Tens of thousands of children in ‘failing’ nurseries

Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael WilshawOfsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw
Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw
Tens of thousands of young children are still being cared for in nurseries and pre-schools that are not up to scratch, it has been revealed.

Latest figures suggest that up to 157,778 pre-schoolers are at facilities that are considered not good enough by inspectors.

The statistics come as Ofsted introduced new tougher inspections for nurseries and pre-schools which will see those rated as failing at risk of closure if they do not rapidly improve.

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In what is a major shake-up of the system, from today only a rating of “good” or “outstanding” will be considered acceptable, the watchdog said.

Those that fail to meet these standards could face having their registration cancelled – effectively closing them down.

The move is likely to affect thousands of nurseries and pre-schools caring for young children in England.

The overhaul will see the old “satisfactory” rating scrapped and replaced by “requires improvement”, a change that has already been made to school inspections.

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Nurseries and pre-schools which are handed this rating will be monitored and re-inspected within a year. They will have two years to raise their game and be judged as “good”, or risk being declared “inadequate”.

It was originally proposed that under-performing early years educators would be given four years to improve, but this has been halved amid concerns that four years is too long in a young child’s life to be faced with poor care and education.

Ofsted added that nurseries and pre-schools rated as “inadequate” will be re-inspected within six months in a bid to ensure that young children, especially those from poorer backgrounds, get the best start in life.

Figures show that as of the end of June, almost a fifth (18 per cent) of early years centres were considered less than good, with one per cent of these rated as “inadequate”.

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It means that at this point, 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.

Announcing the changes, which do not cover childminders, in April, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw warned that inspectors will be tougher on poor nurseries and pre-schools, because “no-one thinks they should be allowed to languish in their inadequacy”.

“I wouldn’t have wanted my child to go to an inadequate nursery and I don’t believe that any other parent would either – so we’re going to be less tolerant,” he said.

Ofsted’s director of early years, Sue Gregory, said: “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.”

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Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), said it regarded Ofsted regulation and inspections as the best way to improve quality.

“The new ‘requires improvement’ grading, so long as it is underpinned by robust Ofsted inspection processes, will mean parents better understand what good quality care looks like for their children and will encourage more providers to improve.

“This is critical when we know that it is only high quality childcare and early learning that delivers the best start in life for all children but in particular for children living in disadvantage.

“PACEY’s recent report on school readiness made clear that childcare professionals, parents and teachers share the belief that a play-based approach to supporting a child’s social and emotional development (so they are confident, independent as well as a curious to learn) was more important than more formalised teaching that supported their basic reading, writing and maths skills at this young age.”

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Davina Ludlow, director of daynurseries.co.uk, said: “While we believe that every child deserves the very best education, we are concerned about the impact this ‘downgrade’ could have on nurseries and hard-working staff members.

“The change being brought in by Ofsted risks adversely impacting staff motivation, resulting in more harm than good.

“What nurseries need is more support from local authorities and national government if there is to be any improvement across the sector.”