New cradle-to-college empire for Woodhead

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT handed Chris Woodhead, the controversial Chief Inspector of Schools, a huge extension of his remit yesterday, making him responsible for childcare and education from birth to the coming of age.

A political row broke out as ministers announced plans for the creation of a new arm of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) to inspect childminders, and become the sole agency regulating playgroups and nurseries.

The changes will create an inspectorate which will cover everything from childcare and children's clubs to schools, sixth forms and college courses for the under-19s, as well as local education authorities, the youth service and university teacher-training courses.

Mr Woodhead hailed the change as "incredibly good news for children and parents". He said: "Parents will have access to reports on the quality of provision and policy makers will have access to data on quality which they do not have at present."

Margaret Hodge, the minister responsible for early years education, said Ofsted's new role, replacing social services inspectors, would "sort out the confusion, the duplication and the unfairness" of the system.

Nursery groups welcomed the announcement, saying that it would simplify the regulation of childcare.

But the move, part of a package of wholesale reforms of education and care for the under-fives, was attacked by MPs, local councils and teachers' leaders.

Theresa May, the Tory education spokeswoman, said: "It does seem like children are going to be inspected from the cradle to the age of 19. I don't think Ofsted is equipped to do that.

"It is not right for Ofsted to start inspecting childminders. It provides a first-class inspection regime for education facilities. But childminders are not primarily educators."

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, called for Mr Woodhead's job to be readvertised in the light of his new responsibilities. He said: "It's like an ever-expanding empire, which will cover everything soon."