Number of 'inadequate' childminders doubles in a year, say inspectors

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The Independent Online

The number of childminders ranked as "inadequate" has doubled in the past year, a report by inspectors reveals today.

Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, depicts a postcode lottery for parents in which thousands of childminders in poorer areas are failing to provide a good service.

It shows the percentage of those rated "inadequate" has risen from 3 to 6 per cent in the past year. In all, 5,500 childminders have failed their inspections over the past three years.

The situation is worse in the most deprived areas, with 25 local authorities recording that less than half the childminders visited provided a good service.

Key areas of failure were the ability to spot child protection concerns – and how to follow up concerns once spotted. In addition, many did not have the basic training to deliver first aid to children effectively.

"There is too much variation," said Michael Hart, children's director of Ofsted. "In particular, I am concerned that children in more deprived areas do not, on the whole, have access to as much good provision as others.

"This cannot help overcome disadvantage... We need to ask ourselves how we can work better to close the quality gap."

The figures for childminding inspections buck the trend nationally for provision of services for the youngest children.

Overall, the report – Leading to excellence: A review of and early education provision 2005-8 – paints a picture of improved provision, with 97 per cent of all provision (day-care nurseries, out-of-hours school provision and childminding services) being at least satisfactory compared to just 80 per cent three years ago.

However, there are variations between different types of services. Out-of-school schemes, set up under the Government's "extended hours" plan to persuade schools to offer child care services, provided poorer services, largely as a result of an inability to recruit staff. In all, only 47 per cent of school schemes provide good services compared with 65 per cent of day-care settings.

"Concerns about out-of-school schemes include inadequate checking of staff suitability, lack of well-qualified and experienced leaders and insufficient staff to meet the needs of young children when older ones are present," says the report.

It concludes: "The quality of child care varies widely across different areas of the country. For example, the amount of good or better childminding ranges from 29 per cent in Hackney in east London to 81 per cent in Wokingham in Berkshire.

"In 25 local authorities, less than 50 per cent of the childminding is good or better: at the other end of the scale, in seven local authorities more than 75 per cent of childminding is good or better.

"Children and families living in areas already experiencing relative deprivation therefore face further inequity because they have less access to high quality care provision."

Figures show 5,500 childminders have been rated as "inadequate" over the past three years. Of the first 2,200 reinspected, more than 95 per cent are now at least good – with just 110 still remaining inadequate.

Mr Hart stressed that most providers managed to improve quickly following an "inadequate" inspection. "In the case of the childminders, we inspected more towards the end of the three year period – and they may just have let something slip which they were then able to improve," he said.

The report covers 90,000 inspections of early years and child care provision for children ranging from birth to eight years old. From this month, Ofsted will be checking on how well early years providers are matching up to the provisions of the Government's foundation stage curriculum – under which children are expected to show some evidence of literacy and numeracy skills, such as writing their own name and counting up to 10 – before they move on to compulsory schooling.