29th April – West Midlands Big Ofsted Conversation   2 comments

This blog is my PERSONAL recall of the West Midlands Big Ofsted Conversation on 29th April 2014. The ‘official’ feedback as in ‘Notes from the Meeting’ will follow later and will be put on the BOC website – once I have compared my recall with those that were taking notes on the ‘top table’

There will as usual with my blogs, be personal comment in blue which are not from the meeting and are just my views not those of anyone else involved

 

My friend and colleague Carol picked me up from my house – Carol was driving for two reasons – one, I  find chairing these sort of meetings very stressful and needed to be able to ‘chill’ on the journey –   two, I had had a hospital appointment late afternoon and all had not gone to plan, so more stress.

Anyway we chat on the way, and Carol was successful in making me laugh a couple of times.  We arrive at County Hall and make our way to the very nice Council Chambers, where a  IT man from the council was setting up the sound system – more stress – I hate sound systems – I prefer to use my ‘loud voice’  but I could see why a sound system would be needed in the huge echoing room.

We were soon joined by Cath Ellicott who is manager of Worcestershire Early Years and Childcare Service  I am very grateful for Cath’s continued support for the Big Ofsted Conversation, especially as she had arranged the venue and the refreshments.

Then the  vice chair Debbie Clarke arrived – this was our first meeting – as up to this point we had only communicated via email. So hugs and introductions – I think Debbie was even more nervous than I was, but she put on a brave face – and I have to record here, how very grateful I am to Debbie for volunteering to support me with the West Midlands BOC.

People were arriving and so I was busy for a while chatting to people and directing them to refreshments and so on. One of these discussions was with some childminders from Herefordshire – and were centred around the ratio’s for childminders from September 14.

Then I noticed that Cath was talking to someone near the ‘top table’ and I just knew that this was our Ofsted visitor – Lorna Fitzjohn who is a regional director.

So I went over and introduced myself and had a brief conversation with Lorna about the outline for the evening. However time was ticking on, and I had to start the meeting – so Debbie, Lorna, Cath and myself took our places at the Top Table.

As host, Cath opened the meeting, introduced herself, and did the ‘domestics’. Lorna, Debbie and myself also introduces ourselves – I have to admit I did use my time to mention the fact that at the first BOC that I chaired I had empathy for those going through the complaints process but did not have any direct experience – things of course  have now changed – and I now am dealing with the process myself. I mentioned how stressful it all is – especially for childminders who work alone or volunteers on a pre school committee, who are …..well volunteers. I mentioned how I am not sleeping, how I have lost weight and how the impact on my health and my family life is huge.

I then explained that we would be working our way through the agenda – which was based on the national agenda, and that we would be having brief discussion time and then feedback – with Lorna  giving the Ofsted viewpoint.

 

We did wander off the agenda points at various times during the meeting, but as the discussion were all related to the overall objectives of the BOC – and indeed many of them were on the agenda further on, I felt as Chair that I could be flexible with the agenda.

A lot of people had comments to make about the issue of malicious complaints and the resulting brought forward inspections, and reports. Although those in the room were not supposed to give personal stories, and kept to that on the whole – I am very pleased to report that Lorna did pick up on a few issues and asked those concerned to ‘have a word’ with her during the break. I know Lorna took some details, and I am sure she will look into those issues.

So on complaints and brought forward inspections and reports – this is my recall. However it should be noted that sometimes several things were being said at once and my attention was naturally focussed on anything that related to my personal inspection experience and to anything related to childminding – although I did my best to remain fully attentive to all issues which as a Chair I should do.

Time takes for reports to be issued – The agenda mentioned some waiting for 12 weeks – someone in the room reported a wait of 21 weeks – this is one of the issues Lorna asked for details about and said that should not happen.

Publishing of reports while a complaint still ongoing – Many were unhappy about this and felt that it did impact on the judgement about the setting that  parents and other professionals would make.

However Lorna was said that to delay publishing reports would lead to more people putting in an complaint – just to delay a report being published — and that in extreme circumstances this delay could then be months even years, and so it was not appropriate to delay publishing the report.

Someone suggested that Ofsted could put a statement on their website to say something on the lines that the report was under appeal. Lorna said she would take that idea forward.

Personal comments (and not raised in the meeting) are that; I had not considered the point raised by Lorna – and I can see the problems this might cause, especially considering the time frame for complaints. So maybe consideration need to made to the time frame of complaints so that the whole process could be made quicker. Also maybe consideration needs to be given as to how complaints are dealt with – for example; Why is it an internal investigation? Why can’t settings send in supporting documents? Why can’t setting pay for an independent person or be provided with an independent person to visit the setting to check out some aspects of their complaint about an inspection or report. For example in my own personal situation, the inspector has said she could see the outdoor activities from her position inside – this is a physical impossibility and so it would only take a very short visit from an independent person to visit, sit where the inspector sat and write a report to say that the inspectors statement was not factually correct. 

Paying for a re inspection People wanted to know when they would be able to pay for another inspection and what would the cost be. Lorna explained that this issue needed to be decided on at higher levels, but that it needed careful consideration to ensure such a service was accessible by all. Lorna pointed out that the cost of a re inspection for a childminder could be around £800 which might mean it was not an option for all. She also pointed out that the resulting grade from such inspection could be lower as well as higher than the one being contested.

Personal comments First not all complaints are about the grade, but are more to do process and principles of good practice and honesty. Second, if it is your setting that has been unfairly judged and it has the potential to impact on business, staff moral and well being, to cause stress and extra workload – then I would be more than happy to pay for a re inspection by a HMI. Also if settings were able to pay for a re inspection then I am sure there could be a social fund set up for this where everyone paid say £1 a week or month into the fund – and as a contributor could then use the fund to cover the cost of re inspection. 

Letter to confirm unfounded I raised a point about why when a compliance officer came out and gave a verbal unfounded – there was not a letter to follow this, so that the setting had something ‘official’ to put in their complaints log. I pointed out that when showing parents including prospective parents the complaints log it appeared that the complaint was not closed because all it had was a provider statement saying that it was unfounded. Lorna said that she would take this suggestion back.

Inconsistencies There were a lot of comments about inconsistencies around what happens when there is a complaint made against a setting – and cases of settings self reporting a safeguarding issue – and still getting a brought forward inspection.

Some people had had an inspection company inspector do an unannounced visit and full inspection there and then. Some had had a compliance inspector out who had JUST investigated the complaint and this had been followed by a 30 day inspection. Some had had a compliance inspector out who had done a full inspection.

Lorna made it very clear – and I am sure that everyone agreed that complaints must be investigated. Lorna took the time to explain the changes which are coming in with regard to complaints and how Ofsted deal with them – hopefully this will lead to a fairer system.

Personal comment I am sure this has something to do with the nature of the complaint and the seriousness of the complaint – and if a compliance inspector comes out what she or he finds. Certainly in my case the complaint was so serious – if proved founded – that I am sure I would have been closed down – there and then. As it was the compliance inspector said verbally that it was unfounded. Personally I would have preferred a full inspection there and then – if needed, to all the waiting and stress that the full inspection would not be fair just because it was a brought forward inspection. Having said that surely there is scope to set up a ‘special brought forward inspection’ to be carried out by a compliance inspector at the same time. I would have thought this would be much more cost effective, and need not be a full blown inspection especially if the setting had a track record of maintaining the statutory requirements and good / outstanding practice. But as I say if a full investigation is needed – I would prefer it there and then – and on a judgement made on the day. I also think that 30 day inspections give time for those who are not always ‘ready for inspection’ to do a lot of ‘putting the setting in order’ work. Surely not ‘right’ and surely not really investigating facts about everyday practice?

Wording in reports A lot of people were unhappy about the wording in their reports and about recommendations that had been set – as in not being a honest record of events and inconsistencies in recommendations. People were responding to Lorna with comments such as ‘I am sorry but ……. ‘ and giving details of what actually had taken place – from their view point of course – and I can not comment – and neither could Lorna as neither of us were present.

Personal comment Lorna did mention that most complaints about inspections were not upheld – I think this needs looking into – as I can confirm going through the complaint process is not easy, it involves a lot of extra work and a huge amount of stress – I personally don’t think any setting would put in a complaint unless they felt very strongly that they had not had a fair inspection. I also know from the peer support that I provide that many people – especially childminders do not put in complaints because of the stress and because of ‘word on the street’ that it is a waste of time. If I was Ofsted I would be concerned about this.

Research Based Evidence There was discussion about using research within Ofsted – and Lorna wanted to point out that this was the case – and mentioned the first ever Ofsted separate Early Years Report – and the evidence based on inspections based evidence. 

Personal comment In theory this is fine and good practice, but in my opinion the Ofsted report contradicts itself, is not clear about what it wants and gives mixed messages, I certainly do not think the drive to get two year olds into school based settings is right and the support (money) needs to be focussed on family support WHERE IT IS NEEDED and giving children the opportunity to be children and to developed at their own rate – and certainly not tested and pushed in to formal learning at 2, 3 or 4. However I won’t go on and I think this blogsite contains enough blogs about my personal view on this. 

The other problem I have is about using inspection evidence – this is also fine in theory – but if the inspection evidence is damaged by a small but significant number of poor judgements or unprofessional judgements then the whole inspection based data has to be questioned. 

I understand fully that Lorna cannot comment on individual cases, but I hope she has taken back to Ofsted that there were 65 people in the room – and nearly all of them had given up their time, and some of them travelled a long way because they do have what they consider to be a justified concern about their inspection / report. I hope that she asks some questions and maybe gets some one to sample a few and to get in contact with those settings – certainly I would personally welcome being part of a sampling process, from a questionnaire to a phone call right through to a  full inspection.

Inspectors Guidance There was also discussion about inspectors not following the guidance given to inspectors as made available to everyone via the Ofsted website. People including myself had referenced their complaint to these guidance documents – and like me had been told that they were only guidance documents and inspectors did not have to follow them. Lorna agreed this was the case and explained why it was good practice for inspectors to use their professional judgements about what evidence they needed to see , what they should do in terms of inspection activities. 

Personal comment I hope Ofsted take the time to look at the inspectors guidance notes and the wording used. I am referring to the use of the words ‘must’ and ‘should’ because when practitioners see those words they assume that it means just that – ‘must’ and ‘should’ – much as it does in guidance documents for settings.  My other comment is – if the documents can not be referenced to in complaints because the are only guidance what do settings use to justify their complaint – because all that seems left is a difference between their professional judgement of an inspection and the inspectors professional judgement – or even a difference if personal opinion about these things. How can that be right – however it does explain – in my opinion why so many complaints about inspections are not upheld.

Childminding Agencies There were also a lot of questions about childminding agencies, Ofsted fees for both agency childminders and non agency childminders, about the fees the agencies might charge and what you might get for that fee. Lorna explained very carefully that those childminders who remained with Ofsted – the fee has been held at £35 for the next year – but pointed out that it might not continue to be held at this level. She also stressed how important it was that any childminder considering using a childminding agencies did some detail research and comparisons. She further explained that Ofsted do not have input into childminding agencies – they just have the job of registration and inspection of agencies and ensuring that the quality was right. She mentioned that some of the questions asked should be directed at the Early Years Minister Elizabeth Truss.

Personal comment If I get the opportunity I will ask the Minister these questions – again. However I think on the issue of agencies and my personal views – there is ample comment from me on this blogsite and elsewhere.

There were other discussions for example;

around why Children’s Centre’s have two inspections – Lorna thought that there was good reason for this – and that on the whole she thought Children’s Centre’s prefered two seperate inspections

around the nominated person and difficulties caused if this person was ill or on holiday – Lorna said it was just a case of proper delegation

around the time given to settings to respond about factually incorrect information in reports. I said that if a provider is not in to sign for the letter containing the draft report, and it got took back to the sorting office, then it may be days before the letter could be collected, or if in a group setting it had to be shared with others for discussion and agreement – it could again be days before this could happen. Lorna agree this could cause difficulties but that a short turn round was needed.

 

As I said sat the beginning of this blog this is a personal recall – I did not take notes and my personal interests and experiences have, with a doubt  impacted on my recall.

The full ‘official’ notes from the meeting will be put on the BOC website in due course.

In the meantime – to ensure a balanced view is presented, those present at the West Midlands BOC meeting on 29th April 2014 – are very welcome to leave a comment here with either their personal recall or if they found the meeting useful or not.

Before I conclude, I need to mention that 4 setting have come forward to start the formation of the sub committee – which means of course with Debbie and myself we now have 6 settings represented (well more really as some of those volunteering have more than one setting and in different areas).

The next sub committee meeting will be in the Walsall area and we plan to move the meetings around the West Midlands to ensure accessibility to all for at least some of the meetings, and to help spread the cost of hosting the meeting. If anyone is interested in joining the sub committee please get in touch – not all areas of West Midlands are represented yet and we also need to ensure all types of Early Years are represented .

Big open meetings will be held as and when required and will depend on what unfolds next

Finally of course I need to thank Lorna for giving her time (including the time to travel a long distance to attend) for being open, honest and approachable – I very much hope the conversation with Ofsted continues. In fact I know it will as Lorna has provided me (as Chair of the West Midlands BOC group) 2 direct email addresses for Ofsted staff to ensure the conversation does continue. THANK YOU LORNA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 responses to “29th April – West Midlands Big Ofsted Conversation

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  1. Thanks as ever Penny for a very informative account. Kay

  2. Pingback: West Midlands Ofsted Big Conversation continues on 17th September 2016 | Penny's Place Childminding

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