Despite the Government’s pledge to offer nursery care to 260,000 of England’s most disadvantaged two-year-olds from September, a report last week highlighted that there is insufficient “good quality provision” to provide the places.
The report, commissioned by the Sutton Trust and conducted by Oxford University, highlighted a shortfall of places for the current 92,000 children that already qualify for the funding, before the increase of 168,000 children planned for later this year. As a result, the government are being urged to delay the roll out until the number of Good or Outstanding nursery places increases.
This is set amongst a backdrop of falling Ofsted grades across the industry.
The report states, “The importance of ensuring good quality provision cannot be overstated. Worryingly, our review suggests that much current provision is not yet fit for purpose, risking the success of the programme in achieving its stated aims.”
The Government requirements insist that only places in nurseries rated by Ofsted as “good” or “outstanding” should be offered under the scheme, however if there is a shortfall, places at nurseries with lower ratings can be used.
But the Sutton Trust education charity advised the Government to wait until it could guarantee good-quality care.
“Delaying the rollout would enable current good-quality provision to focus on catering for the most deprived 20 per cent of two-year-olds whilst allowing the time and funding to ensure that sufficient good-quality provision is available to meet the needs of the 40 per cent before this is offered as a legal entitlement.”
Liz Truss, the children’s minister, has said that the Government is taking steps to raise the quality, including developing an improved inspection protocol with Ofsted for nurseries.
“Support to disadvantaged parents and their young children is the cheapest and most important investment we can make in our society. Achievement gaps between rich and poor children are visible in children as young as 18 months, according to a Stanford University study. By the age of two, there’s a six-month gap in achievement. By the time a poor child is five, he or she will be two years behind wealthier classmates in terms of language development.
Investment in nursery care and other early intervention programmes like Sure Start doesn’t guarantee improved academic achievement, but the life skills promoted by quality early care last, and lead to lower rates of young offenders, and higher rates of staying in education.
I hope that when the Government looks at the Sutton report, it thinks big. Paying for mediocre childcare won’t bring about the changes we need. We need to invest in the future of our young people now if we are to avoid paying for their neglect later; I’d far rather fund nursery places now than beds in prison in a dozen or so years.”
Media coverage over the weekend implied that the government were quietly attempting to re-introduce the debate on childcare ratios, with an online survey for parents promoted on social media channels.
The survey, entitled “Ratios in nurseries and other childcare settings”, was promoted by the Department for Education and asks 10 questions of parents who have a three- or four-year-old at nursery. Every question related to either staffing levels or teaching qualifications.
Since the media questioned it’s relevance and motives, however, the poll has been removed from the survey website, creating even more questions.
The survey asked “Do you know how many members of staff there should be for the number of children in your child’s nursery? If yes, what is the ratio? If no, what do you think it should be?”
It added multiple choice questions including “Do you look to the nursery’s Ofsted report? Which aspects in particular concern you?” and offers six possible answers including “safety” “what the children learn” and “the ratio of staff to children”.
Given the fierce resistance to the proposals in the summer, it seems the Government may be trying to avoid another confrontation with the Childcare Industry by removing the survey.
In June, the Conservative children’s minister, Liz Truss, was forced to drop the plans by Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister.
‘An extensive consultation had shown that her two key aims would fail”, Clegg said. “Cutting staff-to-child ratios would not necessarily drive down the costs of childcare – and might even increase them – and would not necessarily improve standards.”
A senior Liberal Democrat source said: “There is no prospect of the coalition government revisiting the issue of childcare ratios. Nick Clegg made very clear they cannot proceed. The issue has been put to bed and will not get up.”
The DfE has also been criticised for limiting the reach of the survey by using social media sites Facebook and Twitter to receive responses instead of publishing it on the department’s own website.
The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (Pacey) has also criticised the survey and questioned the usefulness of any information gained from feedback. Liz Bayram, chief executive of Pacey, said: “Pacey is concerned to hear that the Department for Education is consulting parents on childcare ratios, given that there was widespread criticism of the department the last time it proposed this reform.
“We also question how this crude approach to gaining parent feedback is going to provide the DfE with any meaningful information.”
A DfE source said that the survey was part of a fact-finding exercise which hoped to be able to examine the attitude of private nursery users – but the source struggled to explain why the survey does not ask parents to say whether their children are cared for in private or public nurseries. A spokeswoman said: “In 2008 ratios were relaxed so nurseries could have classes of up to 13 children aged three or over when led by a teacher. School nurseries take advantage of this flexibility, whereas private nurseries are less likely to do so.
“We have always said we want this flexibility to be used more widely – because evidence shows that teacher-led provision improves outcomes for children – and it is important that we explore what barriers are preventing nurseries from doing this.”
Ofsted’s tougher inspections come into force today, designed to make it clear that only provision that is ‘good’ or better is good enough for very young children.
From today, a judgement of ‘requires improvement’ will replace the ‘satisfactory’ judgement for all early years providers – as it has already for schools and colleges.
Ofsted have said nurseries and pre-schools rated as inadequate will be reinspected within six months.
As of the end of June, almost a fifth (18%) of early years centres were considered less than good, with 1% of these rated as inadequate. That means there were up to 143,583 children in nurseries and pre-schools rated as satisfactory, and up to 14,195 in places that were inadequate – 157,778 in total.
Following the outcomes of the Good early years provision for all consultation, which set out Ofsted’s proposals for early years providers, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, announced that ‘good’ will be the minimum standard expected.
Ofsted received 2,280 responses to their online questionnaire. These came from registered early years group providers (nurseries/pre-schools), registered childminders, employees at schools with early years provision or at registered early years groups providers, parents or carers of children attending registered early years provision and local authority employees.
The Parents’ Panel consultation attracted 223 responses from parents. Every member of the panel has at least one child in a maintained school or in registered childcare.
The 4 questions asked were:
1. To what extent do you agree or disagree that a judgement of ‘requires improvement’ should replace the ‘satisfactory’ judgement?
2. To what extent do you agree or disagree that Ofsted should introduce a re-inspection within two years for non-domestic settings judged as ‘requires improvement’?
3. To what extent do you agree or disagree that if a non-domestic setting has not made sufficient progress to be judged good at its third consecutive inspection it should be likely to be deemed as inadequate?
4. To what extent do you agree or disagree that if an inadequate setting remains inadequate after re-inspection within 12 months, and there exist statutory grounds for cancellation, Ofsted should take steps to cancel the setting’s registration?
The responses from industry bodies are summarised below:
Q1 (‘requires improvement’ judgement)
Q2 (re-inspection for ‘requires improvement’)
Q3 (Not made sufficient progress by third inspection)
Q4 (Statutory grounds for cancellation)
National Day Nurseries Association
Pre-school Learning Alliance
Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years
National Children’s Bureau
Ofsted’s director of early years, Sue Gregory, said: “Very many nurseries and pre-schools provide a good or better service, but we want to help others to become good through our inspections. Our revised framework will give further reassurance to parents, and give the early years sector the opportunity to demonstrate that they are providing a high quality service in which young children can develop in a safe environment.”
Recent press stories have made much of the low numbers of 5 year-olds starting school at the expected standards in maths and literacy, with the implication that the EYFS, or those delivering it, are at fault.
The report shows that nearly half (48%) of children failed to achieve a “good” level of development, which is considered to be at least the expected level within the three prime areas as well as the expected standards in literacy and mathematics.
The figures make interesting reading, with 61% achieving the expected level in literacy and 66% in maths, according to data published by the Department for Education (DfE).
Other areas achieve better results with 89% at the expected level in physical development and 87% in expressive arts and design.
The figures are based on the new EYFS measures introduced just over a year ago, and are taken from the first assessments conducted this summer. The previous Early Years Foundation Stage, with its 69 measures, was criticised as being too bureaucratic.
There was a substantial disparity between the achievement levels of girls and boys.
“Girls outperformed boys in all areas of learning,” says the DfE’s summary of the findings, with 60% of girls achieving a good level of development, compared with 44% of boys.
In literacy, 69% of girls achieved at least the expected level, compared with 53% of boys.
The gap is closer in maths, with 70% of girls at the expected level, against 63% of boys.
A DfE spokeswoman said the new streamlined profile for the foundation stage “places a stronger emphasis on the areas which are most essential for a child’s development and a greater focus on the key skills children need for a good start in life”.
‘Our reforms are also focusing on improving the quality of professionals working in the early years, by introducing early years teachers and early years educators into nurseries who will specialise in early childhood development.
‘Ofsted is introducing a tougher early years inspection framework to improve outcomes, and put a stronger emphasis on the areas which are most essential for a child’s development, such as strong communications and a good vocabulary’, she added.
Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), said, ‘PACEY recognises that the Early Years Foundation Stage framework has had a positive impact on raising standards within the early years. As this is the first use of the revised EYFS, it gives us a starting point, rather than telling us a direction of travel.
‘These figures paint a really positive story of how children are building social skills. However, there are areas of concern highlighted by these figures, particularly that only 52 per cent of children have achieved a good level of overall development, and there is an attainment gap between boys and girls. We need to do more to support childcare professionals, who are central in helping children to be both school-ready, and life-ready too. Low status, low pay and declining funding and support threatens the attempts by childminders, nannies and nursery workers to improve their professional status and their ability to deliver a high quality care.
‘PACEY is supportive of Ofsted and the EYFS in its role to provide children the best quality standard of care for children, but we need greater efforts from Government to support childcare professionals, who play a vital role in this process.’
Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, added, ‘These figures reaffirm the challenge that is faced to make sure that every child in the Early Years Foundation Stage gets the best possible start and makes the progress that they are entitled to make.
‘As the figures show, nearly half of all children are not reaching a good standard of early learning goals. Of particular concern is that boys are doing less well than girls and children from poorer families and in more deprived areas are underachieving in comparison with those from more affluent areas.
‘We know that quality provision is the key to improving children’s outcomes hence it is imperative that the most is made of the new two year old offer and the focus on early intervention to ensure all children leave the EYFS with at least the expected level of development.’
One year in, how do you feel the new EYFS measures up? Are children better prepared for school at 5 years old? We’d welcome your comments below.
The Pre-School Learning Alliance is releasing two FREE guidance documents to provide insight on Ofsted Early Years inspections.
Managing your Ofsted inspection: a practical guide for early years providers, provides useful advice and guidance on how to make the inspection process as positive an experience as possible.
The second, A guide to the Ofsted complaint process for early years providers, is a clear, comprehensive overview of the complaints process, outlining the rights of providers and explaining what options are available to you at each stage.
Alliance members will receive both guides along with their edition of the November/December issue of Under 5 magazine. This issue will also contain an in-depth feature on the new Ofsted framework, plus the full, detailed results of the Alliance’s Freedom of Information request
Not a PSLA member?
Non-Alliance members can register for a free trial to this issue, including the supplementary guidance documents,by clicking here and entering the promotional code ‘Ofsted’: