A range of issues were raised repeatedly across the consultation questions (and between the main written responses and event comments). While some of these were more sector specific, others were common across a range of different respondent types.
Most respondents strongly supported the development of a shared framework, noting that it would provide an improvement on the current system. However, there were concerns around whether the different agencies and sectors were currently comparable enough to facilitate a shared framework, e.g. HMIE and the Care Inspectorate, nurseries and childminders, funded and non-funded ELC, and ELC and SAC.
One of the main changes required to the current inspection framework/ process, and the main requirement for any shared framework was providing clarity and consistency in relation to roles and responsibilities, expectations, processes and experiences of the inspection process. Other changes/requirements commonly sought included streamlining the bureaucracy (including the number of documents involved and the extent of the paperwork and reporting required); creating a common language; making inspections more supportive; and reducing the level of stress, anxiety and fear staff have in relation to inspections.
Another common theme was intra- and inter-inspectorate differences in practice. It was felt that settings’ and staff experiences varied from inspector to inspector, with differences noted both between and within inspectorates, and that the feedback/advice provided could often be conflicting. These elements needed to be addressed going forward. Further, it was felt there needed to be more communication, collaboration and joint working between the inspectorates, and for them to develop and work to a shared vision. Greater professional respect for each other was perhaps also needed, with both inspectorates needing to have an equally valued input and role in decision making.
Despite the support for a shared framework, there was also strong support for the creation of a single inspectorate body from many respondents, despite them not having been asked about this specifically. Indeed, the fact that the consultation did not explore this option was considered to be a “missed’ opportunity”. It was felt that, while a shared framework would help alleviate some of the problems currently experienced, it would still result in duplication, bureaucracy and confusion within the system, which could only be solved by wider structural changes.
While local authorities were more likely to express a preference for a single inspectorate to be responsible for the ELC sector, other respondents also supported this, including sector representative bodies/membership organisations, and trade unions to a lesser extent. While this option was also preferred by some practitioners, this was not expressed with the same level of frequency by them as some of the other groups. However, as the consultation did not specifically ask about the option of a single inspectorate, practitioners views and the strength of feeling expressed about this issue cannot be assumed to be representative. It could be that practitioners may have been more inclined to answer the questions set without expanding to consider alternative options, rather than this being indicative of them not having any strong views about this option. Similarly, the same is true for other respondents across all respondent typologies.
Sector Specific Issues
Childminders stressed the need to reduce paperwork and to provide pro-forma paperwork for completion in order to provide clarity and to standardise requirements/expectations. There was also a sense that the requirements had become too burdensome for childminders which was resulting in some leaving (or considering leaving) the profession, and so there was an urgent need to streamline, reduce duplication and simplify this.
Staffing issues were also noted as a problem for the SAC and PVI nursery sector. For the SAC sector, staff felt overburdened, and with the limited number of working hours available, this meant there was high staff turnover, with many leaving to join the ELC sector where more hours were on offer. Those in the PVI sector indicated that they were losing staff to local authority ELC settings where wages were higher, thus resulting in a high staff turnover and a higher proportion of less experienced staff in PVI settings.
Childminders and those in the SAC sector were also highly concerned about the appropriateness of creating a single shared framework to cover all sectors. They stressed the need for any new framework to recognise and respect the differences and unique circumstances of each sector, type of provider and setting, and for the requirements to be proportionate to the situations of each setting; or for separate, dedicated frameworks to be developed.
Limitations of the Data
The consultation attracted feedback from a wide range of stakeholders, covering all the relevant sectors. Responses heavily reflect the views of practitioners working in and across the sector, although they perhaps represented the views and experiences of those in the ELC sector to a greater extent than childminders and those in the SAC sector - although the lack of individual childminder participation was tempered by their large contribution to one of the organisational responses. There was also perhaps a lack of parents’/families’ voices among the responses, and may be a gap which needs to be considered going forward.
Respondents largely supported the vision and principles set out in the consultation document, although suggestions were provided in relation to possible changes or improvements. Mixed experiences were reported in relation to the current inspection framework, and while some evidence of positive and supportive practice was provided, there was also a strong sense of duplication of effort, burden on providers, and a lack of consistency in expectations and experiences. It was also generally perceived that the inspectorates did not cooperate or coordinate as well as they could, and that more could be done in this respect, not least through realistic and achievable guiding principles. Local authority evaluations, while considered to be helpful and supportive where they occurred, were also perceived to exacerbate the inspection burden and challenges faced by providers by imposing a third self-evaluation framework.
Overall, there was strong agreement that the current inspection framework needed to be reformed, with general support for the creation of a shared framework to bring about improvements. While respondents outlined potential challenges which may need to be overcome regarding implementation, it was felt that a shared framework would be beneficial and an improvement on the current system. There was less agreement, however, in relation to the possible coverage of the shared framework. While around two thirds agreed this should apply to all settings offering services to children aged 0-5 and those catering for school aged children, support was caveated to stress the framework would need to be reflective of the different types of providers, and be flexible and proportionate to the size and type of setting. Those in the SAC sector were also particularly concerned about the relevance of a shared framework, given different remits within that sector.
The content of any shared framework and the way this could be applied in practice will be crucial to its success. It will need to be applicable to the range of different settings and service providers, while still being streamlined and manageable, and providing consistency. It was also felt that practitioners and other stakeholders needed to be involved in the drafting and development of any new framework to ensure that achieving best outcomes for children remains at the heart of inspections.
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