Archive for May 2014

Early Education Conference – Friday 9th May 2014 – my recall – and my ramblings about various things   Leave a comment

Although  readers of this blog will be aware that I am a member of all the organisations that represent childminders (Pacey, Pre school Learning Alliance, ICM-SE and UKCMA) , I am not sure if people realise that I am also a member of Early Education.

Details about Early Education can be found HERE

I can hear some saying – Why would a childminder like you Penny want to be a member of Early Education? They  are all about Nursery Schools – maintained nursery schools at that – so why would a childminder want to be a member? What is the point?

Well the point is – There is a lot more to Early Education than just their historic position of being about nursery schools. For a start I am not the only childminder member – there a few childminder members – not a lot at the moment but as word gets out about what Early Education can offer childminder members – I expect that number to increase.

It is true that many of the members are still connected to maintained nursery schools -but many are not and come from a range of early years professional backgrounds. Early Education also produce a range of excellent publications and have a pool of early years trainers – and as a childminder these are of interest to me.

However, I personally feel that as a childminder, I  have a lot that I can share with  those other early years professionals that are members of Early Education,  and there is a lot they can share with me.

I believe that it is through these open and honest discussions that we can unite as a sector and more fully understand our similarities and indeed our differences.

I believe that by being a member, I have raised awareness of registered childminders – and a small difference that I have noticed but one that is very important – is that at last years Early Education conference, I blogged about how the words such as – School, head, teacher and class were used a lot – but this year – although of course still mentioned when in the right context, the words used most frequently were setting, practitioner and provider – and the word childminder was used a few times.

Another difference between last year and this years conference is that other members are aware of who I am – and that I am a member. They know I am a childminder, some of them mentioned my blog – and all of them treated me as an equal colleague – where as last year some where not sure about me, or about childminding – after all I was the ‘new girl’

Of course I can not say if these changes would  have happened anyway – even if I was not a member, but if I have personally made a difference or if I haven’t,  these small but significant changes have to be a good thing.

I think that – as with all things it is lack of knowledge that leads to misunderstanding – and even fear about others who are not the ‘same’ as you personally – and this is indeed true within the early years sector.

And certainly applies to organisations who are starting to welcome childminder members but who are not sure about these new members and how they will ‘fit in’- and to childminders who think Early Education and other organisations are not suitable or appropriate for childminders to join.

Linked to this is another issue, I have personally seen, which is the passion that each and every profession within early years have about  their chosen profession, which leads to the view that their provision – is the best – in that it will provide the most opportunities and best outcomes for children. Understandable but not based on facts as one size does not fit all.

Actually – I have never thought this, because I believe all children – and all families are different, so what is ‘right’ for one child, or one family will not be ‘right’ for another child or family. Within my own practice, I always say, and have always said to parents viewing my setting, that they should go and view not only other childminder settings but also nursery settings. The reason being they need to look at all options before they are able to make an informed decision.

I certainly do not want parents choosing my setting because I am the first they see, or the cheapest or the nearest to their home – because although those considerations are important – the well being of their child is more important, the setting has to be ‘right’ for the child and family – and the child and family have to be ‘right’ for the setting.

It is, I suppose because of my own ethos, that I have always tried to work in partnership with my colleagues from other types of early years settings. It is why, I have volunteered for the Pre school Learning Alliance for many years; why I sit on the PVI consultation group within my local authority; Why I have in the past been involved in providing training and quality assurance assessment for all type of early years settings.

Ah – I hear my childminding colleagues say – but you are rather unique Penny in your views and your ethos; in your past employment and so on – what about the rest of us?

Good question – and one on which a discussion with Beatrice Merrick – who is the Chief Executive of Early Education – was based during the Friday evening event of the conference. We discussed what Early Education have to offer childminders; how we could all work together to ensure that parents have choice in the future; and how we could help ensure every child has access to the  early years setting that is ‘right’ for them and their family. What both Beatrice and I were clear about, is that we do not want one type of early years setting to be dominant, or to be perceived as ‘best for all’.

Beatrice indicated that she wanted to continue the discussion in the future, and I have indicated that I would personally like to be involved in those discussions.

However, that does not really answer the question – what does Early Education have to offer childminders? Actually I can’t answer that because I don’t know what people want or need personally. However – as we all know if you don’t bother to look or to find out – you will never know if something will meet your personal needs. So take a look – and keep on looking – as in the future things will develop/ change / be added to.

And before I leave this subject – Beatrice made it very clear to me that Early Education do not want to compete with Pacey or Pre school Learning Alliance or the other organisations, as those organisations are doing a good job and have many years of experience and expertise in supporting childminders and in providing information and services.

Instead Early Education want to be more inclusive and to ensure the services and information that they provide are suitable and accessible to all – including childminders. Which is fine with me – it is all about choice and being able to access the services that are ‘right’ for us personally. And this fits in with my ethos and my personal experience as a member of many organisations – they are all different, they all have their own identity – and I find they all have something to offer me; that all welcome me;  and that all are happy that I belong to so many organisations and further that all are happy that I have my own personal ‘favourite’ organisation.

Enough of my ramblings – time to get on with the reason for this blog

Information about the National Conference 2014  CLICK HERE

 

My journey to the Early Education conference  stated late Friday morning, as my husband Garry  (known on this blog as Mr.Penny’s Place) set off to catch the train to Birmingham from our home town of Kidderminster. Garry does not usually join me for conference trips (or campaigning ones come to that) but he was interested in visiting Edinburgh – and so we decided to make it a mini break, as well as part of my CPD.

We arrived in Birmingham in plenty of time, did a bit of window shopping and grabbed some lunch – not that I ate much, as still in a state of stress in relation to my complaint about my recent inspection, and finding eating difficult. We caught the 2.15pm train to Edinburgh from New Street on time  – which was as well as the timings were not perfect and the train was due into Edinburgh at 6.28 –  giving just 2 minutes for me to get from train station to the venue of the first event of the conference which started at 6:30 pm.

The journey went fairly smoothly apart from a delay of 40 mins due to the train driver needing to have his scheduled break. What had happened was the driver had just completed a journey on another train – which was delayed – and so the driver had not had his break before he was due to take over from the first driver on our train to Edinburgh. Understandable – but very, very frustrating for me – as this meant I would be 40 mins late for an event which only lasted 1.5 hours.

We arrived in Edinburgh at the announced ‘late’ time – and unusually for me – we hailed a taxi – as my event had already started. The taxi driver dropped me off in the Royal Mile, and then took Garry and the suitcases on to the hotel. It actually was not a very long journey as everything is within walking distance – but sometimes you just don’t have time to walk!

So almost there – but I had a problem – the taxi driver had dropped me near to where I need to be – or so I thought! What I did not know was that – the number of the buildings does not follow a logical order – and the building number that I wanted was not in the locality of where I had been dropped! So rather a quick trot up and down the street with no luck – and I had to go and ask someone. Pointed in the right direction, I located the building that I wanted – which was The Patrick Geddes Centre for Learning and Conservation. You can read more about the centre and the plans for the future of the building and centre HERE

I was warmly greeted by the hosts – the Edinburgh branch of Early Education. They gave me food and drink – most welcome – although I hardly touch it – not that it was not nice but as mentioned before stress is making me ill and I just can’t eat.

I stood in the doorway to listen to last bit of the talk about Patrick Geddes – a talk I had really wanted to hear. The bit I did hear was very interesting – and so I have since looked on the internet to find out a bit more about this man. and his work. You can also find out a little bit more by  CLICKING HERE

As I listened to the end of the talk I was struck by the similarities to my personal ethos about children and learning – particularly the ‘Hand, Heart – Head’ principle’ – which is what I think – and in my opinion Geddes was right – that is the right order.

There will more more about Geddes later on in this blog because as I am writting this blog after the end of the conference – I know that Sunday morning was very much linked to Geddes – but you are going to have to wait to find out more until I reach that point of  my recall.

Getting back to Friday evening – after the talk there was abreak so people could top up their glasses and their plates.

I was spotted by Helen Moylett – who is the president of Early Education – and who I now know quite well due to my attendance at Early Education events, training that Worcestershire have commissioned which Helen has provided – and Helen’s personal interest in my campaigning. We spent a few minutes chatting but then had to take our seats as the second performance of  some  Scottish dancing by local children was about to start. I had of course missed the first performance and so was particularly keen to see this second performance – I was not disappointed. As someone who ‘owns’ feet and hands that are not coordinated and that often refuse to do what my brain is asking them to do – I could only marvel at the skills of these young girls. At the end of their performance they received a well deserved heart felt round of applause – and received certificates to acknowledge their contribution to the evening.

There was then chance to network and to go upstairs to view the rather spectacular ceiling. I chatted to some nursery professionals who have a very similar family based ethos to my own, before going to look at the ceiling – and it was under this superb piece of history and art, that I had the afore mentioned chat with Beatrice Merrick.

By then the evening event was coming to a close – and so I said my farewells, phoned Mr. Penny’s Place – who met me part way down the Royal Mile – and showed me the way to the hotel – stopping off to buy me a cream cake – which I didn’t eat (friends who know me well – will be shocked at this information – as I am not known for leaving cake, and especially not cream cake!)

I had originally planned that we would go out later to walk the Royal Mile and visit some of the pubs – but Mr. Penny’s Place had already walked a fair bit as he had taken opportunity while I was at the evening event, to take his camera for a walk along the Royal Mile – and so did not want to go out for another walk – and so as we were both tired from the long journey, we turned in for the night – where Mr. Penny’s Place slept well – and I did not.

As it is now midnight on the evening of 11th May and I did not get home from Edinburgh until 10 30pm – and I have been finishing of this Part One of my recall (which I started this morning) since getting home – I will end now, publish this – and write part two another day – about the 10th May and the actual conference – however please be patient as it maybe a day or two before I find the time to continue my recall.

 

 

WALL – HEAD – BANG, not literally of course but ….   2 comments

…….my feelings of frustration and sheer disbelief at the response from Ofsted into the investigation of my complaint against Prospects investigation of my complaint about the inspection they carried out (bit of a mouthful) can be described in these terms – ie a pointless exercise.

 

First, I must acknowledge the very quick response from Ofsted, and I am grateful for this as it has reduced the amount of time that I have had to wait and therefore fret about the outcome.

However now that I have read the response three times – and note that some aspects of my complaint  are being up held – I am back to fretting and my stress levels have increased to new high levels.

 

Why you might ask – surely is is very positive that part of your complaint has been up held?

Well yes, and no !

Yes, because it means that the investigation did consider my complaint

No, because the fact that they upheld some aspects makes my whole point that the inspector did not gather sufficient evidence to make her judgement even more valid.

I will explain; (text from report in bold)

On page 2, it says;

The inspection tool kit does not allow more than one date to be entered and as the inspection took place on both days , either is equally accurate and the different dates do not affect the validity of the inspection

I accept this as a fact – I am still not happy that my report has a different date to my co minders as it is very confusing to parents – and I still say whatever date was entered should be the same for both of us. However I do accept that because the inspector entered different dates that nothing can be done about it.

It continues on page 2;

You state that as an inspector is required to read an online self evaluation form, she should have considered evidence of self evaluation in your blog. The original response letter explained that the inspector discussed your blog with you but could not access it before the inspection. There is no requirement for inspectors to search providers blogs for evidence of self evaluation. However, during the inspection, you provided enough evidence of how you reflect on and develop your practice to support the ‘good’ judgement that was awarded

For a start the inspector is confusing my blog and my setting website. I mentioned my website at the end of the inspection on 25th Feb – when the inspector asked if I had a website – I told her I did –  but apart from me saying that I did not have policies and procedures on there, we did not discuss it. And it does suggest in the inspectors guidance that they check to see if there is a setting website – however asking about this towards the end of an inspection is not helpful to gather evidence and certainly would have prevented the inspector viewing before the inspection as she did not know about it.

As to my blog – we did not discuss this in relation to reflective practice – if we had, I would have evidence about the national training and conferences that I attend and that I disseminate and reflect on  through my blogs. I would have pointed out the printed pages from my blogs that are in the setting. The inspector did not look at any documentation in relation to my reflective practice – including the staff communication book where daily reflection is recorded, the weekly newsletters where this reflection and resulting changes to practice or purchasing of resources is shared with parents. There is a huge amount of evidence of reflective practice within the setting.

Towards the end of page 2 it says.

The inspector stated that she looked at your parent surveys and she recorded ways in which you respond to their concerns. I am sorry that you were not aware of this.

The inspector could see the parent questionnaires on the work surface in the kitchen – she did not pick them up or read any of them . So I am not sure if that counts as ‘looked at’. Yes she did discuss how I deal with concerns raised. She did not appear to grasp that I dealt with concerns straight away and that I did not have an action list – even though I explained that I did not have any actions to carry out at that very moment but that by tea time I might have – and if I did I would act on the that day so that the action needed would be implement by the next morning. There is no evidence of this in the published report. The inspector also did not look at any other documentation – including the complaints folder where there were more parent questionnaires in response to verbal complaint, and documentation about how I had sent out those questionnaires the same day that the verbal complaint was received.

So I have to agree the inspector did only gather evidence that supported a ‘good judgement’ because she did not look for the evidence  about reflective practice.

How can it be right that if the inspector says she looked at something then that is taken as a fact – even when as in my case both my co minder and myself state she did not look at documentation

On page 3 it says;

You state that the inspector could not see you in the garden from where she was seated. In her response to your original complaint, the inspector said that she observed you in the conservatory interacting with the children. She also stated that she saw you in the garden while she was talking to your co minder.

This makes it sound like the inspector was in the conservatory and that she could see me in the garden while talking to my co minder. Actually the inspector was in the middle room when the children went into the garden – she did not even go into the conservatory on the 25th Feb – the day that I took the children into the garden. She talked to my co minder in the kitchen and was sat at the table – she could not see any more than my head – and then only some of the time as I moved around the garden.

So clever use of words – I maintain the inspector could not see me in the garden and could not see the children at all.

It continues on page three

However, I agree that the inspector would not have been able to fully evaluate the quality of the teaching through first hand observation while she remained indoors talking to your co minder. This aspect of your complaint is upheld.

So if we look back at my inspection report it says the inspector observed outdoor activities and that I have wheeled toys.

So saying the inspector could not fully evaluate the quality of the teaching ….. is an understatement – she could not evaluate it at all

My point is – if the inspector said she observed outside activities and backed that up by saying I had wheeled toys – when I don’t have any in my published report – but did not mention in the report the sand pit, or the discovery of the large spider web, or the getting out of the musical saucepans from the shed, or the children using those musical saucepans then how can anyone trust her recall of other aspects of the inspection?

Her own recording shows that not only could she not fully evaluate the quality of the  teaching – she did not have any evidence to back up her claims that she observed outside at all – apart from my head darting in and out of her view through the window from her sitting point.

Further down page 3 it says;

This review has found that the original response letter showed that the inspector carried out sufficient observations of practice, tracked an appropriate number of children, discussed your practice with you and looked at a suitable range of documentation. As a result of these activities, I am satisfied that, overall the inspection was conducted in line with our published framework.

mmmm – and the evidence of this? What it says in the inspectors tool kit?

The inspector identified two children to track – she DID NOT look at ANY documentation relating to those children. She did ask me some verbal questions but not many. If she had looked she would have seen for example; completed development checks that I carried out when EYFS 12 was implemented – so I had a starting point for the new framework. (And she would have seen completed two year old checks – when in the report it says I had started gathering information for two year old checks – true I had for some of the younger just two year olds or almost two year olds – but it was an assumption that I did not have any completed two year old checks – because the inspector DID NOT look at ANY documentation about the children) This included the extensive photographic documentation which she was passed on the 24th Feb and that she flicked a couple of pages of – but she did not look at the documentation again to track the identified children.

At the bottom of page 3 it says – and continues on page 4;

You believe that you could have demonstrated that the inspector did not gather sufficient evidence, had you been  allowed to submit further evidence to support your case. You state that the inspection and complaint process could affect your reputation as a honest childcare professional. You believe a further inspection should be carried out.

I am sorry that you consider the investigation of your complaint to have been unfair. The complaints process requires the investigator to consider the views of the inspector alongside those of the complainant. Where there are different versions of what was said, it is often not possible to reach a firm conclusion. This is not to say that one version is believed over another, but that, in the absence of independent witnesses, it is not possible to reach a conclusion about exactly was said or done.

So I read this that the investigation could not prove if my version or the inspectors version are correct? Fair enough I accept that this is the case.

But continuing reading page 4, I become confused, it says;

You claim that making a judgement on your practice based on what an inspector says means that Ofsted has inferred that you are not telling the truth. The role of the inspector is to make judgements on the basis of the evidence they gather during inspections. On ocassion, providers disagree with the judgement awarded and may make a complaint. We do not assume that a provider who is making a complaint is being dishonest and neither do we assume that the inspector has gathered convincing evidence. Inspectors are required to record notes of the evidence that gather during an inspection. As part of a complaint investigation these are reviewed and accessed to establish whether they substantiate the judgements reached and are reflected in the written report. If it is found that the evidence does not support the judgement, we acknowledge the error and takes steps to rectify it, for example by revisiting a setting to gather additional evidence.

The review has found that the original investigator reviewed the evidence and found that it supported the judgements.

So the investigator does not assume, does not believe one version over another BUT if an inspector has recorded in their tool kit that they looked at x, y or z – that is believed as being a honest account rather than a provider saying the inspector did not look at x,y or z.

I take this to mean I am not believed but the inspector is.

Why can it not be accepted the if the inspector did not look at said documents that the evidence is flawed?

Why can it not be accepted that if the inspector did not look at documentation or do any focussed observations (and yes in case you want to know – I do know what a focussed observation should be like – and I had a very good experience of this during the pilot inspection for EYFS 12 when a HMI carried out a focussed observation).

If the inspectors notes do not record sufficient evidence because it was not gathered then reviewing the evidence will not provide the required evidence that is needed to show that evidence was not gathered.

Let me try to explain.

I say to my friend – look I have two sweets in my handbag – therefore the evidence is that I have two sweets in my handbag (or in inspection scenarios I have two recorded pieces of evidence in my tool kit). However my friend says – ah but you have another 6 sweets in that tin on the shelf (or in the inspection scenario – there are another 6 pieces of evidence in that folder on the shelf)

But I say we can’t count the sweet in the tin on the shelf – because they are not here in my handbag (or in the inspection scenario – we can’t consider that evidence in the folder because it is not recorded in the tool kit)

In other words it does not matter how many times you look at the evidence in the tool kit – if it has not been recorded and remains not looked at on the shelf – it will never alter the evidence in the tool kit.

Therefore the assumption being made is that the inspector has gathered sufficient evidence.

Is it not possible that if a provider says the inspector did not gather sufficient evidence that they are correct?

So if as above it says

This is not to say that one version is believed over another, but that, in the absence of independent witnesses, it is not possible to reach a conclusion about exactly was said or done.

Then the only way to reach a conclusion is to visit the setting again? Otherwise the investigator is believing the inspectors is the correct version because the evidence in the tool kit says so – and the provider is not believed because no one will go out and check.

It might help if the transcript of the inspectors tool kit was made available – or even if the inspector justified their judgement against the evidence gather so if a provider did disagree they could say but you did not look at this or that, or can I show x,y or z.

In my case the inspector didn’t  follow the excellent practice of the pilot inspector who explain why she had reached her judgement and read out parts of the evidence gathered. In this inspection I still do not know why or how the inspector reached those judgements.

The ‘is not outstanding yet’ recommendations do not provide that evidence – especially as the first one put forward was not stuck to because I asked the inspector to say how that would improve outcomes for children (labelling boxes) and then the inspector struggled to come up with any other recommendations and when she did – she then changed the verbal recommendation wording in the written report.

In my experience as a QA assessor myself that is not quality assurance – before you make your judgement known you should be absolutely clear why you have made that judgement and what could be done to improve practice. Searching for something to put ‘because you have to’ (this is what I was verbally told – ‘you have to agree to something because I have to make a recommendation’) is not good practice and does not indicate the evidence for that judgement is sound.

In addition I was not unhappy with the grade – I was unhappy with the inspection and the evidence gathered – after going through the complaint process I remain unhappy, as in the end it all boils down to what the inspector recorded in her tool kit – the tool kit recording that showed she had observed outdoor activities and that I had wheeled toys

If this is not accurate how can the investigator be sure the other evidence recorded in the tool kit is accurate or indeed a true indicator of my practice?

And finally to finished, a few more points, which I did not raise in my complaint because I did not think relevant to my main complaint – but with hindsight, I can see are examples of how the inspector did not record sufficient evidence and why therefore her recording in her tool kit is not reflective of my practice ;

It has still not been explained why my co minder had a separate inspection when all the  children were contracted to me (we were not asked about this and children’s records were not looked at)

It has still not been explained why despite my extensive CPD through subscribing to most EY magazines and journals – and indeed writing for some of them; despite my well documented reflection on the training I do; despite my research and sharing practice and debate with leading EY professionals across all sectors; despite my professional Facebook group where I lead discussion and dissemination of information; despite the research for the training I provide for the local childminding groups; despite the growing number of academic projects that I am involved with; despite my membership to just about every early years membership organisation and my very good professional relation of sharing information and good practice with them all;  My report just says ‘ The childminder works closely with other childminders and shares good practice, which supports her professional development’ In my opinion a statement which does not reflect in any way my CPD.

It has still not been explained why my co minder had the same grade as me for leadership and management – even though she told the inspector that she did not lead or manage the setting

And it does not appear to be recorded anywhere why the inspector spent so long discussing safeguarding, or where she said she had noted I had Warwickshire safeguarding info on my wall  – when I have Worcestershire info; why she was not aware of recent changes to procedures in Worcestershire with regard to safeguarding when she carries out inspections in Worcestershire .

 

So investigator I remain unhappy, I continue to feel that the inspectors word has been taken as the conclusive version (believed) and that my version is not considered conclusive (not believed)

I remain convinced that the complaints process is flawed because it relies on the inspector entering all the evidence that is available, it relies on the inspector actually doing the things that have been recorded in the tool kit, it assumes that if something is in the tool kit it is reliable evidence and if something is not in the tool kit it is not reliable evidence.

And for the record I always tell the truth – I never lie, I never twist facts, I always say things as they are, but my evidence is deemed to be inconclusive.

I will be taking this further – however I am going to take my time to consider my options – continuing to follow this flawed complaints process, to take legal action or to try and engage with Ofsted directly.

I would prefer to engage with Ofsted directly via open, honest, transparent dialogue – and to be honest even if this dialogue cannot be about my personal inspection experience – I would be happy to set aside my personal complaint to engage in general discussion with the aim of improving the system for everyone.

You see Ofsted, you still have not grasped this -it is not about my grade –  its about the principle of high quality inspections and complaints systems that work.

 

 

 

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.