Blog | Inspections alone will not ensure high quality early education

Press team | 01 Aug

This morning a Sky News survey reported on concerns about Ofsted inspection of nurseries, having found that 19,000 out of 77,000 nurseries had not been inspected within the stipulated 47 month period.

When asked to comment on Sky News this morning my focus was on the very real risk that reduced inspections would mean that we do not pick up on poor quality early education. Family and Childcare Trust has long called for two-yearly inspections when there is high staff turnover in nurseries, and it also why we believe that nannies should be regulated.

But inspection is just one element of quality assurance - and today's story gave us the chance to focus on the cuts we have seen to local authority quality improvement staff (the area of change which has alarmed me most in the last couple of years, definitely more than childminder agencies and even more than the proposed ratio change last year).

Regulations have changed and today local authorities can only undertake quality improvement work with childcare providers who have been judged inadequate or in need of improvement. A big incentive to improve has been withdrawn as local authorities can no longer impose quality preconditions on free offer funding for three and four-year-olds. Local authorities have a vital role to play in quality improvement – and this needs to be strengthened.

It is only high quality early education that improves children’s social and educational outcomes and narrows the gap between the most disadvantaged children and their peers. Quality is a multi-faceted condition, involving staff interactions with children and their parents, good leadership and vision, suitable staffing ratios, stimulating learning activities, nutritious food, cleanliness and an enabling physical environment. Research in the UK and other countries shows that staff qualifications are a strong proxy measure of quality: the better qualified are staff and managers, the more likely it is that a nursery will offer high quality provision. Despite recent improvements brought about through the Graduate Leader Fund, the educational profile of early years’ workers in the UK lags behind other developed countries. In the most deprived areas only 10 per cent of staff in daycare settings have a degree level qualification whereas in New Zealand, for example, nearly 70 per cent of all nursery staff hold degrees in early education.

While we welcome Sky News’ story about inspections, we need to remember that inspections alone will not ensure high quality early education. Let's keep up this focus on quality, and make sure that the importance of local authorities in early education is recognised.

Anand Shukla
Chief Executive Family and Childcare Trust