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 inspects schools. It aims to improve standards of achievement and quality of education in schools.
Childcare Inspectors employed by Ofsted register and inspect nurseries, playgroups and pre-schools, crèches, out of school clubs, holiday playschemes and childminders for children under eight, and services that are on the Voluntary Childcare Register from April 2007.
Childcare Inspectors inspect 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 Childcare Inspector will check the work of the provider against the national standards.
Childcare providers who do not meet the national standards at the time of inspection will be told to make improvements within a definite timescale or 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 national standards or other requirements. It will also take appropriate enforcement action where necessary.
Ofsted and parents
When deciding which childcare services to use parents should visit the services with their children and ask childcare providers to show their registration certificates and inspection reports or details are available from the Ofsted website.
Registration certificates - Conditions are restrictions that Ofsted places on a registration which is recorded on the registration certificate. Providers must meet these conditions at all times they provide registered care, as well as other requirements for registration. It is an offence not to meet conditions unless the provider has a reasonable excuse. If there are no conditions displayed then Ofsted has not restricted the registration.
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
Satisfactory: this aspect of the provision is sound
Inadequate: this aspect of the provision is not good enough
For more information about early years inspections, please see the booklet Are you ready for your inspection? 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 have produced some guidance for parents and carers:
Ofsted Early Years and Childcare Registers
Since 2001, the Office For Standards In Education (Ofsted) has inspected childcare against the National Standards for under 8s day care and childminding.
For those childcare providers offering government funded early education to three-and four-year-olds, they are checked to ensure that they meet the ‘Curriculum guidance for the Foundation Stage’.
The statutory framework for the ‘Early Years Foundation Stage’ (EYFS) 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 2012 and mandatory for all early years providers. Ofsted has regard to these standards when carrying out inspections. For further information: https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/AllPublicationsNoRsg/Page1/DFE-00023-2012.
Early Years Register
Childcare providers must join the Early Years Register and deliver the EYFS if they care for children in the EYFS 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.
New requirements regarding the numbers and ages of children cared for
From September 2012 the numbers of children that childcare providers can care for will no longer be displayed on registration certificates. This allows providers to be more flexible in the service they offer; and is applicable to providers on either the Early Years and Childcare Registers.
The link below is a factsheet which sets out the policy and understanding of the law about the numbers and ages of children that providers can care for. The reference number for the resource is 080293, http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources.
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.
Services that provide childcare for preschool age children are usually also registered to 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 nursery education, but not the cost of any additional childcare. Early years education is provided by pre-schools, playgroups, day nurseries, independent/private schools and some childminder networks.
Choosing the right service for your child
As well as looking at Ofsted inspection reports, download our handy checklists with a range of questions you can ask potential childcare or early education services.
If your child has an additional need you may also want to search for services using the Hampshire Local Offer website.
Quality assurance schemes
Some childcare services have undergone an extra series of checks as part of a quality assurance scheme to prove that the service they are providing is of the highest quality.
What schemes should I be looking for?
As there are many different quality assurance schemes the Government has introduced a kitemark called 'Investors in Children'. This lets you know which quality assurance schemes have reached the standards set by the Government.
Those schemes which are available nationally and used by childcare providers in Hampshire include:
- National Day Nursery Association - Quality Counts
- Pre School Learning Alliance - Reflecting on Quality
- 4Children - Aiming Higher
- London Play - Quality Play
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:
Education Acts apply to state nursery schools, state nursery classes and maintained schools. These include:
Education law for three and four year olds
Many early education and childcare services offer free part-time early or pre-school education to three- and four-year-olds. This is paid for by the Government, and the services provided are inspected by The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). See ‘Early Years Education’ section for further details.
Children will learn through early education, following the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum Pre School Development and Learning
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.