‘Tell me Penny, What does quality look like?’   1 comment

I was asked this question way back in 2003 at a job interview for a post as a childminding network coordinator.

As it happens I did get the job, so maybe my answer was ‘ok’, ‘good enough’ or maybe I gave the wrong answer but overall I did OK and was the best available candidate?

I (nor you, the reader) will ever know, but lately I have been reflecting on this very question and indeed ‘What does quality look like – especially in relation to a childcare setting?’

Of course there are all sorts of ‘measures’ of quality – Ofsted grades; Local Authority RAG systems (and others); Quality Assurance schemes through membership organisations; Systems you can buy such as  ECCERS (and its family); Consultants who will come and make personal or scheme based judgements; and of course settings own self evaluation of ‘how they are doing’ …… and apologies for those that I have missed, as this is just a ‘off the top of my head recall – absolutely no research at all.

So, with so many different ways of judging what quality looks like, how can parents be expected to make comparisons between the different methods and  the different judgements?

And that is before we take into consideration moving goal posts – for example an outstanding grade under EYFS 08 (and yes there are still quite a few who have not had an inspection since that judgement because of course the 2012 cycle started on 1st September 2012 so any inspection up to end August 2012 would have been under the 08 version of EYFS)

Where was I before the brackets?

Oh yes- I remember –  an outstanding grade  under EYFS 08 is not the same as an outstanding under EYFS 12 or EYFS 14 (and that is without taking into consideration the period when there were a lot of flawed inspections on settings that had had a complaint against them), and of course each other measure, measures different things in different ways.

And then we have personal individual viewpoints or opinions and indeed interpretations of what  is required to meet the quality benchmark being assessed against.

Plus a lot of these measures are a ‘snap shot’ of just one day, or even just a few hours of one day, which makes it really hard for a setting to provide evidence of the vast range of experiences they offer, and almost impossible for anyone to make a judgement based on such a short period of time of observing and assessing.

For me though the biggest problem is that a lot of these measures of quality require settings to be able to ‘tick boxes’ that say they have or do certain things – very prescriptive things – in fact the very sort of things that make it easy to tick those boxes. I have recently wrote a blog about the SEED project and the report into what a quality childminding setting ‘looks like’, I was not very complimentary because one of the two measures was FCCERS which is one of those tick box type assessments.

I have personal experience as an assessor  for NVQ’s, Quality First, Growing Together and of course childminding network assessments – and although I never did any ECCERS or even FCCERS assessments, I did buy the books and trawl through them putting post its on each page that I had an ‘issue’ with to share with my then bosses at the Local Authority, because they planned to replace the Children come First network assessment with a FCCERS audit – and I strongly disagreed (In fact I  disagreed enough to leave my job in 2010, before that and other changes were implemented)

You see, each setting is unique – even those in nursery chains of purpose built buildings will vary a bit because of the staff and children, but individual ‘one off’ settings will vary so much it will be hard to have a tick list that ‘worked’ – and this is certainly true about childminder settings,  an audit system such as FCCERS  (or any of he others), in my opinion  simply does not judge  quality – it fits people and settings into one size fits all  boxes.

Of course, some things will be the same – for example most settings provide sand play BUT what sort of sand tray?

A small one that stand to play? ,

A huge one that climb in and has sand a metre deep?



Wet sand?

Dry sand?

With things in it?

With freedom to add what ever the children want to add?

With strict rules about how many can play a once?

With requirements to wear a hat and apron to keep sand from hair and clothes?

and that is before considering  if accessed by the children or not during the assessment

And that is just one aspect!

Now I am going to be brave and suggest that despite the fact that many quality measures have one or more of these things required of sand play to enable a box to be ticked (and even Ofsted require to see the sand in use, to be able to judge the quality of the sand play) that actually none of the above matter BECAUSE from day to day, who uses the sand, and how they use it will differ – even the same setting with the same sand tray each day will have different ways it is used, due the character and stage of development of the children attending that day. SO it would depend entirely on who was using the sand and how they used it, as to if it could be judged highly or not – and what areas of the tick box charts were covered.

Some schemes have a set requirement for number of sand toys, type of storage unit, mobility of sand tray, availability of water not just for hand washing, but for cleaning the resources and adding to sand to make wetter – and much more.


Different days (or even times of same day), different children, doing different things ……

One day; a 3 year old burying dinosaurs – counting them, lining them up,  describing them, putting them away after use.

Another day; Two 2 year olds discovering just how far they can throw the sand

Another day a 4 year old, not saying a word but observing how the sand makes the sand wheel go round – and doing it again and again

Another day four, three year olds all working together to build a ‘city’ with buildings and roads, fetching stones, and twigs to add to the sand.

Another day a practitioners introducing the idea of using a stick to make marks in the sand, but none of the children decide to make marks

Oh I could go on, describing many different ‘things’ that could be going on in a sand tray (and I am sure you could too) but which would be judged as good or outstanding quality, which would be judged as poor quality? Indeed how many boxes would be ticked, how much personal opinion would be used to make those judgements?

So having pulled all these schemes to pieces, what do I think quality looks like?

WELL …….

It looks like engaged children, leading their own play, demonstrating those characteristics of effective learning

It looks like interested adults who know when to support and when to stand back

HOWEVER – it NEVER looks the same in any two settings,or even in the same setting on different days  in my opinion it simply can’t.

It makes it hard to assess, it makes it hard to justify just what it was that was good or outstanding, but actually it does make it easy to assess and justify what is poor quality – and maybe, just maybe we need to turn all this judgement of quality on its head – and just say if a setting is not of high quality, and instead of giving a list of things that should be put n place, send the staff on a course to support their understanding of play and child development – and those characteristics of effective learning.

In my opinion it is not the building or grounds, it is not the resources, it is the adults knowledge, understanding of play and child development, and their PASSION and DEDICATION to provide those enabling environments.

It is common sense to me – not rocket science – but there is not actually an easy way to assess quality, because it is so varied, and needs to be, to meet individual needs.

Going back to the question I was asked at that job interview, you maybe wondering what my answer was


I said ……

‘I don’t know what quality looks like, because it can be so different – BUT I will recognise it when I see it’

And I still think that ,,, high quality early years settings can be spotted a mile away – tick boxes not required

Your thoughts??

Posted September 17, 2015 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

One response to “‘Tell me Penny, What does quality look like?’

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  1. Pingback: Why do we need to measure quality and progress in early years? – Reflections after attending the TACTYC conference 2015 | Penny's Place Childminding

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