Send Us Your Inspection Story
by David Wright
(The following events may or may not have happened and not necessarily in this order. All names are fictional).
There is nothing quite like the words ‘Ofsted are here’ to set the heart racing as you dash for the door and drive in a blur to the nursery. The stream of consciousness is already playing in your head, as it will continue to do for the next 9 hours (yes, 9 hours) roller coaster ride –
“Thank goodness I was home today”
“Did they ask to see her id?”
“Has she signed in?”
“Has everyone else signed in? Did everyone sign out yesterday?”
“Who’s off sick this morning?”
“What sort of person is this inspector – friendly, aloof or confrontational? What will her personal obsession be – good behaviour, numbers in the garden, cushions on the floor or the Chinese word for toilet prominently displayed?”
“Has she inspected us before?”
It matters. The outcome matters. We have prepared for this moment for years. Every policy, safety check and form has been checked and double checked. Staff have been drilled. They know what signs of abuse to look for; who the safeguarding officer is; all about disqualification by association; they have an in-depth knowledge of the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum and their role in planning, assessment and observation; they know their key children and how to track their progress. They all know this but when asked, challenged, confronted or put on the spot by an OFSTED INSPECTOR, will they crumble, forget everything and utter that fateful phrase “I don’ know”?
It’s our one chance, one shot at performing to the required standard, every single member of the team, including the newest and the weakest. One mistake, one substandard performance, one missing piece of paper could blow it.
I can’t park on the front as it takes up a space for parents so I am 2 minutes away in a 2 hour parking zone, most probably resulting in a parking ticket as I forget to go back and move it. I am running with my laptop bag to the entrance muttering to myself – “Don’t forget to sign in, don’t forget to sign in.” I barge in through the door, forgetting to sign in! The manager chases after me and hands me the signing-in sheet. Not knowing where “she” is, there are furtive glances exchanged with the team and a hissed “Where is she?” A nod of the head indicates the next room, so it safe to follow up with a whispered “How’s it going?”
“Alright, she seems very nice.”
Voice in my head, “That could be a ploy. Soften them up first, wolf in sheep’s clothing etc.”
I take a deep breath and head into preschool. Utter panic sets in as I spot 3 unfamiliar faces in the room, all wearing id badges. Surely not 3 inspectors?! It turns out the Foundation Stage teachers from the local school have chosen this morning to visit our children moving to their school in September. That’s brownie points already! But first I have to unpick the confusion caused by introducing myself to 3 different people on the assumption that they have arrived to inspect us. The inspector is the one with the clipboard. She is also the smiley one!
She tells me she has been made very welcome and what she wants to do when. She doesn’t want me here until 12:30 as she wants to spend time in all the areas, observing. Three and a half hours for me to pace the floor, fretting! I tell her I will see her later. I check the visitors book on the way out to see if I can decipher her signature – is that a ‘P’ or a ‘T’? I’m off home, 10 minutes after I arrived, to Google her! Of course I forget to sign out. Someone shouts after me, “I’ve signed you out!”
I missed breakfast. I don’t want a drink. I feel sick. My mind is going again –
“Is the latest Ofsted complaints poster up?”
“When was the last fire drill?”
“Is everyone wearing their name badges?”
I can’t stop it churning out questions and scenarios. What if? It’s going ok so far but anything could happen in the next three and half hours and I’m not there.
Laptop on, browser open and I’m on the Ofsted site. I can’t find her. I can’t find anywhere she has inspected before. Was that a ‘P’ or a ‘T’?
I call the nursery, hissing again, down the phone, “Sorry, it’s me. I know it’s only 10 minutes since I left but how’s it going?” “Fine, she’s still in preschool. They’re chopping carrots.” Chopping carrots? 3 year olds with knives being watched by an inspector? What could possibly go wrong?!
“Well, keep an eye on them.” What a ridiculous thing to say.
“When you have a moment, can you sneak a look at the visitor’s book and phone me back with her name, I think I must have written it down wrong. Call me back”
I don’t want a drink but I start to make a cup of tea anyway, and look at emails without reading them and look at the garden, newspaper headlines and the tv. “What’s taking them so long?” The phone goes.
“I can’t read it very well, I’m not sure if it’s a ‘P’ or a ‘T’.”
“Don’t worry, that’s exactly what I’ve got.”
“Slight problem with the carrots, it turns out Charlie is allergic to them. His face has swelled up. We phoned mum who said the same thing happened at nannies last week but she hadn’t told us. She said to give him antihistamine and it should start to go down in a few hours.”
“A few hours? Did the inspector see?”
“Yes. We explained what happened and what action we took. She seems happy about it. We’ve done a form”
Not even an hour in and the first casualty of the day! Will it go against us?
I’m not really sure why but I phone the bank, carpet fitters and the tree man. As an afterthought I decide that I ought to tell the local authority. “Thanks for letting us know. You’ll do fine. Tell us how it goes.”
10:30 – 2 hours until my meeting with the inspector. There’s lunch to get through yet. Will they use the jugs and let the children pour their own drinks?
I can’t really recall what I occupied my mind with but 12 o’clock came and I am headed back to the nursery, well the 2 hour parking zone round the corner then a brisk walk back to the nursery.
Deep breath and walk in. I remember to sign in but my name badge dropped off in the car.
Lunch is progressing. The inspector is pouring drinks for the children! James has tipped his water out on the table for the second time and is flicking it at his neighbour. Caroline intervenes as only she can by getting everyone to clap James for dinking so nicely. James immediately stops tipping and flicking and coyly drinks. The inspector scribbles something! Then she notices me.
“Shall we collect your manager and go through leadership and management?”
We head for the manager’s office. I am desperately trying to read between the small talk about the lovely time she has spent in each room and the evidence she has collected. It’s all good humoured but what is she thinking?
The manager is still smiling. The inspector is smiling. I’m trying to stop feeling sick.
“I see you haven’t scored yourself as Outstanding in all areas of your self evaluation form,” says the inspector, “If you don’t believe you are Outstanding, I’m not sure I can assess you as such.”
What an opening statement. What’s the right answer to that?! I think quickly, “At the time we wrote that, the manager had only just taken over. She has been in post for nearly 9 months now and we have developed significantly.”
We pass on but I’m not sure how she has taken my answer. Between us, we pass an hour or so flipping between printed documents and the computer showing policies, photographs, letters from parents; page after page of evidence. And all the time being quizzed on what we do and how we do it. None of this interrogation is unreasonable but it is tiring.
We are interrupted to be told there is a parent who would like to talk to the inspector. She goes off to meet her. “Who is it?” I hiss again. “Bella’s mum, she loves us!”
The inspector returns without commenting. We carry on wading through paperwork.
And eventually she is done with us for now and it is back out round the rooms and garden for “a bit more evidence”. I hide in the staff room, waiting for individuals to come in and give a progress report.
“So-and-so didn’t understand the question on safeguarding but thinks she managed to pull it back.”
“Our painting activity was a bit messier and noisier than expected.”
“She’s watching the garden from the upstairs window, 2 boys are whacking each other with sticks.”
Dear God, have mercy on us!
We had been told to expect feedback at 3:30.
3:30 comes and goes. I am hiding round corners listening in on safeguarding interrogations.
“What would you do if a child disclosed information to you that made you concerned for his safety?”
“Where on the body might bruises indicate possible physical abuse?”
4:30 The inspector wants to observe preschool again. Why now?
I remember my car is still in the 2 hour zone. I nip out to move it. Mercifully there is no parking ticket.
5:15 The inspector needs to talk to the baby room staff again.
5:30 We now have 15 minutes to wow her with anything else we feel would be useful. My manager pulls out more testimonials from parents.
5:45 We leave for her to deliberate and ponder the “couple of issues” she needs to consider. (What does that mean?)
5:55 We come back in and she is still scribbling, The inspection handbook is open on the desk. She finishes, turns round and declares “I’m ready.”
So this is what it comes down to, 9 hours later – one word; the overall judgement to be published and ranked alongside all others; the adjudication by which we stand or fall; the assessment that parents use to decide whether to entrust us with their children.
Get on with it!
“Firstly, I’d like to say a big thank you to your team for a most enjoyable day”
Get on with it!
“You might like to take notes as I talk as there will be 1 or 2 things for you to consider”
Uh-oh, Get on with it!
“I saw some lovely practice today, blah, blah,blah………………”
I’m not listening but finally –
“So overall I have judged you as………….…….”
And that’s it. Thank yous, usher her out of the building, don’t forget to sign her out and tell the team the outcome in confidence.
it’s time to laugh or cry but at least it’s over – for now. We have to wait several weeks for confirmation of the judgement in the report.
Here’s just one part of the saga that played out over the months from inspection through the full inspection complaints process. It’s my nature to be brief, but the facts in this case are difficult to relay and complex by nature so please bear with me.
It all stemmed from a minor injury when an 18 month old boy fell off a crate and unfortunately knocked out two of his front teeth. The teeth were still loosely attached by the gum but were past the point where they could be reattached. The incident was captured on our CCTV but at some distance, in poor quality and with no sound. The injured child was in a ratio of one to two at the time and no more than six feet from a member of staff, but that member of staff was supervising another boy on a swing and was unable to immediately stop and move to supervise the child on the crates. Immediately after the incident the child was given every possible care, our manager took him in the ambulance to A&E and waited the parent’s arrival. What was striking was how calm and unconcerned the child was. The hospital and paramedic crews commented on how little pain and distress the child was in throughout. The bleeding stopped quite quickly, and no analgesia was offered or needed. When the boy’s father arrived he was relaxed and joking, playing with his son and immediately sent our manager home.
We reported the incident to Ofsted as a minor incident, just to follow best practice and they agreed that in the circumstances this was indeed a minor incident and filed it as such. The child returned to nursery the very next working day. On his first day back at the nursery he bit two other children, and ate his meals well. So far so good.
The parents however began to put pressure on the nursery to remove the crates that had ‘caused the accident’ quoting health and safety law and that their son had been left ‘unsupervised’. Despite our very best efforts to resolve this situation including walking them through the incident and where staff had been standing at the time of the accident, allowing the parents to speak to the staff on duty at the time and giving them our best reassurances that it was an unfortunate accident nothing more. This was not enough for them – someone had to be at fault. We also explained that health and safety legislation did not apply at the nursery where the children were concerned and that we did have risk assessments for each area of the nursery. Despite their ongoing dispute they retained their child at the nursery.
Three months later the parents made a complaint to Ofsted which triggered a complaints based inspection. They removed their child immediately after the inspection, so they can’t have been that worried!
On the day of the inspection we were never given a copy of the complaint, for ‘data protection’ reasons. We immediately knew that the complaint could only have come from one set of parents as the inspector mentioned that it was because of an accident on a crate and we have only ever had one accident on a crate.
Towards the end of the inspection the inspector asked to see the CCTV footage of the incident. I showed her the footage once. At this point, and to my certain knowledge the inspector had not walked the ground where the incident took place. The video clip lasts for some 15 seconds and shows the child, a small white blob some five millimeters high moving along from left to right, then falling forward before finally disappearing behind a fence. Immediately afterwards they are picked up and comforted by one of the staff and first aid is started.
At this point the inspector said “That child could have died!”
I remember being absolutely stunned at her response, which was so far out of order as to be outrageous. I was speechless. I thought there’s something I’m not getting here, something’s not right. So I asked her if she wanted to see the video clip again. She said no, she had “seen enough” which was also shocking.
At the end of the day she proposed to downgrade us from Good to Adequate, but when pressed she couldn’t really explain why. She was really weak and practically incoherent during her debrief and summary. The next day she called us on the phone and downgraded us again to Inadequate in quite the most dismissive piece of retrospective justification I’ve ever been on the back end of.
So we draw up our first complaint and fired this off to Tribal. To our count she’s breached at least 20 of Ofsted’s inspection guidelines. There are parts of her inspection report which might as well have been from another nursery. There are whole paragraphs in the report criticising areas in the nursery she never went into including the garden where the accident took place. We tracked her route round the nursery on CCTV and she simply cannot have been in the same space! I am also convinced that there are parts of the report cut and pasted from the parent’s complaint. I recognise the writing style after so many months of email Ping-Pong. I think the end result was what we are now allowed to call a ‘flawed’ inspection. It’s not what I would call it but I’m trying to be polite, so it will have to do.
Anyway, time passes, new bookings are lost, some bills are paid, and existing parents are wonderful, supportive and brilliant. Life goes on, and the response from Tribal arrives in the post (late).
In the response from Tribal we had most of our complaints ‘partially upheld’ against the Inspector but on the crucial matters regarding our grading we were of course unsuccessful. What stunned us the most however was the core matter of the complaint regarding the accident. In the response to our complaint we discovered that our inspector had decided that the accident that triggered the complaint was ‘serious’. Why? Because the child apparently suffered ‘pain that cannot be relieved by simple pain killers’. Simple painkillers in this case would mean injected or intravenous drugs or sedatives.
Well, had the inspector asked a few basic questions about our ongoing care for the child after the accident she would have found out that we looked after him for the following three hours, took him to hospital, sat with him in A&E, discussed with the medics what pain relief he needed and spoke to the parents when he next came into nursery. The child needed no pain relief at all. I can offer no other explanation but that the inspector simply exaggerated the level of injury to retrospectively justify her downgrading of our nursery.
What is even worse is that on viewing one 15 second CCTV clip of poor quality, the Inspector has given substance to an emotive complaint from the parents who do not understand the nature of exploring risk through play and were looking for someone to blame, or seek compensation from.
I am very pleased to say that when we forensically dissected this point in our next complaint direct to Ofsted this point was upheld, common sense broke out, and the paragraph was removed from our report. However, the fact remains that we are still Inadequate, and are still losing bookings as a result.
I would like to think that the Inspector concerned has been retrained and reassessed following this incident but I’m not confident, are you?
So what do we do about that?
So what exactly are Ofsted for again?
How much do we pay Ofsted a year for this ‘service’?
If there is to be a happy ending to this tale then let it be this. Some months later the parents applied through a Freedom of Information request to view the CCTV clip of the incident. We released a heavily edited version for them to see and their reaction was reported to be:
“Oh Yes – he does that all the time”.
Thanks for your patience
This item has been published to support the concerns regarding complaints led inspections. It can be verified by the publisher but no names have been printed to protect the identity of the child and inspector. Nor have any identifying features been given such as the name of the hospital, nursery or provider.
We were inspected on 23rd August and received a ‘Good’ outcome. Three weeks later we had a brought forward inspection (we offered a child milk that was milk intolerant, we had the correct paperwork but it was overlooked on this occasion the first time in 11 years of operating)
The inspector told us at feed back, “You are a good nursery you are not inadequate and I’m going to keep you at that”. Three weeks later it was our EYIO that contacted us to tell us we were ‘Inadequate’ it had been changed at QI stage, we were flabbergasted. Our funding was stopped for new children.
We complained but it was not upheld.
Ofsted’s monitoring guidance said we should have received a monitoring visit with in 24 hrs of the actionable date because it was a welfare action and a second with in three months of the inspection. We haven’t had either.
If we don’t have an inspection by March to raise our outcome our local authority will pull all our funded children out although we still have a Good (2) for the learning element but a 4 for the management and welfare.
The nearest nursery to us is 2.4 miles away how can that possibly be in the best interests of the two year funded children?! AND 3 & 4yr old funded children – plus working parents – to have to travel with our without a car to access nursery care?
Deborah, Merseybank Nursery
- South West Region Meeting – Taunton November 19, 2018
- South West Region Meeting – Plymouth November 19, 2018
- West Midlands Steering Group Meeting 12th June 2018 October 13, 2018
- London Regional Open Meeting 11th October 2018 August 29, 2018
- North West Regional Open Meeting 9th March 2019 August 8, 2018