One in five unqualified: Ofsted publishes annual report

In her seventh and final Annual Report as Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman highlights both the progress of Ofsted as well as acknowledging the current challenges the sector faces. 

Challenges include a less qualified workforce; difficulties in recruiting and retaining; more children presenting with additional needs and a lack of training to support them as well as lack of external expert support.

Only a few days earlier, Ofsted also published new statistics which showed that there were more than 500 fewer nurseries and pre-schools in September compared with the previous September.

Ms Spielman is the longest-serving chief inspector since Ofsted was established and is the only one to have served and experienced system disruption from a pandemic.

Acknowledging the pandemic in a pre-recorded video announcing the publication of the report she says: “Pandemic disruption has overshadowed the last few years, but our report shows that there are now reasons to be optimistic. On many fronts recovery is happening faster than we might have expected.”

On a positive note for early years, the report acknowledges the importance of a child’s first five years and the impact they have on their educational attainment and the importance of education in early years. 

This year 12,300 full Early Years Register (EYR) inspections were carried out which resulted in 85% achieving a judgement of good or outstanding for overall effectiveness. All of these inspections were recorded as good or outstanding for quality of education and behaviour and attitudes.

But the challenges facing the early years surrounding underfunding, spiralling costs and a workforce in crisis dominate the sector headlines.  The report states that ‘in 2023, one in five staff is unqualified compared with one in seven staff in 2018.’ Staff with level 3 qualifications dropped from 65% in 2021 to 61% 2023.

The sector faces huge challenges recruiting and retaining high-quality experienced staff to deliver the education and care that young children need.  The reality is that where staff shortages occur providers are having to recruit agency staff or scale down their provision because they do not have sufficient cover.

This not only impacts on the early years provider and could result in a down graded Ofsted report, but parents as well who are left without a nursery place for their child as more providers scale down their operation or worst case are forced to close.

Responding to the report Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said:

“In our Blueprint we called for early years to be termed ‘early education and care’ to reflect the importance of a child’s first five years on their lifelong learning and development. It’s good that Ofsted has acknowledged the value of what children learn in this crucial stage of life which shapes their future educational attainment and lifelong chances.  Early years education is the best investment that government can make for the positive future of the country.

“The report highlights some alarming statistics for SEND in the early years and the lack of support for children and early years providers. ‘The number of children under five given a new education, health and care (EHC) plan in 2022 was 16,500, an increase of 15% compared with 2021, on top of an increase of 8% the previous year.’

“In addition, only 18% of LAs have sufficient places for disabled children. Intervention can take up to two years and combined with low qualified staff settings means that specific needs of some children are not met.” 

There is also a continuing concern about the impact that the pandemic has had on the development of children’s language and communication that early years’ providers have reported.

Further commenting Purnima Tanuku said: “…many children are disadvantaged currently though chronic underfunding. Our members continue to tell us that more children are presenting with more complex needs. Early years is the most crucial time to get that support right for children, but often they suffer delays in accessing support services. While training is key, this needs to go hand in hand with sufficient funding along with more expert resources on the ground.

“We are hugely concerned about the fall in qualifications for early years staff presented in this report. Settings need to be able to attract and retain staff, but cannot do this unless the funding shortfall is addressed. The state of recruitment, retention for the sector continues to undermine efforts to deliver the promised expansion in funded places. Exacerbating this situation, inspectors must ensure they take the workforce pressures into consideration when inspecting nurseries.

“With 83% of nurseries expecting to make a loss or only break even this year, nursery closures are up 50% on the previous year. We fear that without proper investment, more children – particularly those with SEND and additional needs – will miss out on the high quality early education and care they desperately need.”

Ofsted’s latest set of statistics reveals that the number of childcare places has fallen by 17,800 in the last year, further jeopardising the 30 hours of expansion. 

These statistics come just months ahead of the first phase of the expanded entitlement in which parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours of funded childcare from April 2024.  From September 2025, working parents of all children over the age of nine months will be entitled to 30 hours of funded childcare.

The government planned a staggered approach to the expansion of funded hours to ensure that there would be sufficient providers to meet the increase in demand. 

But Ofsted’s latest data shows that the number of providers and childcare places are falling at a time when they should be increasing to meet future demand. 

As of 31 August there were 1.26 million childcare places offered by providers, down by 17,800 (1%) since 31 August 2022.

At the same time, there were 62,300 childcare providers registered with Ofsted, down by 3,320 (5%) since 31 August 2022.

The main reason for this decline is the fall in numbers of childminders, with 2,580 fewer childminders in August 2023 compared to the year prior.

  • England
  • annual report
  • Ofsted
  • Ofsted statistics
  • workforce crisis

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