The #OfstedBigConversation: Consistency, transparency and easy access to information

On Friday, 50 lively people came to Marsham St, the headquarters of the London Early Years Foundation, to kick off the #OfstedBigConversation and share their time, expertise and stories. Colleagues came from as far as Worcestershire, Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex. Colleagues included childminders, nursery managers and practitioners, school teachers, local authority advisors, CEO and senior colleague of the PSLA, senior member of NDNA, trustee of NDNA and colleagues from the press.

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The tone of the meeting was good humoured, positive and constructive, and the plates of chocolate cakes and tea went down a treat.  The six facilitators were so good they earned a curlywurly each. Curly-Wurly

We stuck to the questions agreed and here are the results from the London jury, as they say on the Eurovision.

Question 1: Ofsted dual role of regulator and agent for improvement.

There is anxiety about Ofsted’s ability to be both regulator and agent of improvement. There is a trust issue and the sector is uncertain as to how Ofsted can improve standards when it’s not operating securely as a regulator.  We need to have a lead person in Ofsted with robust and credible experience, qualifications and strong knowledge of Early Years. There need to be a practitioner forum / advisory group to advise, improve and innovate with Ofsted as a collaborative process. This needs to be broad and reflect different settings and approaches and be regularly changed.  Ofsted needs to find ways to link with the local authority so that improvement is continual and constructive. Better to have a partnership approach especially for those served with notice to improve. Finally, we need accessible communication such as a central search engine.  Information and guidance is impossible to find and inhibits good relationship building.

Question 2:  Why have inspections responding to complaints over ten years old while all those inspections currently due remain incomplete?

Stop the complaints that are over ten years old now. Separate complaint initiated inspections from full inspections.  Revert to model of past when complaint were investigated separately. Complaints that have been dealt with satisfactorily should not influence the inspections unless significant. Tribal and Prospects should change inspectors if requested by settings especially when there is an obvious conflict of interest. (ex staff member returning as inspector and settings down the road inspecting yours).  Follow your own published guidelines. 

Question 3:  Quality Assurance

Make the process clear and open.  Guarantee that the QA is led by qualified and skilled people.   QA  should only be used to cover statutory issues. Be quicker it’s taking too long. Feedback to judgements should be in writing. A QA that overturns an inspection judgement should make the inspection null and void. Ensure there are no perverse incentives to inspections providers.

Question 4: Ofsted Inspectors Training and Support

Ofsted need to articulate and reflect a clear consistent pedagogical approach in all their activities.  This will mean the sector understands what Ofsted believe is good practice. This needs to be applied in all communication and guidance and so limit the frequencies of inspector’s idiosyncrasies and contradictions. Where possible nurseries would prefer inspections led by two inspectors. Tribal and Prospects are contracted by Ofsted and therefore Ofsted needs to take full responsibility for this and not blame their contractors or demand knee jerk responses when things go awry.

Question 5:  Inspection Decision and Feedback

Ofsted must address a QA process that is preventing inspectors of giving a confident outcome because QA may overturn it. Either employ inspectors trusted to collect evidence and apply their experience and common sense or abandon the inspections.  The sector has little faith when inspectors are so insecure they cannot support their judgements with conviction.  All providers should be given 7 days a cooling off period to look at the report especially when managers have been away during the inspection. They then need another 7 days when receive the final report. Verbal feedback should be given at an appropriate time to childminders.

Question 6 Complaints and Appeals

Ofsted needs to keep providers in the loop during the complaint/ appeals period. Introduce a traffic light system. The report should not be published while the appeal is in progress. Always interview the manager as part of the process. Automatically get inspectors notes. Put on the appeals panel someone who represents the sector. Insist there is a three month return after an inadequate judgement or else explain it could be a different level of concern.  Ensure we can pay to improve a satisfactory grade. Ofsted needs to examine the legal framework of malicious complaints if they are anonymous what comeback there is for providers especially when the consequences could lead to the provider going out of business.

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We ended our gathering with a glass of fizz to celebrate a good, positive and constructive meeting.  We will add our views to those of at 600 other colleagues meeting across the country.  Ofsted are listening and I was pleased to be able to read out an email from them explaining that they were following our Big Conversation and would appreciate our feedback.  They acknowledged that maybe it might be a good idea to meet practitioners. Probably, given we are awaiting the results of the FOI submitted by the Pre-School Learning Alliance and Sharon Hodgson MP and Shadow Minister has tabled questions on the same issue –  http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2013-09-12a.168492.h&s=childcare#g168492.q0
On Saturday I had my seven year old nephew for a sleepover.  He always introduces me to a good film and this time was no exception. We watched Despicable Me.  Children’s films are often the best modern satire. I thought of Ofsted as I listened to Pharrell Williams’ rap

I am having a bad, bad say

It’s about time that I get my way

Steam rolling whatever of see, huh

Despicable me 

I’m having a bad, bad day

If you take it personal that’s ok

Watch this so fun to see, huh

Despicable me