Chief amongst the concerns is that complaints can trigger a full inspection. The outcome of these inspections is often limited to a “satisfactory” grade due to previous, historical concerns being taken into account. These can unfairly influence the outcome. For example, in one case, the nursery was deemed “outstanding” in the formal feedback, but was later downgraded to ‘satisfactory’ after so-called quality assurance.
Solicitors in these cases are routinely finding that the inspectors are not following Ofsted’s own published guidelines. Not only that, but the complaints process is subject to long delays – likely, it is thought, due to large backlogs of cases that have arisen due to the inspection shortcomings.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) commented on the impact a poor inspection could have on nurseries: “We cannot stress enough how important an accurate inspection process is. The grading a nursery receives can make or break the business so it is crucial it is a fair and accurate assessment.”
Media can often pick up on the results of an inspection early on, before the organisation has a chance to appeal against the decision or even comment. In the July 1 issue of the newspaper, the Doncaster Free Press reported on a children’s centre deemed “inadequate” following inspection, which is likely to cause considerable concern amongst parents of the children attending the centre and may lead some parents to find alternative placements.
Ofsted is moving to a new, common inspection regime from September. It hopes that this will improve clarity and reduce the number of complaints that are arising. The changes will also mean shorter but more frequent inspections.
Commenting on the matter, Angela Sandhal, education law solicitor at Atherton Godfrey, said: “Schools and nurseries should not be afraid to challenge Ofsted outcomes where there are serious concerns about the procedure that has been followed. In many cases, Ofsteads ‘internal review’ procedure can result in a satisfactory resolution; in other cases, a judicial review might be appropriate.”
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