Ratings help parents choose child care

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The Independent Online

Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, will shame the worst providers and praise the best by placing details of all childminders' reports on its website.

The providers will be ranked on a scale of one to four, with one meaning "outstanding", two "good", three "satisfactory" and four "inadequate".

Of the first 1,060 inspections to be posted this morning, 45 (32 childminders and 13 day-care providers) have been ranked as "inadequate" while only 16 (14 childminders and two day-care nurseries) warranted the ranking "outstanding".

The vast majority were either good (680) or satisfactory (319). However, Ofsted warned that a "satisfactory" rating meant there was "scope for improvement".

Maurice Smith, Ofsted's director of early years, said: "Over one million children are placed with childminders and in nurseries every day so it's imperative parents have easy access to good information about the quality of care that their children are getting."

David Bell, the chief schools inspector and Ofsted's chief executive, has acknowledged that parents are almost certain to shun the services of any childminder ranked as inadequate.

A childminder could be rated as inadequate if their premises fail to pass health and safety requirements or if a complaint alleging physical abuse of a child is upheld. In extreme circumstances, their registration can be withdrawn immediately but their report would be published if they were served with a notice to improve within a 12-month period.

Mr Smith said of the "outstanding" ratings: "This is a fantastic achievement by those who work in the childcare profession and go all out to provide a top-class service. All providers will have the chance to shine during their inspections under the new framework. I hope that today's 'outstanding' providers will act as an inspiration to others."

The 1,060 inspections to be placed on the internet today were all carried out in the first year of inspection of child-minding services. Ofsted only had its brief to inspect services extended from schools and colleges last year. It plans to inspect all childminding and day-care services over a three-year period with a total of 94,000 reports placed on its website by 2007.

Fears that paedophiles could gain access to details of child-minding services have prompted inspectors to agree restrictions on how parents can access information. As of today, parents will be able to type their postcode into Ofsted's website and search for registered childminders in their area. Services within a five-mile radius of the address can be accessed. However, the report will not contain the name or address of the childminder. To obtain that, the parent will have to contact their local Children's Information Service.

Ofsted warned that some providers may have chosen to opt out of having their details available on request - and that this is likely to be because they are full and do not have the space to mind more children.

Ofsted has also agreed that nurseries will be given no notice of inspections so inspectors get a "warts and all" picture. Childminders will be rung the previous week and asked to indicate which days they will be available to avoid inspectors arriving when they are out with their charges on a trip. One of the days will be selected by the inspectors without giving further notice.