Parents need more than Ofsted grades to identify childcare quality

20 March 2012

A new study by Daycare Trust, the University of Oxford, and A+ Education concludes that Ofsted grades are too broad to provide a detailed measure of quality in childcare settings, and are best used alongside other existing quality assessments. The research was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and is published today alongside a new guide for parents on how to identify high quality childcare.

Researchers compared Ofsted inspections based on the Early Years Foundation Stage, with other quality assessments such as ECERS (Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale) and ITERS (Infant Toddler Environment Rating Scale), as well as quality assurance schemes. Focus groups were also carried out with parents, providers and local authorities to explore how these different measures are understood. Key details include:

  • Some settings judged as outstanding or good by Ofsted were rated as lower quality on the ECERS and ITERS rating scales. This could have implications for funding as Ofsted ratings are currently used by many local authorities to determine which nurseries and preschools receive government early years funding for free childcare provision .    
  • Local authorities should use a range of indicators when allocating funding for existing free provision and in particular the extension of free childcare places to 40 per cent of two year olds by 2014.
  • Many parents consulted felt that Ofsted reports did not provide all the information they needed to make a decision about a childcare setting. 

Sandra Mathers, Lead Researcher from the Department of Education at the University of Oxford and Director of A+ Education Ltd said:

‘We should not forget that Ofsted is a regulatory tool rather than a detailed quality measure. Our research suggests that Ofsted grades cannot necessarily be relied upon as complete measure of quality, and may need to be complemented by other measures.'

“This has important implications for the way in which funding decisions around early education are made, and particularly the free entitlement for disadvantaged two year olds.”

Anand Shukla, Chief Executive of Daycare Trust, added:

"There is overwhelming evidence that investing in high quality childcare in the formative years of a child's life can make the biggest difference to their life chances, but as this research proves parents are not currently equipped to make informed choices on quality.

“That is why Daycare Trust is calling on Ofsted to ensure its reports are accessible and useful to parents, and on local authorities to make more of the information they hold on childcare providers available to parents, to help them make choices based on quality.

Given the high cost of childcare, parents deserve access to comprehensive information on quality so they can exercise informed choice.”