Early learning and childcare and school age childcare services inspection: consultation analysis

The analysis report of the consultation on inspection of early learning and childcare and school age childcare services in Scotland.

Current Inspection and Scrutiny Landscape

This section of the consultation document set out the current inspection and scrutiny landscape for the ELC and school age childcare sectors. It highlighted the roles, responsibilities, powers and legislative landscape of both the Care Inspectorate and HMIE in this regard. The role of local authorities as the primary guarantors of quality within the funded ELC sector was also outlined.

Feedback was sought across both the main consultation document and the events about any inspection approaches and activity which have been helpful and supportive in driving improvement across these sectors, and what has been less helpful to date. Respondents were also asked to consider where further improvements could be made to the current system.

Q2.1 Some settings in Scotland currently receive inspections from both the Care Inspectorate and HMIE, visiting either separately or jointly. If you are an ELC and/or school age childcare setting (including childminders, practitioners, teachers and staff working within those settings), from which organisations has your setting or service previously received inspections?

Q2.1 Which organisations has your setting or service previously received inspections?

Number of respondents Percentage of respondents Valid %
Only the Care Inspectorate (single agency inspection) 92 36% 40%
Only HMIE (single agency inspection) 14 6% 6%
Both the Care Inspectorate and HMIE (as separate visits) 96 38% 42%
Both the Care Inspectorate and HMIE (as a joint visit) 49 19% 21%
Neither/not applicable 48 19% 21%
No Response 25 10%

Base: 254 (Note: it was possible to give multiple responses at this question)

Of those respondents (to the main written consultation) who answered the question, over a third had either been inspected by the Care Inspectorate as a single agency inspection (n=92, 40%), or by both the Care Inspectorate and HMIE under separate visits (n=96, 42%). Under a quarter had received joint visit inspections from the Care Inspectorate and HMIE (n=49, 21%), and only a few indicated that they had been inspected by HMIE as a single agency inspection (n=14, 6%). Under a quarter (n=48, 21%) stated that they had either not been subject to any inspections, or that this was not applicable.

It should be noted however, that many of those who indicated they had ‘neither’ been inspected, or that this was ‘not applicable’ were respondents from local authorities, sector representative body/membership organisation, and other organisation types who would not be subject to inspections by either the Care Inspectorate or HMIE. This question would have benefited from offering separate response categories for ‘neither’ or not inspected, and ‘not applicable’ to allow disaggregation between those setting/staff who are perhaps newer and had not received an inspection, and those respondents where this was not ever applicable.

Q2.2 If you are an ELC setting providing funded ELC (or a childminder, practitioner, teacher or staff member working within that setting), when did your setting or service last receive an inspection from HMIE?

Q2.3 If you are an ELC and/or school age childcare setting (or a childminder, practitioner, teacher or staff member working within that setting), when did your setting or service last receive an inspection from the Care Inspectorate?

Q2.2 and Q2.3 When did your setting or service last receive an inspection from HMIE and the Care Inspectorate?

Q2.2 Last HMIE Inspection Q2.3 Last Care Inspectorate Inspection
Number of respondents Percentage of respondents Valid % Number of respondents Percentage of respondents Valid %
Within the last 2 years 9 4% 5% 66 26% 36%
2-5 years ago 44 17% 26% 106 42% 57%
5-10 years ago 49 19% 28% 8 3% 4%
More than 10 years ago 26 10% 15% 1 0% 1%
Never 45 18% 26% 4 2% 2%
Not Answered 81 32% 69 27%

Base: 254

Respondents were more likely to have been inspected more recently by the Care Inspectorate compared to HMIE, with most respondents (n=172, 93%) having been inspected by the Care Inspectorate within the last five years, compared to just under a third (n=53, 31%) who had been inspected by HMIE in the same time period.

Of the respondents who indicated when they last received an inspection from HMIE, just over a quarter stated this was ‘5-10 years ago’ (n=49, 28%), ‘2-5 years ago’ (n=44, 26%), or had ‘never’ been inspected by them (n=45, 26%). A further 15% (n=26) said it have been ‘more than 10 years ago’, while only 5% (n=9) had been inspected ‘within the last 2 years’.

Of those who indicated when they were last inspected by the Care Inspectorate, over half said this had been ‘2-5 years ago’ (n=106, 57%), and a further third had been inspected ‘within the last two years’ (n=66, 36%). Just 4% (n=8) had been inspected ‘5-10 years ago’, 1% (n=1) said they had been inspected ‘more than 10 years ago’, and 2% (n=4) said they had ‘never’ been inspected by the Care Inspectorate.

Q2.4 Discounting periods of disruption over the COVID-19 pandemic, what is your experience of the current inspection approach?

Q2.4 Discounting periods of disruption over the COVID-19 pandemic, what is your experience of the current inspection approach?

Number of respondents Percentage of respondents Valid %
Mainly Positive 79 31% 39%
Neither positive or negative 56 22% 28%
Mainly negative 42 17% 21%
I have not experienced this 24 9% 12%
Not Answered 53 21%

Base: 254

Respondents’ experiences of the current inspection process were largely mixed, with 39% reporting mainly positive experiences, 28% indicating they had been neither positive or negative, and 21% stating they had mainly negative experiences. The remaining 12% (who answered the question) had not directly experienced the inspection process.

Q2.5 Discounting periods of disruption over the COVID-19 pandemic, what do you consider are the benefits of the current inspection approach? Do you have examples of positive experiences to share?

Event Q3. What are the benefits of the current approach to inspection?

While this question was combined within the consultation document, the online Citizen Space questionnaire split this into two separate questions. The first focused on the perceived benefits of the current inspection approach (i.e. the first of the questions above), and while the second outlined this again, it also asked about examples of positive experiences. Given the overlap in how these questions were presented, and that some respondents provided their full response at just one of these questions rather than splitting their answers, all data gathered by these two questions are considered below. Event attendees were also asked to comment on this question and, again, responses are included within the following discussion.

It should also be noted that, in some instances respondents outlined what they perceived the benefits of inspections were more generally, either instead of or as well as the positive elements of the current inspection approaches. Respondents also largely spoke about inspections generally and did not specify which inspectorate their comments referred to. However, even where inspectorate specific comments were provided, the issues were often consistent between the two bodies.

Inspectorates’ Views

Both HMIE and the Care Inspectorate discussed their current frameworks/ inspection models, with both noting that these had been developed following significant stakeholder consultation, and that they could be used for self-assessment and inspections.

The Care Inspectorate argued (across both its formal written response and the comments provided by event attendees), that key benefits of its framework were that it covered all age ranges of children, from babies through to school aged childcare, and that it provided consistency between settings and across the sector (and in particular that it covered both funded and non-funded ELC settings):

“The Care Inspectorate’s quality framework sets out what we expect to see in high quality care and learning provision. This also supports settings to improve experiences for children where improvements are needed. Having one set of quality standards and expectations for all ELC settings, whether or not they provide funded ELC, supports the Scottish Government’s aspiration for all of our children to access high quality ELC, no matter what setting they attend.” (Inspectorate Body)

Other benefits that the Care Inspectorate identified of its approach included:

  • Its inspections were regular and unannounced, thus providing public assurance;
  • Its additional responsibilities for scrutiny, for example, registration, complaints and enforcement activity, provided a national overview of the themes and trends across the ELC landscape;
  • Significant levels of data gathering from services, providers, other professionals and members of the public enable inspections and other activities to be intelligence informed, responsive, targeted, proportionate and risk based;
  • Developing a wider relationship with providers can support improvements, with Inspectors being available to services outwith inspections for advice and support;
  • Providing practice notes, regular provider updates, social media campaigns, dissemination of information;
  • Offering improvement support to settings not performing well, both at the time of inspection and outwith, and undertaking follow-up inspections to monitor/ report on progress; and
  • All stakeholders are involved, including families and the children using a service.

Care Inspectorate event attendees also felt there were benefits to the current joint inspection arrangements, which allowed learning for all involved. However, several also felt that this created challenges and additional burdens on the sector, with a few suggesting that the benefits may not outweigh the issues created.

HMIE also described the strengths and benefits of its inspection model in its written submission. It was noted that “HM Inspectors inspect the quality of education in ELC through the holistic and seamless provision of nurture, care and development of social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills, abilities and wellbeing” (Inspectorate Body). HMIE also felt that their national perspective, continued evaluation over time and 3-18 education focus helped to determine what was working well in the system, areas which showed improvement and areas where further development was needed. It was also stressed that inspection evidence can provide valuable information for parents to help them evaluate the quality of services when making choices.

HMIE indicated that the strengths or benefits of its inspection model were that it focused on both improvement and independent quality assurance, identifying strengths and areas for improvement, while also considering and explaining the context. The focus on quality outcomes for children and seeking to build capacity for providers to self-evaluate while also delivering external inspections, supported by a common language and set of criteria for evaluation, was also considered beneficial. HMIE suggested that its approach required settings to take responsibility for the quality and continuous improvement of the education they provide, and suggested that it had become internationally recognised:

“The aim of our work is to create a quality culture within which the complementary roles of external inspection and internal self-evaluation are both recognised and valued. This approach to accountability and improvement in education, the ‘Scottish model’, has become recognised internationally.” (Inspectorate Body)

Other benefits of the HMIE system, as advocated by HMIE themselves, included:

  • The indicators incorporate safeguarding, child protection and health and wellbeing;
  • It represents good practice and set out levels of performance in education to which settings can aspire;
  • Inspections seek to support and challenge settings in ways which minimise intrusion, maximise impact for children, encourage ownership at setting level, inform stakeholders and drive improvement both locally and nationally;
  • Provides practitioners and providers with affirmation of the quality of their work;
  • Supports the exchange of learning ideas and benchmarking, based on wide knowledge of practice across settings;
  • That inspections were proportional, minimising the opportunity costs by concentrating on the most important impacts on children and on the settings capacity to keep improving;
  • Capacity building by providing extended engagement and support to settings with the greatest need;
  • Increased provision for discussion between inspector and practitioners to share good practice;
  • Takes a user-centred and collaborative approach by involving practitioners from the relevant sectors which provides valuable insights and learning to inspections; and
  • Feedback is sought from the headteacher/head of establishment after the inspection.

Practitioners’ and Other Respondents’ Views

Many respondents, including practitioners and individuals, as well as a range of event attendees preferred inspections which took a supportive and collaborative approach. In particular, respondents spoke positively about inspections where the inspector had:

  • Highlighted the service providers strengths and validated good practice;
  • Had taken a supportive and collaborative approach throughout the inspection process, including getting to know and building a rapport with staff and the children, and understanding their needs;
  • Encouraged collegiate discussion and two-way dialogue;
  • Supported the sharing of good practice;
  • Considered the local context;
  • Framed necessary changes in a positive way; and
  • Had been more ‘hands-on’ during visits (e.g. getting to know the staff, getting involved with the session/children, etc. compared to those who simply observed or focused on paperwork):

“The Care Inspectors who visited our setting were highly supportive and realistic. They made staff feel at ease while undergoing their investigations. I felt they listened to us and when I have phoned them for advice, they have been most supportive.” (Local authority ELC or SAC provider)

“Time was allocated so that we could have a good discussion with an HMI[E] and an Associate assessor from a local authority. We were able to explore our processes for monitoring and tracking children’s progress. We found this really helpful as it was an area we needed to develop. They were able to share their knowledge and point us to support material. This motivated us and enabled us to develop a system that is now working really well.” (Individual)

It was felt that more recent inspections had been more supportive where they had been less focused on paperwork, and more time was spent on observing/ participating in sessions. Similarly, some considered that inspections conducted since COVID-19 had been an improvement on those pre-COVID-19. It was widely felt (across all respondent groups) that these were more supportive and took local circumstances into account to a greater degree. HMIE COVID-19 ‘Recovery Visits’ and online approaches used by the inspectorates during the pandemic were also said by several to have been very positive and helpful experiences:

“…reports from members who participated in the voluntary Recovery visits, led by Education Scotland [HMIE] were more positive. It is noteworthy that the focus during these visits was on collegiate dialogue to assist self-reflection and inform next steps, with reports produced solely for that purpose and, crucially, no grades or scoring system was adopted. This would appear to have been a much more collaborative, engaging and meaningful process for those involved and much could be learned from this approach in the current context.” (Trade Union)

Similarly, Local Authorities appreciated those inspections which had been collaborative and inclusive between the relevant inspectorate, the service provider, and local authority officers:

“Local authority officers have found it helpful being involved in dialogue with both Care Inspectorate and HMIE during inspection processes and have been invited to participate in feedback meetings. This has provided [the] opportunity to share local authority quality assurances processes and support [the] establishment to identify next steps and action planning where appropriate.” (Local Authority)

Across all response formats, there was a slight sense that some found the HMIE approach to be more supportive, collaborative, and helpful compared to the Care Inspectorate approach. However, several respondents who noted having had more recent Care Inspectorate inspections also reported that these had been positive and supportive experiences:

“Care Inspectorate are not providing support to settings in the same way as the support provided by Education Scotland. Education Scotland seems to come from a position where we do things together. Inspectors are supportive and supports settings to think about things in a different way. Care Inspectorate inspectors do not provide reflective discussions. It is such a shame because the Care Inspectorate inspectors must have such a wealth of experience which means they are in the best position to encourage communities of practice.” (EYS Event Attendee)

In addition, several of those attending the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) event indicated that established relationships could be built up between settings and Care Inspectorate inspectors due to the nature and frequency of contact. Meanwhile, they suggested that the lower frequency of visits/contact from HMIE meant that such relationships could not be established, and that this also impacted on its ability to gather wide evidence of good practice.

It was also felt that the guidance was now clearer and simpler, and that the current approach(es) supported team reflection and self-evaluation. In particular, the new Care Inspectorate framework was welcomed by practitioners and local authorities as being an easy to follow and manageable document which provided clear guidance in relation to what good quality care looks like and links to best practice:

“The new quality framework for ELC published by the Care Inspectorate is a fantastic resource and much more supportive than HGIOELC.” (Private, independent or third sector ELC or SAC provider)

Other aspects of the current inspection approaches which were identified by a range of respondents (across both the written responses and event comments) as being positive or helpful included those which:

  • Identify the strengths and good practice of services, and providing validation of both services own self-evaluation work and local authorities quality assurance assessments;
  • Helped providers to develop, improve, and deliver high quality services, particularly where clear guidance, advice and experience was shared by the inspector;
  • Consult with all stakeholders, including staff, the children and their parents/ carers;
  • Have clear guidelines and expectations regarding what is being inspected;
  • Have a ‘named inspector’ or some mechanism to allow for follow-up discussion, support, advice, guidance and signposting. Similarly, having the same inspector visit services, for follow-ups or at subsequent inspections was welcomed as there was an existing relationship and respondents felt the inspector was able to see the progress that had been made:

“Positive experience of a HMIE inspection where they came back to review a nursery who had previously been graded low. The same inspector was present so she could really see the difference and knew the staff and nursery. This was invaluable.” (Individual)

  • That the current approach allowed for ‘depth’ of evidence gathering and ‘depth of inspection’;
  • That the risk based approach was appropriate and proportionate;
  • Focused on the children, i.e. their individual needs, happiness, wellbeing, safety, outcomes, etc.; and
  • Unannounced visits were preferred by a few respondents as this was felt to reduce anxiety for staff and were more likely to be representative of a ‘typical’ day - although others did welcome the advance notice provided by HMIE on occasions as it allowed them to gather evidence and prepare relevant information to support the inspection. Dialogue or meetings in advance of the visit were also welcomed by a few as this allowed for scoping and the development of understanding around local context.

Some respondents outlined the perceived benefits of inspections more generally. These were considered to be the provision of reassurance when and where things are going well, as well as the identification of any issues and the development and improvement of services. However, a few respondents noted that they either did not perceive, had not experienced, or felt there were very few/limited benefits as a result of inspections (although a few did discuss positive elements of the inspection process itself):

“No benefits whatsoever, scrutinised more than teaching colleagues, under more pressure and sometimes feeling pulled in different directions.” (Individual)

Mixed Experiences

Despite the above benefits, several respondents to the written consultation (including ELC providers, individuals and sector representative bodies/membership organisations), and a more substantial number of event attendees also outlined a range of challenges, drawbacks and problems (which are also explored in more detail at Q2.6 below). Respondents noted that experiences remained mixed; experiences were not consistent across all inspections or inspectors; there was a lack of continuity of inspectors; and that inspections could be very stressful for staff:

“…there are too many inconsistencies within the range of inspectors across Scotland. Having services throughout Scotland this is very obvious. When you challenge it and say that what is being said in one service is not what has been said in another service, you can be patronised and made to feel horrendous.” (Private, independent or third sector ELC or SAC provider)

Several respondents from across the different profile groups stressed that the two inspectorates have different roles which need to be understood and valued. However, one event attendee suggested there may be a current lack of understanding around the roles and responsibilities of the two inspectorates:

“Many of the current issues reported relate to the lack of understanding of the roles of both ES [HMIE] and CI [Care Inspectorate] and how these are enacted through inspection. This undermines the potential benefits of the current system.” (Trade Union Event Attendee)

Ultimately, a few practitioners and event attendees felt that it was not helpful to have two inspection frameworks, particularly where these had different expectations and demands, which could be contradictory at times, and both were considered to be “so big”. Event attendees also expressed a sense of “over-scrutiny” and confusion created by the use of two separate inspection frameworks. As such, several respondents, across both the main written responses and the event comments, expressed a preference for a single inspection body rather than the continuation of a dual organisation system.

Further, most attendees at the SOSCN event (as with respondents at other consultation questions) stressed that the ELC and SAC sectors were different, offering services to different age groups, having different purposes, and different frequencies and lengths of time being spent with children. As such, they argued that ELC and SAC should be treated differently and have different inspection frameworks.

Q2.6 Discounting periods of disruption over COVID-19 pandemic, what do you consider are the challenges of the current inspection approach? Do you have examples of challenging experiences to share?

Event Q4. What are the challenges of the current approach to inspection?

This question was again combined within the consultation document but split into two parts in the Citizen Space questionnaire, in the same way as Q2.5. For the same reasons as above, all data gathered by these two questions are considered below. In addition, the challenges of the current inspection approach was explored across the events, with responses also considered below.

Inspectorates’ Views

Both the Care Inspectorate and HMIE acknowledged that the presence of two inspection frameworks for ELC leads to confusion and duplication for providers. Care Inspectorate event attendees also suggested that different understandings of the roles and responsibilities of each inspectorate, as well as different expectations impacted on this. In addition, HMIE’s written response and Care Inspectorate event attendees suggested that this was further compounded by the quality assurance procedures of local authorities and the inconsistencies between the different frameworks, practices and timescales used by the three different agencies, resulting in a sense of over-scrutiny/over-regulation:

“…we acknowledge the current inspection system for those settings providing funded ELC is complex. It can be confusing when the Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland inspect a setting on a shared inspection basis, with two different self-evaluation frameworks evaluating outcomes for the same group of children. As there are commonalities that exist across the documents, this places unnecessary burden on practitioners and is confusing for parents.” (Inspectorate Body)

In particular, HMIE and those attending the Care Inspectorate events suggested that the dual interest in the education/learning aspect of service provision, and uncertainty over the language used (e.g. play, learning or education) and which documentation to use could drive confusion:

“Settings could be confused by the overlap in inspection with both the Care Inspectorate and HM Inspectors taking an interest in ‘learning’, albeit to different degrees and with a different focus relevant to areas of remit and expertise. This may lead to unintended confusion of the separate roles between HM Inspectors and Care Inspectors undertaking inspections.” (Inspectorate Body)

Further, Care Inspectorate event attendees noted that the Care Inspectorate evaluation/gradings were linked to the National Standard for funded ELC provision, while HMIE evaluations were not. Some attendees also felt that one inspectorate was often prioritised over the other, or that the Care Inspectorate and HMIE were not perceived as equal partners (with the Care Inspectorate often referred to as “the poor relation”) - this was true both in relation to inspections and more generally. Further, it was argued that there was a lack of communication and true joint working between the two inspectorates currently.

HMIE argued that the use of shared inspections needed to expand, but suggested that this would require an increase in resources and staffing capacity:

“[We] firmly believe that there is now more than ever a greater need to expand the programme of shared inspections carried out by HM Inspectors and the Care Inspectorate as part of the continuing expansion of ELC. This will require a significant increase in resources in staffing capacity of HM Inspectors.” (Inspection Body)

Practitioners’ and Other Respondents’ Views

Responses in relation to the challenges of the current inspection framework(s) were largely consistent both across the respondent groups and between the response formats (with the exception of the Care Inspectorate events). The main challenges or difficulties included current inconsistencies in approach, and challenges created by having two separate inspection frameworks.

One of the main challenges discussed by many respondents was inconsistency in approach and interpretation of requirements between different inspectors (often from the same inspectorate), and between inspections by the same inspector. It was felt the requirements were confusing, too open to interpretation and that services were at the mercy of the particular inspector they got on the day, whose interpretation could be informed by their own perceptions, rather than determining whether a service met standardised requirements. Several also felt there were differences in the level of knowledge and experience provided by inspectors. Others complained of a lack of consistency in the individual inspectors who visited, with inspectors considered to change too frequently. This was problematic as it was seen to hinder the development of relationships, made it difficult for an inspector to fully understand or be knowledgeable about the service provided, and meant that progress against previous visits or advice was generally not taken into account:

“…members found… inconsistencies across both inspectorate bodies but also within the same body with different inspectors. Members found that within the same inspection body often one inspector would say one thing and on the following inspection a different inspector would say something different… Another member said that during one inspection an inspector gave conflicting advice to staff in different rooms, which left the staff unsure as to what was expected of them.” (Sector representative body/membership organisation)

A few respondents, largely childminders and local authorities, felt there were also inconsistencies in the results of inspections between services both locally and nationally. Others noted that differences in the grading provided by the two inspectorates for the same provider can be confusing.

A second, but equally important, challenge was having two inspection frameworks to work from (and three self-evaluation frameworks when including the local authority’s quality assurance requirements for the National Standard). This made the system feel disjointed, and meant staff needed to be knowledgeable across a wide spectrum of resources and large number of documents. It was also suggested that there were different expectations between the Care Inspectorate and HMIE, as well as a lack of clarity in the guidance around what is expected in practice. Further, respondents felt that the frameworks involved conflicting views and purposes in places, contained overlap and duplication in purpose and therefore duplication of work for practitioners, and resulted in confusion, inefficiencies and made self-evaluation and development difficult. This was further compounded by the other requirements staff needed to adhere to, including Health and Social Care Standards, GIRFEC, the National Improvement Framework, Curriculum for Excellence, Realising the Ambition, etc. - it was felt there was a cluttered and unachievable landscape, with practitioners finding it difficult to know what areas to prioritise:

“Both organisations can, in my previous experience, be asking you to approach an area for improvement differently and at times with conflicting ideas.” (Individual)

Several attendees at the Trade Union and ADES events highlighted a general lack of understanding around the roles and responsibilities of the different inspectorates, while a few others (including an attendee at the AHDS event) felt that having two inspectorates did not provide value for money.

In addition, a few practitioners felt that the language and wording used was overly complicated and contained too much jargon; rather it was felt that this needed to be simplified, and made clearer and easier to understand.

Advice or feedback between the two inspectorates was said to be conflicting on occasions, with one respondent indicating that suggestions for improvement from HMIE were in opposition to Care Inspectorate ideals, while another noted that Care Inspectorate advice on learning often did not align with Education Scotland's curricular programme, aims and objects. Indeed, a few respondents argued that the Care Inspectorate should not have a remit for learning and teaching, while others suggested that HMIE involvement was not necessary due to the more regular inspections by the Care Inspectorate that covered learning and education as well as care.

Several felt they were not inspected often enough and felt there needed to more of a working relationship, some form of interim contact, or more light-touch visits. However, others felt the sector was over scrutinised, with settings being inspected too often:

“Scrutiny and inspection by two different inspectorate bodies with different frameworks is overly bureaucratic and can cause confusion for the ELC sector. As a sector of education, it is the most overly and regularly scrutinised sector.” (Local Authority)

Another common issue was that inspections, gradings and reports were perceived as being based on a small ‘snap-shot’ rather than providing a fair reflection of service provision. It was felt that inspectors needed to spend longer in settings, and consider progress already made by services:

“An unannounced, one day, inspection does not give an overall view of the setting, only a view of how things are that day. Anyone who works in childcare knows that days can vary greatly depending on a range of factors such as the children present that day and staff absence. This means the inspection report may not give a true reflection of the setting.” (ELC and or SAC Provider, Playgroup)

A few also complained about the lack of opportunities to work with the inspector post-inspection on practice improvements/development, or to challenge findings/grades or to submit additional evidence to support a reconsideration of their grades. Some discussed this in reference to Care Inspectorate inspections, while others did not specify the inspectorate or whether this was a general point about both.

Some respondents also complained that inspections did not take account of local challenges, including staffing problems, the expansion of ELC hours (to 1140 hours), and the impact of COVID-19 (on both staff and children) - although this was perhaps seen more as an issue for Care Inspectorate inspections than HMIE based inspections:

“Far too harsh with no consideration for what staff and children have been put through. We, as a sector worked through the pandemic and CI [the Care Inspectorate] came out all guns blazing crucifying us… CI [Care Inspector] inspectors need to have a better understanding of child development. Children are not at stages they were pre pandemic, this is something that HMIE understood fully.” (Private, independent or third sector ELC or SAC provider)

Many respondents noted that the inspection approach and process was highly stressful, and created fear and panic in providers and staff. Inspections were also considered to be more punitive than supportive, with a few practitioners/service providers indicating that inspections did not focus on or identify what was working well or what a practitioner was good at, but rather was too focused on what had not been done or areas for improvement. The stress felt by practitioners was said to impact on their ability to perform positively during the inspection process itself, and to have wider impacts on staff morale, mental health, and ultimately, staff retention.

The level of paperwork involved was noted as problematic, particularly for childminders, but also for those working in other settings. This was due to the volume of paperwork required, perceived duplication between the frameworks, and the lack of clear guidance, training, and awareness of requirements. It was also suggested that inspections could often feel like a largely paper-based exercise.

Unannounced inspections were said to cause disruption to the running of the setting. For single person providers this meant having to divide their attention between the children and the inspectors, while it made managing the required staff to children ratios difficult in larger settings when inspectors wanted to speak with groups of staff. This was in addition to the disruption to the children, their routines or plans for that day, with some noting that the children were often unsettled by visitors and could therefore behave differently. A few suggested that the frameworks/ approaches can, therefore, have negative impacts on the care given.

A few also noted that staff feedback sessions were often conducted outwith staff’s working hours, and that practitioner/staff familiarisation with the frameworks, guidance, and resources, as well as the completion of paperwork and preparation for inspections, also often had to take place ‘out of hours’ due to the lack of non-contact time for many (particularly (although not exclusively) those in SAC and childminder settings where managers and support staff were not available). This was again said to be unfair in an already overstretched sector and on practitioners who were often working at or beyond capacity.

The inappropriateness of the SAC and childminding sectors being subject to the same inspection framework as ELC nursery settings was again discussed by several respondents, both here and across other questions. It was argued that the current inspection system was designed around nurseries and the funded ELC sector; that it did not understand or reflect the childminding and SAC sectors; did not take account of the differences between different types of providers/settings; and that inspectors were not experienced in the SAC sector. For example, it was felt unfair that inspections did not take account of SAC services which occupied a shared space and had limitations on their physical surroundings, where they had no control over the facilities within rented spaces, or were unable to permanently display children’s work due to having to set-up and remove their service each time. Some of those in the SAC sector felt like the inspection process was a box-ticking exercise with no real benefits for the children. In addition, it was highlighted that many childminders (and other PVI settings) did not deliver funded ELC hours but were inspected to the same standards by the Care Inspectorate, and even those who did deliver funded ELC provision would have a large portion of their business which provided alternative provision (e.g. to those aged 0-2 and school aged children who were not eligible for funded hours) where it was inappropriate to be assessed against funded ELC requirements, however, provision was not made for this within the current framework.

Other challenges, which were mentioned less often, and were more relevant to specific sectors included:

  • Those working in school based nursery settings felt they were under greater pressure than their school colleagues in relation to inspections due to the multiple inspection framework;
  • A few also suggested there was a divide’ or difference in scrutiny between local authority and PVI sector settings; and
  • A few event attendees noted that the situations and educational requirements within Gaelic medium settings were not well understood or acknowledged within inspections, and noted that there were no Gaelic inspectors.

Those attending the Early Years Scotland (EYS) event stressed that help and support was needed for the sector now. They noted that many practitioners were leaving the profession due to the levels of stress involved and challenges currently being faced, and therefore immediate action was required, even if it was just to provide interim support until a final approach/framework could be implemented.

Finally, it should be noted that, at both Q2.5 and Q2.6, several respondents argued that it was not possible or appropriate to discount experiences during or as a result of COVID-19 as this had had such a significant impact on the sector.

Q2.7 Under the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010, HMIE and the Care Inspectorate are under a duty to ‘cooperate and coordinate’ their inspection activity. To what extent do you agree or disagree that the two inspectorate bodies cooperate with one another and coordinate inspection activity effectively? Can you tell us why you think this?

Q2.7 To what extent do you agree or disagree that the two inspectorate bodies cooperate with one another and coordinate inspection activity effectively?

Number of respondents Percentage of respondents Valid %
Strongly Disagree 33 13% 14%
Disagree 71 28% 30%
Neutral 45 18% 19%
Agree 20 8% 9%
Strongly Agree 9 3% 4%
Don't know 56 22% 24%
Not Answered 20 8%

Base: 254

Respondents (who provided an answer at this question) were more likely to disagree (n=104, 44%) that HMIE and the Care Inspectorate cooperate with one another and coordinate inspection activity effectively, compared to those who agreed (n=29, 13%).

Of those who provided qualitative comments (across both those who disagreed and agreed), some outlined arguments for either a joint framework or for a single inspection body to be responsible for the sector, or they discussed the need for/benefits of close cooperation and joint working - they did not offer views on how well the inspectorates currently cooperate and coordinate. This was particularly the case for those who agreed, with just under half of those who provided comments outlining aspirational descriptions and a desire for the agencies to cooperate in future rather than discussing how well they felt this was done currently. As views on possible future changes are captured in the following chapter, these have not been included here.

Evidence of a Lack of Cooperation and Coordination

Those who provided negative comments, and those who provided a neutral rating, discussed a range of issues which they felt showed a lack of cooperation and coordination in the work of the Care Inspectorate and HMIE.

The main issue was that the inspectorates had competing priorities, “little common ground” (individual), that there was a lack of consistency in the quality indicators or what was expected from services, and differing approaches/ methodologies employed by the two inspectorates (all of which was said to make it difficult for staff to know what they should be doing):

“Individual inspectorate bodies appear to work in isolation with distinct values and at times very different viewpoints.” (Local Authority)

While some felt that the Care Inspectorate was focused on care and cleanliness, and HMIE on learning and education, others argued that the roles of the two inspectorates tended to blur or overlap, particularly with the Care Inspectorate now considering both care and learning. Further, feedback and advice were said to be contradictory, for example, that Care Inspectorate feedback and advice on learning/education can conflict with HMIE advice in this area:

“I have worked in both settings [ELC and schools] at management level and feel that the lines are very blurred in relation to the roles and responsibilities of both care inspectorate and HMIE with regards to inspections.” (Individual)

“In practical terms, there has been occasion where different advice has been offered from Education Scotland [HMIE] inspectors and care inspectors about, for example, planning for learning and assessment of progress. This is unacceptable and is potentially harmful to improvement.” (Local Authority)

Joint inspections appeared to have been rare among the consultation respondents (experienced by 21% of respondents at Q2.1, but discussed with less frequency in the open comments), however, it was suggested that these essentially just meant both inspectorates visited at the same time but continued to inspect independently. A few also noted that joint inspections involved a larger number of HMIE inspectors compared to Care Inspectorate inspectors attending settings - this was said to be disproportionate and overwhelming (for both settings and Care Inspectorate inspectors):

“Members spoke about how in the run up to the inspection both inspectorates required their own paperwork and evidence placing an administrative burden on settings… [We have] heard that during the inspection often inspectors didn’t speak to each other, would visit the same rooms separately, speak to staff independently which increased staff anxiety and worry that they were perhaps saying different things to the different inspectors. Members also highlighted differences in the way that feedback was provided to settings after the inspection. There was no coherence between the inspection feedback, members reported that often the feedback was vague from one inspection body leaving them with more questions than answers and then [was more] robust from the other. Members said it felt like one inspector would be in ‘control’ and the other would just agree with what was being said. Members reported a lack of clarity around what was expected before, during and after the inspection, which significantly increased the staff anxiety levels.” (Sector representative body/membership organisation)

It was also noted that the two inspectorates have different timescales for when settings are inspected. Some noted that the two organisations communicated to inform each other of when and where inspections were planned to ensure they did not overlap or happen too close together. Others, however, considered that even this lacked collaboration, with some complaining of inspections from each body happening very close together. Several also perceived that there was a lack of communication between the inspectorates in relation to the outcome of inspections, with findings from an inspection from one body not taken into account at the next inspection by the other.

A few felt that the two inspectorates had little respect for each other, that the Care Inspectorate was given less weight by other stakeholders/organisations, and that HMIE were perceived to either automatically take the lead in joint inspections or that they did not collaborate:

“It is well known that currently [the] Care Inspectorate and HMIE inspectors do not respect one another and sometimes go out of their way to disagree so I just cannot see how this would work…” (Individual)

“I don’t think HMIE (and councils) put as much importance on the Care Inspectorate inspections and likewise think there is tensions between HMIE and Care [Inspectorate] inspectors/procedures as they both disagree on certain factors.” (Private, independent or third sector ELC or SAC provide)

A few respondents also cited the failure to have developed a shared inspection framework previously as evidence of a lack of cooperation between the two bodies:

“There is no evidence that these two organisations cooperate - quite the reverse. They have had five years to produce a shared framework and have failed. Instead CI [Care Inspectorate] have produced their own framework with a total lack of guidance as to how HGIOELC and CI [Care Inspectorate] framework should be used together. I think for many settings this failure has resulted in a huge loss of credibility for both organisations and has led to a completely overwhelming amount of guidance/quality indicators etc.” (Individual)

Evidence of Cooperation and Coordination

Although not all respondents agreed, the two areas where some considered there to be existing cooperation and coordination was in the planning and conduct of joint inspections, and liaising with each other in relation to the planning of inspections to ensure settings are not inspected by both bodies within a certain time period.

However, it should be noted that, while respondents felt that joint inspections showed coordination and cooperation, experiences of the inspections themselves were reported to be mixed. One local authority suggested that previous experience of joint inspections had been successful, while a provider described the experience as highly intensive:

“I think they co-ordinate as in they came on the same day the last time we had a visit from HMIE. However the inspection was like being shot with both barrels, it was extremely intense and unpleasant.” (Private, independent or third sector ELC or SAC provider)

A few respondents also felt that there was now greater alignment of the inspection programmes, as well as the aims and objectives of inspections.

Lack of Experience or Knowledge

Several of those who gave a neutral rating, and most of those who said ‘don’t know’ at the closed part of this question, indicated that they had either not been subject to a joint inspection, or had not been inspected by HMIE (either at all or for many years). As such, they felt they could not offer comments at this question.

Two respondents (a local authority and a sector representative body/membership organisation) suggested that more information about the expectations about this aspect would have been helpful in the consultation:

“It would be helpful to have more details in relation to the expectations regarding co-operation and co-ordination including how this will be measured and evaluated.” (Local Authority)

Event Responses (Q5. Do you have any comments on how the Care Inspectorate and HMIE ‘cooperate and coordinate’ inspection activity?)

Only one event (a public event) asked attendees to consider this question, however, most responses did not focus on the question asked. As above, most outlined either individual elements of inspections which they felt needed improvement, or advocated the need for a shared framework to improve the situation. Others reiterated the challenges within the current system.

Only four attendees provided comments in relation to how well the two inspectorate bodies cooperate and coordinate currently. Two noted the different approaches taken by the inspectorates, while the other comments were provided by just one attendee each, as follows:

  • There was felt to be no evidence of cooperation or coordination currently;
  • The inspectorates were seen as separate organisations; and
  • It was felt the inspectorates needed to communicate with each other more.

Q2.8 Do you think any change is required to the current duty to ‘cooperate and coordinate’ inspection activity to provide opportunities to improve cooperation and coordination between the inspectorate bodies in the short and medium term? If you answered ‘Yes’, what more could be done?

Q2.8 Do you think any change is required to the current duty to ‘cooperate and coordinate’ inspection activity to provide opportunities to improve cooperation and coordination between the inspectorate bodies in the short and medium term?

Number of respondents Percentage of respondents Valid %
Yes, more could be done 170 67% 80%
No, more could not be done 42 16.5% 20%
Not Answered 42 16.5%

Base: 254

Most respondents (who answered the question) felt that more could be done to improve cooperation and coordination between the inspectorate bodies in the short and medium term (n=170, 80%).

Both inspectorates noted that they already had a legal duty to cooperate with each other (and other inspectorates and statutory partners), and indicated that they were committed to doing so, both currently and going forward:

“[HMIE] plan and organise shared inspections and work with the Care Inspectorate on the deployment of inspection teams, sharing inspection information and jointly publishing reports. [HMIE] and Care Inspectorate meet regularly to share information of detailed plans to coordinate inspection activity.” (Inspectorate Body)

However, respondents who indicated that more could be done outlined a range of elements for consideration.

Three main options were highlighted by respondents, including:

  • The creation of a single body responsible for inspections of the sector, including amalgamating the staff and skills from across both existing inspectorates into a new single body, or allocating the responsibility for both care and education to one of the existing inspectorates;
  • The creation of a single or shared framework which captures the requirements of both inspectorates. While this was explicitly stated by some respondents, many more discussed the needs for elements that would be required/ addressed by the creation of a single/shared framework. These respondents tended not to be specific about how this would be implemented however, e.g. by one or both bodies, or single or joint inspection processes; or
  • Having joint inspections or one inspection which covered all aspects of care and education.

Regardless of the ultimate approach for the inspection model, the key priorities for respondents in relation to the improvement of cooperation and coordination between the inspectorate bodies was for them to work together to co-produce a more coordinated and streamlined approach. It was argued that both inspectorates needed to work from the same principles, inspection criteria, quality indicators/ themes, guidance and paperwork. One individual also suggested that all aspects needed to be given equal weighting (e.g. care, quality of facilities, safety, and learning):

“The coordination would be developed if there was a change in the quality frameworks used, if ELC has one single framework then there would be a change required for the two bodies to collaborate more and effectively.” (Playgroup)

“Have one document for self-evaluation that covers the requirements of both organisations and ensure this is what the inspection is based on.” (Private, independent or third sector ELC or SAC provider)

Better communication, coordination and partnership working was also said to be necessary between the inspectorates, and for this to be genuine and effective rather than “tokenistic”. In particular, an increase in the use of joint inspections, and the use of joint training sessions for inspectors were suggested as ways to ensure greater collaboration and cooperation, as well as developing shared learning. A few respondents also highlighted the opportunity/need for greater moderation of grading/reports and communication where inspectorates had provided conflicting grades, advice or feedback to the same provider, in order to provide clarity to providers as well as providing local and national consistency:

“Think there needs to be more honest discussions where it is actually highlighted the issues that are raised in settings when they have been inspected by both bodies separately and there is disagreements on the feedback each body provides. Think many settings have experienced the difference of opinions on the two inspecting bodies and the lack of co-ordination between them both, but this is just swept under the carpet.” (Private, independent or third sector ELC or SAC provider)

While many argued for a single framework to be created, others felt it would be more appropriate to ensure separation of what each inspectorate is focused on (or argued that this was needed if it was not possible to provide a single framework). For example, it was felt that the Care Inspectorate should be focused on care, and HMIE should be focused on learning/education. Respondents believed that clear division of roles would help to provide greater clarity for service providers.

Additional Governance

A few respondents felt that the Scottish Government needed to be more proactive in managing the situation. It was suggested that the Scottish Government could take steps to force the inspectorates to collaborate as they felt the existing ‘duty’ had failed to achieve this to date:

“Scottish Government can stipulate clear expectations and quality assess how this is reflected in practice.” (Individual)

Alternatively, one Trade Union argued that the existing ‘duty’ should be replaced by a system review in order to allow the development of a new streamlined inspection process:

“The duty should be replaced by a system review to arrive at a streamlined version of scrutiny and assurance which removes the wasteful duplication of current arrangements.” (Trade Union)

One private, independent or third sector ELC or SAC provider suggested that the legislation needed to be more streamlined to support improvements, while one individual suggested that the Scottish Government should support one organisation to be the lead inspectorate as they felt this would ensure greater cooperation between the relevant bodies. Again, they acknowledged that this would require a change in the legislation (this respondent advocated for the Care Inspectorate to be the lead agency).

One individual suggested that more needed to be done to develop the “working relationships and senior governance of the inspectorates” and two noted the need for “recognition of the disparities in salary and working conditions between the inspectorates” (Individual).

Other Comments Related to Improving Inspections

Others used this opportunity to reiterate the challenges faced by the sector in relation to inspections, and outlined aspects that may improve the inspections themselves. This included, for example: providing greater clarity about what is required; being more supportive; being more understanding of the challenges facing the sector (and developing greater understanding of and reflection on the differences between different types of providers); and facilitating ongoing liaison between settings/practitioners and inspectors.

Q2.9 What are your views on how local authorities carry out their role in monitoring and supporting quality improvement in ELC and school age childcare provision (where appropriate), and how this aligns with the inspection functions carried out by the Care Inspectorate and HMIE?

Mixed responses were provided to this question, with some focusing on how local authorities support settings in relation to inspections (or not), and others discussing the arrangements or experiences of the local authorities quality assurance role in maintaining the National Standard for funded ELC.

Those who discussed the local authorities’ role in evaluating settings against the National Standard for ELC provided mixed views and experiences. Several felt that the process was supportive, aligned well with both the Care Inspectorate and HMIE requirements, and some indicated that they had a named contact within the local authority for support. A few also welcomed the input provided by local authority officers at inspection feedback meetings:

“I have a Quality Assurance visit annually and the process is very supportive. It considers Care Inspectorate and HMIE priorities. I also have a link person from the local authority who supports my setting.” (Local authority ELC or SAC provider)

Where local authorities provided Quality Improvement Officers (QIOs) or Support Officers, this was discussed positively and considered to be supportive. Others, who did not have access to such officers, felt that the introduction of this role would be beneficial. However, a few did note that, due to workload pressures, it was not always possible for practitioners/services to contact or receive the desired level of input/support from these officers. Indeed, resourcing of local authorities was a common issue for respondents when feeling that they were not performing their role effectively in monitoring and supporting quality improvement:

“[We] heard from members that they valued the role of the local authority Quality Improvement Officers in supporting them to deliver quality ELC. There was however some concern that the support varied across Scotland and some areas offered much more support than others. Members told us that they felt that over time the QIO’s role had changed and that they had less time to spend in settings, with much of the time spent with managers rather than staff. It was clear however that in some local authorities the time spent with QIO’s was positive, focused and adaptable. Members said that it was definitely a valuable resource when it worked… members told us quite strongly that they really valued the support from the QIOs and that they would like this to remain and the inspection bodies and process to be more streamlined.” (Sector representative body/membership organisation)

While a few suggested there had been improvements in their local authority’s involvement/support to the sector over the last few years, many more were negative in their descriptions, with childminders and private, independent or third sector ELC or SAC providers being more negative compared to those in local authority based ELC settings. The key issues included:

  • That local authority involvement was lacking or poor, and visits (from both local authority officers and principal teachers) were very infrequent;
  • Those with experience across more than one local authority stressed that monitoring and support of quality improvement varied widely across the country;

“Members report that there are 32 different models of local authority support from near non-existent to excessive.” (Trade Union)

  • That partner providers were “left behind” or subject to different treatment compared to local authority-based settings, particularly in relation to training, support, understanding of the settings, and conflicting visions between local authorities and partner providers (with local authorities occasionally said to be working to “outdated” ideas);

“I have worked in [multiple] local authorities… and have seen various levels of support, ranging from good to non-existent!! Again, private and voluntary partners get even less support, but are expected to deliver the same quality - very unfair.” (Individual)

  • That local authority visits/evaluations could feel like another inspection;
  • That local authority evaluations were too focused on paperwork and targets and did not provide enough of a focus on observing practice or consulting with children, families or staff;
  • That local authorities only became involved as a result of an inspection from another body, either to support preparation or to monitor changes required following an inspection;
  • That local authority requirements created duplication of effort between this and the Care Inspectorate and/or HMIE requirements;
  • That local authority requirements aligned more with the guidance from one inspectorate or the other;
  • That local authority officers sometimes lacked the skills or experience to provide effective support or advice to practitioners or settings, particularly to specialist providers such as ASN or GME settings; and
  • That local authority advice conflicted with that of either the Care Inspectorate or HMIE, and can be unrealistic and unmanageable.

A few felt that the local authority requirements (on top of all the other requirements on services) were overwhelming, particularly for childminders and smaller settings. This included the volume of documents and paperwork generated, and expectations and timescales for suggested changes. One childminder stated that they had ceased providing the funded 1140 ELC provision due to the additional workload created by having to be evaluated by the local authority. They noted duplication in paperwork required between the Care Inspectorate and the local authority, and conflicting advice and feedback from each organisation following inspections/evaluations.

A few also indicated that there was more limited, or in some cases no local authority support for SAC or unfunded ELC settings.

Local authorities tended to outline the steps they took to monitor and support quality improvement in ELC. While a few noted that they tended to align their approaches to both the Care Inspectorate and HMIE frameworks, a slightly greater number indicated that they focused more on just one of these. Several also stressed that they had no statutory requirement to support SAC and so they relied on the Care Inspectorate to regulate these settings.

Regardless of whether respondents found the local authority supportive or not in terms of monitoring and supporting quality assurance, several stressed that this added a third layer of regulation, scrutiny and inspection to the sector. This was seen to be an unnecessary burden, too bureaucratic, and diverted too much staff time away from the day-to-day delivery of services:

“Effectively this just acts as a third layer of regulation. It makes the situation even more over complicated and confusing and wastes yet more of settings time and energy, triplicating a lot of work and evidence that we have to provide. If HMIE and CI [the Care Inspectorate] can't agree then you haven't got a hope of local authorities, HMIE and CI [the Care Inspectorate] agreeing and it's settings that end up running around trying to keep everyone happy rather than actually focusing on supporting children. It's also a huge waste of taxpayers’ money.” (Individual)

Q2.10 Please provide any further comments on how you think the current inspection approach could be improved.

Again, respondents put forward preferences for different types of inspection models which importantly only involved the use of one single framework - this included moving to joint inspections which used one set of documentation, the development of a new shared framework, or the creation of a single inspection body working from one framework.

Respondents from across the different sectors and respondent categories also stressed the need to:

  • Streamline and standardise the inspection process, provide clear and transparent criteria and reduce the possibility for different interpretations of requirements, develop consistency in approach, interpretation and advice between inspectors;
  • Recognise the differences, limitations and challenges between the different sectors and types of providers (particularly for childminders, SAC/OSC and PVI providers), and remove the disparity between the treatment of Local Authority and PVI settings;
  • Inspections and inspectors should be ‘friendlier’, more supportive and not punitive, inspectors should work with settings on improvement and the process should recognise strengths and good work, and not instil stress and fear in staff;
  • More collaborative and joined up working, both between the inspectorates and with the local authority;
  • For all inspections to be announced, or at least have fewer unannounced visits, or provide short-notice to settings - this would ensure that key staff and managers are available and allows staff to be emotionally prepared;
  • Greater liaison and relationship building needed between settings, inspectors, and local authority officers, including pre-inspection discussions and regular informal visits to set expectations and support ongoing development and improvement;
  • For inspections to be more child, family and staff focused, spend more time on site and with staff and children, be more holistic and thorough in approach, focused on people rather than process, and not just a tick-box exercise;
  • Acknowledge that an inspection only provides a snap-shot, be more understanding and compassionate about the situation on the day;
  • More recognition to be given to the ‘journey’ that ELC and SAC have been on, particularly in relation to staffing issues, COVID-19, and the expansion of funded hours;
  • Provide inspection training for staff, particularly new practitioners, and local authority officers so they know what to expect and why the different elements are important;
  • Clarity needed over the roles, remit and responsibilities of each inspectorate;
  • For information/guidance to be simplified and streamlined - it was suggested this was too ‘verbose’, contained too much technical language and jargon, and was not sector-specific enough for practitioners and families to understand;
  • For inspectors to have more recent and direct experience of the working in the sector; and
  • Develop an inclusive approach and dedicated guidance for specialist settings, including ASN, GME settings and those providing deaf/BSL provision.

A wide range of other issues were also discussed, although most were only mentioned by just one respondent each. General themes however, focused on streamlining paperwork, a need to review the grading system, moderation of inspections to ensure consistency, provide more sector specific flexibility, and facilitate greater input from children and families in both the inspection process and the development of any new framework.


Email: elcinspectionconsultation2022@gov.scot

Back to top