UK’s Ofsted Amping Up Preschool Evaluation System

Over 4,000 nurseries in the UK have been given two years to improve or face closure by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).  Graeme Paton The Telegraph writes that statistics show that 17% of childcare providers outside of the home are rated as below par by Ofsted. The number of struggling nurseries, preschools, and kindergartens rose to 28% among those monitored in a three month period earlier in this year.

The education watchdog mandates that all childcare providers outside the home should have  a “good” rating.  For those who fall below that, a maximum of two years is given to improve before being rated “inadequate”, which could also result in losing government registration and, eventually, being closed completely.

But early years experts say that improvements are being made and fewer nurseries, overall, are being put on Ofsted’s “inadequate” list.  The tougher new system, introduced in England last fall, has inspectors looking very closely at how well early education providers are preparing children to begin school.  There is more of a focus on how well young children interact with their peers and if they behave properly. The data emphasizes the performance of the caretakers and show that 26% of the providers were not good enough, including 28% of nurseries and preschools.

 “Parents rightly expect the highest standards from the institutions that look after their children, said Sam Gyimah, Childcare and Education Minister. “These figures show that more nurseries are rated good or outstanding than ever before. However where providers do not meet the standards required of them, they are held to account by Ofsted and if they do not show the necessary improvement action will be taken. We know that high quality early education can have a lasting impact on a child’s development giving them the best possible start in life. And of course we want to see further improvement. That’s why we’ve toughened up early years qualifications to ensure the brightest and best are responsible for our children’s education.”

Ofsted officials say there are going to work with the providers who need to improve. The Preschool Learning Alliance sees early year caregivers improving and are pleased to see continued, significant progress.

The number of centers receiving “good” ratings has risen from 61% to 67% in the past quarter.  The percentage of settings with “requiring improvement” grades was 18%, and those found to be inadequate were 8%, according to Catherine Guant of NurseryWorld.  When Ofsted decided to do away with the 30-day compliant-driven inspection option, outcomes  improved. Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said:

“These figures clearly demonstrate that, despite ongoing funding shortfalls and diminished local authority support, the vast majority of early years providers continue to deliver consistently high-quality learning opportunities to the children in their care.”

Now that it has been almost a year since the standards were raised,  almost three-quarters of inspections found a “good” or “outstanding” service for young children.

According to the Ilkeston Advertiser, a local preschool that had previously been rated as “good” has recently been rated as “inadequate” by Ofsted because a staff member served food to a child who was allergic to that food.  The staff is friendly and approachable, but since the proper actions had not been made to ensure that this event would not be recurring, the center as a whole received a grade of “inadequate”.

A local nursery which had previously been marked as “good” also received a “requires improvement” because the quality of teaching was inconsistent and mealtimes were not effectively organized.

An article by R. Cousins for the Lincolnshire Echo included a quote from an Ofsted spokesperson:

“Parents can be assured that young children at those provisions are in an environment where they can learn and develop. However, there are still too many early years provisions which do not help young children be ready to learn when they start school.