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Lord Filkin: I start by saying that I fully share the concern that Ofsted's early years inspection workforce is of the highest quality and fit for the purpose. We attach great importance to the training and development of inspectors.
Early childhood is a time of vital importance in children's development and the quality of care that children receive in their early years makes a real difference to their development and achievements in later life. Recent powerful research studies have shown that the gain achieved from good early years' interventions into learning in primary school is sustained. So we have good reason for feeling that this thrust of policy is right.
Schedule 7 removes the requirement on the chief inspector for England to maintain registers of early years childcare inspectors and nursery education inspectors. The amendment seeks to reverse that, which, in logic and consistency with the stance of earlier debates this week, we would expect. But we do not believe that removing these registers would be detrimental to the quality of childcare inspectors.
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At present, most Ofsted early years inspectors are Ofsted employees and, as such, are not separately registered. In the early years sector, Ofsted is already able to monitor the quality and ensure the accountability of its inspectors through its internal processes. Therefore, there is little need for a register.
However, should Ofsted decide in future to engage more external inspectors, as it currently does for its school inspections, it would be administratively cumbersome for Ofsted to have overlapping registration and contracting arrangements. We propose that Ofsted monitors and controls the performance and quality of any external inspector it may decide to engage in future through normal contract terms and contract management, which we believe is perfectly adequate and appropriate. That is currently the case for Ofsted-employed inspectors.
Contract negotiation and management will be just as effective as any registration system in securing the services of appropriately qualified and experienced inspectors, and a lot less bureaucratic for Ofsted to operate. All inspectors, whether external or directly employed by Ofsted, will still be required to meet stringent criteria. In addition, Ofsted already has in place robust quality assurance and performance management arrangements to ensure the quality of its early years inspectors.
Our proposal to remove the registers of early years childcare inspectors and nursery education inspectors represents an important simplification in the administration of the inspection arrangements in England, and should therefore stand.
The other change we seek to introduce through Schedule 7, and which would be affected by the proposed amendments, is the additional matters on which we propose Ofsted and Estyn should be required to report. Our proposals for change apply both to the general duty of the chief inspector to keep the Secretary of State informed about the state of childcare nationally, and the individual reports that are made following inspection of childcare settings. Paragraph 3 of Schedule 7, which the amendment would remove, covers the latter. They also apply to all reports by Estyn in relation to nursery education.
As the House knows, the Children Act 2004 provides that each children's services authority must promote co-operation in the delivery of children's services with a view to improving the well-being of children in their areas. Early years settings have their part to play and it is important that Ofsted assesses, as part of the inspection process, how the childcare contributes to children's well-being, not least so that these findings can be fed through to the joint area reviews to be led by Ofsted. Similarly, it is important that Estyn assesses how nursery education contributes to children's well-being. You could argue that in fact it is more important that there is an inspection of the well-being contribution, given the powerful evidence of the impact of early years influences on a child's future ability, not only to learn but also to socialise and to take a positive attitude to life. I shall not go into detail.
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We believe it is important that Ofsted and Estyn report on how the childcare meets the needs of the range of children for whom it is provided, as children may have very different needs. Ofsted therefore plans to change the focus of its early years inspections so that judgments are made on the basis of what it is like for individual children within a childcare setting. The results of pilot inspections that have been carried out on this basis are encouraging. Both childcare providers and inspectors have been positive about the new approach and we believe that this will ultimately benefit the children.
It is important to make specific reference to leadership and management for day care. As for schools, good leadership and management are crucial in securing high-quality early-years services. The amendment would remove those key changes to the matters on which Ofsted and Estyn must report. We believe that extending those criteria will ultimately help us to secure better childcare services that meet children's needs and contribute to their well-beingall part of our determination to ensure that children are given the best start. Inspection is an important lever in improving quality, and the proposed changes to the legal frameworks will enable Ofsted and Estyn to carry out their inspection activity more effectively.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, asked whether inspectors were at risk of becoming too generalised, and whether they would be expected to cover both the sixth form and early years. My understanding is that they would not, because there would be specialisation. The most effective answer that I could give on manpower loads would be in a more detailed note from Ofsted that signals why we believe it is perfectly manageable. I will also respond in writing to the noble Baroness's question on how childcare providers would be made aware of the process. Although I have not given the noble Baroness full answers, I hope that she will await with eager anticipation the letters that will fill the gaps.
"(5A) After subsection (5) insert
"(5A) Regulations may make provision requiring a registered person, except in prescribed cases, to notify prescribed persons of the fact that any child minding or day care provided by the registered person is to be inspected under this section.""
The noble Lord said: This group of amendments applies to England and Wales. They enhance the level of parental involvement in the inspection of early-years provision. I have some confidence that the House is likely to welcome them.
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One of the most important elements of our 10-year childcare strategy, published last month, is that parents should have the information they need to make informed choices about childcare. Not least, they need to know what aspects of quality are important for their children's development and how the childcare they have chosen matches up. As noble Lords have said previously, parental involvement is vital; we share that view. They can exercise influence in securing improvement where necessary.
That has been an established feature of the school inspection arrangements for some time, and the amendments, which apply to England only bring the early-years inspection arrangements into line with those considerations. School governing bodies are currently required to notify parents of forthcoming inspections and to ensure that each parent receives a copy of the subsequent inspection report. There is currently no such duty on early-years childcare or nursery education providers. The purpose of the amendments is therefore to ensure that parents' rights to information before and after an inspection are the same for both schools and early-years settings.
The amendments relate to Schedule 7, which deals with inspection of childminding, day care and nursery education. They propose that regulations may provide that registered childminders, day carers and "responsible persons" must notify prescribed persons of a forthcoming inspection. It is intended that those "prescribed persons" would be parents. They also provide that regulations may prescribe who is sent a copy of the report and to whom a copy of the report must be made available. It is intended that parents would be sent a copy of the report.
Another technical amendment, Amendment No. 112, is not intended to make any practical difference to the inspection of nursery education but is necessary due to the repeal of Section 120 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 by the Children Act 2004.
Although the regulation-making powers provided for in the amendments to Schedule 7 do not expressly make reference to parents, the regulations will make it clear that parents will be entitled to receive a copy of the inspection report. Draft regulations have already been provided to the House, but I will ensure that revised draft regulations, which take into account these amendments, are made available.
We have carefully considered the impact of the new requirements on early-years settings, the majority of which comprise private and voluntary-sector providers. We are confident that the impact of the amendments will be minimal.
I should also explain that Amendment No. 121 remains starred, as a small error in new sub-paragraph 2(c) was spotted late in the day; it has now been corrected. I hope that my remarks clarify the government amendments sufficiently for the Committee. I beg to move.
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