Martin Hodgson gives an overview of Ofsted's latest annual report, which draws upon the findings both of routine inspection visits and of focused survey inspections.
The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2008/09 was published by Ofsted on the 24th November 2009.
The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) is responsible for both the regulation and the inspection of childcare provision.
The Annual Report presents evidence from Ofsted inspection and regulatory visits undertaken broadly between September 2008 and August 2009. Evidence is taken from inspection activity across the full range of Ofsted’s remit, including childcare, children’s social care, local authority services for children and provision for education and skills in schools, colleges and adult learning.
For childcare provision, inspectors focus on the experience of the child in line with the requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage.
Previous Ofsted reports have focused on the safeguarding of children and young people and so to does the latest Annual Report, stating that the issue is just too important to be left out.
The overall picture of the quality of provision is positive and the good news for the childcare sector is that the quality of early years provision in the Foundation Stage continues to improve. For example:
most childcare provision (95%) is at least satisfactory in its overall effectiveness, and nearly two-thirds (65%) is classed as good or outstanding with the proportion of good and outstanding childcare inspected this year higher than in 2007/08
almost all childminders meet the learning and development requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage, and 65% “do it well”
almost 70% of maintained schools inspected are now good or outstanding, with nursery schools and special schools judged to be particularly effective
73% of childcare providers who were outstanding at their previous inspections have sustained this high level of effectiveness and of those that were found to be inadequate, 87% had improved by their inspections in 2008/09.
The report states that of the childcare providers on non-domestic premises (premises other than a private home) inspected this year, over 750 (10%) are outstanding.
The report also picks out what it is about these settings that make them so good.
In such settings, children make excellent progress. They are engaged, confident and given opportunities to make choices for themselves.
Managers and staff share a clear vision and high expectations for children.
Staff are enthusiastic, skilled and know the children well.
Planning is responsive to each child’s abilities and interests.
Staff recognise their important role in protecting children and follow safeguarding procedures with great care.
Reflection on practice is well established, so staff and managers evaluate their work accurately and find ways to improve outcomes for children.
Where provision is most successful:
skilled staff inspire, engage and challenge children to extend their learning
adults provide stimulating environments indoors and outside, allowing children to follow their interests and explore activities fully through play and more structured experiences
they use regular and spontaneous observations to assess progress and devise the next steps in learning
they prioritise the development of vocabulary and communication skills and help children gain a secure grounding in literacy and numeracy.
Effective practice involves using the EYFS materials to plan for children's progress. Good and outstanding providers cover all areas of learning effectively and encourage children to make their own choices. These providers:
give high priority to ensuring all children are included in activities
value each child as unique, with particular talents, interests and learning needs
work closely with parents and professionals such as therapists, family workers and health visitors
actively support children and families who are learning English as an additional language
use books, toys, photographs and signs reflecting different cultures and languages to promote inclusion.
In these settings, children learn to take responsibility for their safety. They understand the reasons for good hygiene, physical exercise and healthy eating. They generally behave very well and are involved in negotiating simple rules.
While there is much in the report that is encouraging, Ofsted also point out that concerns remain. They state that there are still too many providers that are mediocre or worse and note that, given the considerable progress made over recent years in increasing the proportion of outstanding and good settings, the greatest challenge across childcare, social care, education and the skills sector is to raise satisfactory provision to the level of good or outstanding.
Ofsted point out that there is no reason why every setting, school and college, and every provider, should not aspire to be good and work towards excellence.
More specific concerns include:
over 40% of childcare provision judged satisfactory at its previous inspection remains so
more needs to be done to support and improve the provision in deprived areas.
The report states that children in deprived areas receive poorer provision overall. For example, the proportion of good or outstanding childcare providers on nondomestic premises is 60% in areas of high deprivation, compared to 68% in the least deprived areas.
During the period, Ofsted issued 32,300 actions for improvement where inspection revealed providers were not meeting registration requirements. Typical actions for childcare providers on non-domestic premises included:
ensuring all adults are suitable to work with children
allocating each child a key person
ensuring at least one person with a current paediatric first aid certificate is on the site at all times
understanding how to manage behaviour effectively.
During 2008/09, parents and the general public raised 7200 complaints about registered childcare provision, including 2400 about childminding and 4700 about childcare on non-domestic premises, relating to approximately 5% of registered providers.
Ofsted suggest that providers have to do more to:
teach children to keep themselves safe
uphold hygiene routines
promote the roles of key workers
develop outdoor learning and play.
In some situations, Ofsted state, the planning for children's learning and development does not sufficiently reflect individual learning needs and sometimes activities do not challenge or engage children, leading to poor behaviour and inconsistent routines. Limited access to resources restricts children's opportunities to make choices.
The report states that staff sometimes demonstrate little understanding of inclusion and do not consider sufficiently the needs of children who are learning English as an additional language. Planning does not reflect individual learning needs nor give children opportunities to learn about other cultures.
In these settings, children make insufficient progress because of weaknesses in staff skills, poor assessment and monitoring of progress and failure to identify ways to promote the next steps in learning.
In some cases, providers do not adhere consistently to safe recruitment and vetting procedures. Whenever this occurs, Ofsted reminds the provider of the seriousness of the situation, takes action and follows it up to ensure the provider arranges for all adults to be vetted promptly.
Too often, the report states, weaker settings do not involve parents well in their children's development.
The report makes several references to quality assurance schemes.
Around 1500 of the providers inspected participate in such schemes, the report states, either run by a local authority or an independent professional body. This represents 4% of childminders and 11% of childcare providers on non-domestic premises.
The report notes that providers taking part in quality assurance schemes are much more likely to be good or outstanding. Of the small proportion who are scheme members, 87% are either good or outstanding, compared with 64% of those who are not members. The difference is even more marked among childminders than childcare providers on nondomestic premises.
The report also refers to self-evaluation.
By 31 August 2009, the report states that 5100 childminders and 4900 childcare providers on non-domestic premises had submitted self-evaluation forms to Ofsted. These figures represent a very small minority of providers, although the number is rising every month.
A large majority stated they fully met the requirements for the Early Years Foundation Stage and the main gaps reported were in requirements relating to children’s learning and development, staff qualifications and organisation.
The report states that outstanding providers evaluate their work rigorously as the basis of planning for improvement and in the majority of cases there is broad agreement between providers own assessments and those of inspectors.
Looking to the future the report states that inspection must engage more effectively with users and stakeholders at all levels and ensure that the experiences of children, young people and adult learners are at the centre of the process. In addition, Ofsted state that they must do more to disseminate effective practice and focus their work on what is happening on the ground, continuing to take performance data into account, but spending more time, for example, talking to providers.
Reaction to the report
Commenting on the report, Schools Minister Jim Knight said:
“This report shows that childcare settings are safe and healthy environments which successfully promote the development of young children in their care. More than half of childcare and nursery settings are outstanding or good, with the overwhelming majority of the remainder at least satisfactory. Even where children and nursery settings are judged inadequate, the vast majority make rapid improvement and are at least satisfactory when re-inspected.”
Ahead of the publication, the Local Government Association strongly attacked Ofsted's approach to inspecting children's services but Ofsted rejected this criticism and stated that it “must not pull its punches”.
Ofsted denied that its inspections were “box ticking” exercises — and rejected claims that the expansion of the watchdog had meant that it had lost its focus.
The full report can be downloaded from the Ofsted website.