspections. The sector has little faith when inspectors are so insecure they cannot support their judgements with conviction. All providers should be given 7 days a cooling off period to look at the report especially when managers have been away during the inspection. They then need another 7 days when receive the final report. Verbal feedback should be given at an appropriate time to childminders.
Question 6 Complaints and Appeals
Ofsted needs to keep providers in the loop during the complaint/ appeals period. Introduce a traffic light system. The report should not be published while the appeal is in progress. Always interview the manager as part of the process. Automatically get inspectors notes. Put on the appeals panel someone who represents the sector. Insist there is a three month return after an inadequate judgement or else explain it could be a different level of concern. Ensure we can pay to improve a satisfactory grade. Ofsted needs to examine the legal framework of malicious complaints if they are anonymous what comeback there is for providers especially when the consequences could lead to the provider going out of business.