Choosing quality childcare or early years education service
Good quality care and education in the early years is essential for all children. These services can influence educational standards and opportunities and enhance children's social development. Regulation of early education and childcare services is carried out by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). All registered providers are expected to meet the national standards which set out the minimum requirements.
Hampshire County Council, through Services for Young Children, provides advice, guidance and training to support the development of good practice.
Ofsted – a guide for parents and carers
What is Ofsted?
Office for Standards in Education, or Ofsted, is the Government department that aims to improve standards of achievement and quality of education in schools, nurseries, playgroups and pre-schools, crèches, out of school clubs, holiday playschemes and childminders.
Childcare Inspectors employed by Ofsted register and inspect providers that are registered on the Early Years Register, Childcare Register and the Voluntary Childcare Register. (See next tab for further details).
Childcare Inspectors inspect all childcare providers on an ongoing cycle. During the inspection, providers will need to show that children are safe, well cared for, and take part in activities that contribute to their development and learning. The Inspectors will check the work of the childcare provider against the standards set by Ofsted.
Childcare providers who do not meet the Ofsted standards at the time of inspection will be given actions within a definite timescale or could potentially have their Ofsted registration cancelled.
Ofsted will look into complaints or other information which gives them reason to believe a childcare provider is not meeting the Ofsted standards or other requirements. Ofsted will also take appropriate enforcement action where necessary.
Ofsted and parents
When deciding which childcare provider to use parents should visit the services with their children and ask childcare providers to show their registration certificates and inspection reports. Inspection reports are also available from the Ofsted website.
Inspection reports - the key inspection judgements and what they mean:
Outstanding: this aspect of the provision is of exceptionally high quality
Good: this aspect of the provision is strong
Requires Improvement: this aspect of the provision requires some areas of improvement
Inadequate: this aspect of the provision is not good enough
For more information about early years inspections, please see Conducting early years inspections which is available from Ofsted's website.
Parental concerns – Ofsted want to hear from parents if there is a concern about a childcare or early years education provider by contacting their helpline: 0300 123 4666. Ofsted advise that parents firstly try and resolve any issues directly with the provider.
Ofsted have produced some guidance for parents and carers:
Ofsted Early Years and Childcare Registers
Since 2001, the Office For Standards In Education (Ofsted) have inspected all childcare providers against set guidance and regulations.
For those childcare providers offering government funded early education to two, three and four year olds, they are checked to ensure that they meet the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).
The Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage sets the standards for care, learning and development for children from birth to 31 August following their fifth birthday. The framework was updated in September 2014 and mandatory for all early years providers. Ofsted has regard to these standards when carrying out inspections. For further information see Early Years Foundation Stage.
Early Years Register
Childcare providers must join the Early Years Register and deliver the EYFS if they care for children in the 0 - 5 years age group. Some services will not have to register which may include:
Activity based settings such as sports clubs
Care provided in the child’s own home such as a nanny.
Compulsory part – childcare providers must join the Childcare Register if they care for children who are older than the EYFS age group but who are under eight.
Voluntary part – some types of childcare provider are not required to register, but can choose to do so. These are:
Care providers who work in the child’s own home, such as a nanny, au-pair etc
Activity based settings such as sports, art and computer clubs etc
Short term care, including some crèches
Care which is only for children aged eight and over.
Childcare providers who work with children in the EYFS age group and also with children up to eight must join both registers.
Choosing quality services
Childcare is provided in a number of different places: pre-schools, playgroups, day nurseries, independent/private schools, childminders, crèches, out-of-school clubs and holiday schemes. Childcare is looking after children without their parents being present enabling parents to work, study or just have some time out.
Early Years Education - Childcare providers registered with Ofsted and approved by Services for Young Children can provide nursery or early years education. The Government pays for eligible children aged 2, and all 3 and 4 years to have free part-time education. Further information can be found here.
Choosing the right service for your child
As well as looking at Ofsted inspection reports, download our handy checklists from our publications page. These checklists contain a range of questions you can ask potential childcare or early education services and give you a idea of what to look for when visiting services.
If your child has a special educational need or disability you may also want to search for services using the Hampshire Local Offer website.
Quality assurance schemes
Some childcare providers have undergone extra checks as part of a quality assurance scheme to prove that the service they are providing is of the highest quality.
There are many different quality assurance schemes and some schemes are available nationally. The most commonly used by childcare providers in Hampshire include:
- National Day Nursery Association - Quality Counts
- Pre School Learning Alliance - Reflecting on Quality
- 4Children - Aiming Higher
Childcare, early years education and the law
Parents are the ‘experts’ on their own children and know best what kind of childcare service will suit their child. Knowing what to expect can help parents have confidence in the service they choose.
Legal regulation framework sets out standards for most kinds of childcare and early education. These include:
The Children Act 1989 - for provision for children under eight
Education Acts apply to state nursery schools, state nursery classes and maintained schools. These include:
Information for families
The Childcare Act 2006 has given Local Authorities a duty to provide information, advice and assistance for parents and carers with children and young people up to the age of 20 regarding a wide range of services and support to families.