So I have now had a chance to read through the Ofsted Early Years Compliance Handbook consisting of 121 pages and 465 numbered paragraphs, as I said I would. I should say you are not all expected to read it and I was even Tweeted by Ofsted themselves to say it is a book to be ‘dipped into’ and not read through, and I very much agree with this. Some of it is of course not new, but all newly updated. However, there are some very useful parts that you may choose to dip into more often than others. I think especially the part about when to inform Ofsted of certain things. I have read a lot in social media about what people report – and also see people asking questions about ‘should I report this to Ofsted’ and so this document may very well provide a useful tool when making those decisions. There is a detailed overview of what Ofsted considers to be a serious injury and a minor injury that I for one have found very useful to be reminded of.
The Ofsted Early Years Compliance Handbook is very much about their procedures and actions in various ‘compliance’ situations and does cover a lot of ground from Welfare Reinforcement Notices, notifications of significant events through to anonymous phone calls they may receive, investigations, enforcement actions that may be required and referrals to the DBS including disqualification procedures. They talk of ‘proportionate actions’ where concerns or complaints are raised – obviously that is still a judgement call by a specific individual in a specific circumstance following their own risk assessment guidelines which they outline extensively in this document and safeguarding, quite rightly, prevails everything.
So bear in mind every time Ofsted has a notification from you, or I would ascertain any sort of contact, it is to some degree or another ‘risk assessed’ and most definitely recorded, and these alongside any other contacts or concerns from external sources could and I would even say will count towards the timing of your next inspection. So whilst they note that general notifications are not considered in a possible inspection escalation process, you have to figure if they are looking through your file because a concern has been raised, these will all flag up as well. So we should all be mindful that, whilst we have a legal duty to report certain events (and will be committing an offence if we don’t), we are reporting only the things that need to be reported and not every time a child sneezes. In any event three new concerns (not notifications) in 2 years will likely trigger an inspection or an investigation, which is fair enough. Less amusingly though three notifications or more will probably trigger a senior officer to assess as to whether the provider is being vigilant in their reporting – or is an indication of some serious weaknesses in the provider (ever felt like you just can’t win?).
And to follow on from this if they do visit you to undertake an investigation, if that inspector feels you are not working at your current grade, you may well get an inspection, even before the conclusion of their or other outside agency investigation, which is a change from my previous understanding and first-hand experience, that inspection, or other action would only follow when such investigation was concluded. Things have obviously moved on from those times, but it’s difficult to keep up with these procedures so perhaps this handbook serves a useful purpose in clarifying current procedures and offers us a reference document.
A useful list also of what Ofsted consider to be minor concerns and when these become not so minor concerns is also given. In addition to this there is extensive information about the considerations before, during and after investigations, including the impact on any other settings registered by the same provider and a detailed decision-making chart is provided, informing who decides on what issues. This then leads into the various enforcement actions that can be taken including welfare requirement notices, suspension, cancellation of registration, warning letters, cautions and prosecutions. Any actions taken may well involve all settings of a registered provider, depending on the nature of the concern and enforcement required and when necessary will lead Ofsted to refer individuals to the DBS for adding to their disbarred list. If Ofsted believe the registered provider should have referred an individual and did not do so – this may lead them to question the suitability of the provider themselves to continue to work with children.
And here’s one I didn’t know Ofsted can conduct covert surveillance as part of an investigation, if they can’t reasonably get evidence in other ways! Welcome MI5 Ofsted…
Anyway, that was my Saturday afternoon activity, although I was also supervising (well tea-making for the workers !) the re-development of one of our outdoor areas at nursery so an afternoon well spent…
And just for the record, I counted no less than 85 footnotes and many more internet links associated with this document, directing you to original legislation, other Ofsted documents and DfE publications, a hefty reference point by any stretch of the imagination. Hence, dipping is really the only way through such a huge amount of information!
About the author: Tricia Wellings
Her passion for and knowledge of owning and running a nursery group and the issues within the sector that affect them is second to none. She continues to keep herself updated through regular meetings with PVI groups, Local Authorities, Ofsted Big Conversation and Conferences.
You can find our more about Tricia on her website www.triciawellings.co.uk