Minutes of meeting with Ofsted
– 7th March 2014 at Ofsted’s offices, Store Street, Manchester
- Jo Morgan – Regional Director North West (JM)
- Kath Townsley – Senior HMI (KT)
NW Steering group #OfstedBigConversation
- Jennie Johnson – CEO, Kids Allowed
- Andrew Clifford – MD, First Class Childcare Group
- Jo Kinloch – Director, Mulberry Bush Nurseries
- Clair Beswick – Owner, Shining Stars Nursery
- Susan McGhee – Director, Bertram Nursery Group
- Rachel Buckler – Children¡¦s Centre Service Manager, Salford Children¡¦s Services
- Sarah Neville – Child-minder, Knutsford (SN)
- Elaine Sagar – Director Graton House Prep School and Nursery
- Complaint triggered inspections – KT confirmed that Ofsted will be shortly issuing new guidance confirming that there will no longer automatically be an inspection as a result of every serious complaint. We sought clarity to understand if investigating complaints was now a separate issue to inspections (i.e. would inspectors visit to investigate a complaint and never proceed that day to a full inspection) and although KT could not confirm 100% as she too was awaiting the guidance that was her understanding. It will depend on what the investigation visit finds, as to whether an inspection is then triggered and the urgency of that inspection. We await formal confirmation of this and also the detail.We sought confirmation of whether the change had come about as a result of the work of the ¡§Ofsted Big Conversation¡¨ and others, and were pleased that KT acknowledged that, yes; they had listened and responded to the voice of the sector. KT said the change had not been because Ofsted could not continue to carry out the number of inspections; the change was as a direct result of the feedback from the sector.
- Ofsted’s role of Improvement (as well as inspection) – KT explained that Ofsted’s approach to quality improvement will be through resources and workshops delivered around the county. It was also acknowledged that the priority will be improving “inadequate” and “requires improvement” setting and that Good and Outstanding settings will not be receiving specific support at this time (for example, to get from good to Outstanding or to retain outstanding). A thought expressed by Ofsted was that good and Outstanding.Providers may be asked to support and mentor others in the sector. We had a detailed conversation about the role of local authorities in improvement, and there was recognition that there is very little funding for them to be involved with settings in the way they has been in the past.SN asked why there has been a split between childminders and nurseries within Ofsted as childminders had fought hard to be treated the same. KT confirmed that lower down the structure this was the case, but that they all reported to KT and JM so there is overall consistency.
- Inspections outcomes – JM confirmed that Ofsted make no apology for looking to raise standards in the sector. The OBC group confirmed that we are in complete agreement with that aim and the ethos behind the OBC is motivated “not motivated by sour grapes” or dissatisfied individual providers, and that indeed many of those sat around the table had outstanding settings. The issue the OBC group stressed (with examples) was the inconsistency of inspection.KT acknowledged that they have some issues with the quality of some inspectors and that improving the training of inspectors was one of the biggest challenges Ofsted face. Although it is clear Ofsted are looking to provide further training to their inspectors, this remains one of the biggest issues for OBC. At our previous meeting KT has mentioned that “there are a lot of myths around inspections” and we were able to confirm (with specific examples from our group alone) that they are not myths and that these examples of appalling practice by inspectors are happening on a regular basis.There was also acknowledgment from OBC group that we have all had experience of great inspectors who really know their stuff, put our teams at ease and give a sound judgement with good reasons. We all acknowledged that during these inspections, even if we are given grades which are not as we might have hoped for, we are all able to get on board with them as the reasons are made clear and the explanations make sense. It is when unjust outcomes are given with little feedback or justification that there is huge concern.
- Complaint process against Ofsted – The team cited that given that 99.6% (as per the FOI request) of complaints do not have their complaint upheld then the existing complaints system is fundamentally flawed and not fit for purpose. JM acknowledged this was an issue.We stated that we will continue periodically (at least yearly) to request updated FOI statistics about this and that if we do not see a significant shift to a fairer percentage of the sectors complaints being upheld, then we will look to pursue other avenues to ensure this is addressed.We discussed that we feel that providers are being subject to the “perfect storm” at the moment. I.e. we are open to inspection at any time – even if the complaints about us are made maliciously and there is extreme variation in the quality of inspectors which makes us vulnerable to an unfair outcome. If the worst happened and we need to complain, we do not get a fair hearing. The OBC group made it clear that until this changes we will not be silenced on this matter.
- Discussion of Minor issues resulting in inadequate outcomes despite overall good and outstanding practice – examples were discussed and there seem to be acknowledging that this is not how Ofsted would like inspections to be carried out, the examples we raised gave both KT and JM cause for concern. We also gave example of how providers are now nervous of reporting issues themselves and think long and hard about if they are required to do so before they do. Gone are the days when providers self reported and kept Ofsted well informed. The fear of triggering your own inspection has closed the communication loop to what is essential only.An example was also given of how providers found themselves considering whether or not to pass on a safeguarding concern to social services because they knew the parent of the child would complain to Ofsted about them. In the past, that would have been easily dealt with through Ofsted looking into the complaint and finding there was nothing to it, however, now that a full inspection can be triggered, even with malicious complaints, sometimes it is easier to do nothing and not lay yourself open to inspection. The provider confirmed they did the right thing and made the referral, but wanted Ofsted to understand that perversely, rather than this new “robust” regime improving child safety, it is doing just the opposite. JM acknowledge this issue and the perverse day to day reality for providers as one of the most compelling and worrying things she had heard at the meeting.
- Quality assurance process – we raised concerns about how unfair it is that grades can change after the inspection day during the QA process. KT and JM acknowledged that this is VERY unusual and that most grades stand, although we had a firsthand example within the OBC group where this had happened.KT and JM confirmed that sometimes the grade changes because the inspector did not get enough evidence on the day of practice justifying the proposed grade to satisfy the QA process. We expressed our astonishment at the unfairness of this and ask why after the fact, if more evidence was needed it could simply just not be asked for and a further visit made if necessary. KT & JM seemed to understand our concern in this regard we look forward to hearing more about how they can allay our concerns in this area.In addition so that we have a base line for the statistics around this, we will request a FOI (probably via preschool Learning Alliance) around the percentage of grades that get changed during the AQ process, both upwards and downwards. This will establish if it is indeed very rare as we have many examples of this happening in our network.
- By this stage we were running out of time, so a brief summary was given about the following additional topics for further consideration outside the meeting and at the next meeting:
- Notifiable event – we asked for clarification of what makes a ¡§notifiable event¡¨ and gave example of the impact of not having clarity around this;
- Right to inspect? – we asked that if an inspector arrives and when asked says (for example) “you can’t get outstanding on this inspection” which is completely against Ofsted’s guidance, and should not be happening, can we ask the inspector to leave as they do not know their role properly and require retraining. KT and JM were unable to confirm that we could ask them to leave and reminded us of Ofsted’s legal right of entry (to both business and childminder’s homes), so anyone taking this action, would do so at their own risk. However, they did suggest that an immediate call should be made to Ofsted by the provider stating their concerns and looking for guidance. We stressed that the idea of letting an inspector carry on when they can do such reputational damage to your business and livelihood of all your employees was not acceptable.
- Conflict of interest – We proposed that there is a conflict of interest with the commercial arrangement with the 3rd Parties that to whom the inspection contracts are outsourced. They confirmed that this process was going back out to tender soon. We stressed that we hoped lessons would be learned so that there were no perverse incentives for 3rd parties to give low grades so that they had to inspect more as they were paid “by inspection”
It was agreed that Ofsted would consider all the points raised and OBC group also confirmed that they had found the meeting really useful to raise concerns and discuss the issues. However, we also pointed out that this process would only work if real and tangible action was taken from the issues we raised. We cited the change in complaint triggered inspections as an example of the power of dialogue and confirmed that as long as we felt momentum, then we would carry on this mutual dialogue.
We did also point out that there are others within the sector who would prefer a more direct approach and that direct action was being discussed in the sector (for example, all complaining on the same day to cause chaos to the Ofsted systems, legal class actions etc)) and that in order to bring these dissatisfied people on board, we needed to point out that these meetings are resulting in change and in the sector’s voice being heard
KT agreed to attend the next full OBC NW meeting on 17th May in Manchester
We agreed that the steering group would meet with KT and JM once a quarter.
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