Last month, when we published the Ofsted Annual Report, we had good news to report about childminders. Ninety-four per cent of childminders were judged good or outstanding at their last inspection. And since 2012, the proportion of childminders judged to be at least good has improved at a faster rate than nurseries and pre-schools. That improvement is mainly down to the hard work and professionalism of childminders themselves.
For more than two years, however, Ofsted has prioritised those childminders whose work had previously been judged to require improvement – visiting them more frequently and giving them the opportunity to get to good or better more swiftly than was the case before.
Of course, when we talk about the early years, Ofsted is the regulator as well as the inspectorate. This means that we have an enforcement role that doesn’t apply in the arena of state schools.
Parents invest a lot of trust, as well as money, in childminders. Children spend a lot of time with their childminder, which is why Ofsted places a great deal of importance on safeguarding.
On an average inspection, Ofsted spends about three hours in a childminder’s home and with the children in their care. Inspectors observe the childminder’s work and discuss its impact on the children’s learning. But to learn well, children must first and foremost be safe. So our inspectors will also consider how children are kept safe in the childminder’s home. We have this month launched a major consultation about the way we inspect, but our focus on safeguarding children will not waver.
We will take enforcement action if we find that a childminder is not meeting the Early Years Foundation Stage requirements, for example, by not helping children to learn well or keeping them safe. In one case late last year, we took a former childminder in the West Midlands to court.
Ofsted suspended her registration in March 2017 when we became aware that one of her immediate family had been arrested for a serious offence. That meant that she could not work while the suspension was in place. We do not take such suspensions lightly; we only do so if we believe that a child may be at risk of harm.
Ofsted then took steps to cancel the childminder’s registration, which ended in June last year. However, she continued to work unlawfully as a childminder. It was at that point that we were forced to take the childminder to court.
At court the childminder pleaded guilty to providing childcare while suspended and, later, while disqualified. The court handed down a suspended prison sentence and an order to contribute towards Ofsted’s legal costs.
The success of this prosecution was down to my dedicated staff who worked with Birmingham City Council and HM Revenue and Customs.
I hope then that this sends a powerful message that Ofsted does indeed have an enforcement role and that we will not hesitate to use our legal powers to help make sure that children are kept safe.
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