Dear Ofsted, childminders would like your support...

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A letter from Ofsted registered childminders given to Ofsted at a meeting inspired by the Ofsted Big Conversation - #OfstedBigConversation: Home.

This letter has been written by Sarah Neville / Knutsford Childminding with input from childminders across the country.

10th January 2014

Dear Ofsted

I know that I will be one of many early years providers attending this meeting today, so I have written this letter for you, which can be taken away and read at your leisure.

I explained to childminders from across the country that I was attending this meeting and asked if they had any comments or feedback I could take to Ofsted on their behalf. I was overwhelmed with messages from childminders who asked me to share their concerns.

We have already written a letter to Ofsted in September 2013 which Pre-school Learning Alliance CEO Neil Leitch kindly gave to Sue Gregory on our behalf. The letter is contained within this blog if you have not seen it and would like to read further -

We have also sent a further letter to Ofsted asking for clarification about a number of issues which concern us about how we will be registered and inspected in the future. I have attached a copy to this letter for you.

However, we have not had any feedback from either letter and childminders across the country continue to be concerned about a number of issues which directly affect our day-to-day lives.

Childminders have asked me to raise the following issues so that we can continue to positively engage with Ofsted and hopefully make a difference for the future –

• Inconsistency and unpredictability during inspections is of concern to most childminders. Some inspectors will note the smallest things while others will ignore them and see the bigger picture. Childminder provision is very different from nurseries and pre-schools. We are working from our homes and deliver both care and early education to a range of children of different ages and we feel strongly that this should be valued by inspectors. We ask that inspectors who deal with childminders are fully trained to recognise the unique care and learning we offer.
This simple step will clear up a lot of the inconsistencies we are reporting.

• Many childminders do not feel that Ofsted communicate with them well. As more local authority support networks are disbanded to prepare for the agencies we do not want to join, information is fragmented and mostly only available to childminders who can access the internet. Many childminders do not have regular access to computers and are missing out on vital updates.

• Childminders should be able to look forward to their inspections, knowing that what they are doing well will be praised and that constructive, fair advice will be given to move them forward. However, the current climate of fear and inconsistency is leading childminders to dread the Ofsted phone call or knock on the door. This should not be the case. Childminders have been reassured by DfE that we will be able to remain Ofsted registered in the future and the majority of us do not want to join agencies, but many feel that we are being pushed down the agency route by Ofsted’s inconsistency and the inequity that is often reported to happen during many inspections.

• Ofsted state that paperwork is no longer the focus of inspections, yet we have childminders who are downgraded for not having specific written risk assessments, evidence of sharing with other settings when (despite our best efforts) they simply will not engage with us, copies of children’s birth certificates (which is not a legal requirement), liaison with other agencies when we cannot (again despite our best efforts) get parents permission to share information with them and many more instances of lack of clarity.
We need Ofsted to clearly tell us what they want us to do – what exactly do you want to see? Then we can show inspectors their own document and argue our case more confidently if we feel we have been unfairly treated.

• The majority of childminders are professionals and we ask that Ofsted recognise us as different to day nurseries and pre-schools. We take children on school runs and teach them about the environment, weather conditions, colours of cars etc – we do not want to be in our homes all day delivering formal ‘teaching’ because we recognise the value of a varied and holistic curriculum which includes going shopping, taking children to visit friends etc.
We ask that Ofsted inspectors value this difference, put their wellies on and come with us on outings, inspect us in the garden (too many sit by the radiator with their laptops) and inspect us accordingly.

• Inspections following complaints are of great concern to childminders. When complaints / allegations are proven to be malicious or untrue, they should have no bearing on the grading the childminder receives. A lot of our colleagues have been downgraded during these inspections and feel that Ofsted inspectors are trying to justify the visit. Similarly, some inspectors tell childminders that they do not grade higher than ‘requires improvement’ at first inspection, even though Ofsted say this is not their policy if evidence of ‘good’ can be provided.
We ask that Ofsted look carefully at their procedures and train their inspectors to understand the impact downgrading a childminder will have on their business, sustainability, ability to access local support networks and funded sessions etc and bear this in mind before automatically downgrading them because a complaint has been made against them.

• Despite Ofsted saying it is not happening, we know that more and more childminders are receiving ‘just passing’ inspections. We understand that document 120087 ‘Conducting early years inspections’ states that ‘Childminders … will usually receive a call no more than five days before the inspection to check which days they are operating’, however, this is unsettling many providers. It should also be recognised that we work on our own and do not have members of staff available to speak to the inspector, work with the children and gather evidence together for the inspector. Added to this, many childminders care for children who do not function well in group settings because they cannot cope with uncertainty, unexpected visitors, less attention etc and who need to be carefully prepared before inspection – which can happen if we are given some notice.
Ofsted need to tell us if there is a new ‘just passing’ policy – at least then we will be able to prepare ourselves and the children for an unannounced knock on the door.

• We recognise that most newly registering childminders do not normally have the embedded evidence to gain a high first inspection grade and we know that this is clarified in document 120087 ‘Conducting early years inspections’ point 87. However, over the following year with hard work and dedication their provision can improve dramatically – yet there are thousands of childminders who are continuing to struggle to remain sustainable with a historic ‘satisfactory’ grade for 3 – 4 years. This impacts on the ways parents perceive the care and learning they offer and is something many feel might be resolved by offering them an earlier second inspection.

• We understand that the Department for Education wrote the EYFS 2012 and that Ofsted are no longer responsible for granting us variations / exceptions. However, this is an area of great concern to a lot of childminders who do not want to work illegally but find it very difficult to get help. Ofsted refers them to the requirements (they would not be ringing Ofsted if they understood the requirements) and to their Local Authorities - most of which have now been dismantled. Personal interpretation often leads to mistakes being made and childminders being downgraded for something which could have been easily resolved by Ofsted.

Thank you very much for reading our comments and suggestions for the future. We are more than happy to engage with you so that we can work towards a more successful Ofsted – childminder relationship.

If you would like me to request further clarification from childminders about any of the points we have raised, please do not hesitate to ask me. We look forward to hearing your feedback.

Best regards,

Sarah Neville / Ofsted registered independent childminder
Knutsford Childminding
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