Memorandum submitted by Stuart Barber,
Unison Regional Officer on behalf of Ofsted Unison London members
BBC IN WHISTLEBLOWER
5 MARCH 2008 RELATING
1. As you may be aware, on Wednesday 5 March
2008, the BBC, in their undercover series Whistleblower,
reported on how nurseries were putting children at serious risk
by failing to check both the criminal records and references of
staff employed to work with very young childrenand the
failure of Ofsted to effectively police this situation.
2. Other areas highlighted in this programme
(a) adult to child ratios are not being met;
(b) the health and safety of children was being
(c) there appears to be the absence of training
given to new staff;
(d) infrequent inspections;
(e) wages well below the national minimum wage
(f) political connections possibly influencing
decisions of Ofsted; and
(g) the ease with which childminders can be registered.
3. Following the airing of this programme,
there was, as expected, a flurry of denials from Ofsted and other
establishments identified in this programme. In the main, the
Nursery World publication was used as an appropriate vehicle.
4. In addition, some four to five days after
the programme was aired, Senior Management within the South Division
of Ofsted set up a "hotline" which was clearly intended
to elicit the staff response to this programme within this division.
5. Furthermore, on Monday 9 March 2008 a
senior UNISON Representative in London had her Ofsted e-mail and
computer access frozen without warning by Ofsted on the instructions
of South Divisional Senior Management. In addition, UNISON was
advised that Michael Hart, the Ofsted Early Years Director, had
sanctioned such activities, as well as the immediate suspension
from work of this Shop Steward.
6. The basis of the suspension was to allow
Ofsted to "investigate the possible access of, and use of,
confidential material belonging to Ofsted, and the possible involvement
in the making of damaging public statements concerning Ofsted".
In addition, Ofsted claimed that there was an "unusual file
access" by this individual.
7. It does appear to be the case that Ofsted,
rather than address the extremely serious issues raised by the
BBC, appear to be more content by hounding a member of staff who
played no part in the compilation of the BBC programme, whilst
also creating a climate of fear within the Organisation.
8. Notwithstanding the above, given the
reasons for the Shop Steward's suspension, UNISON undertook a
survey of the London region. The results of the survey were quite
clear in that other Early Years Inspectors confirmed that:
(a) All Inspectors view reports and information
relating to cases that are not their own on the Ofsted internal
systems on regular occasions, and this practice is widely encouraged
by their line Managers. In fact, Inspectors state that if they
did not do this, it would severely hamper their work and professional
development. Inspectors' reasons for this include: as part of
good practice, as part of their professional development, as a
result of discussions with other Inspectors, and as part of team
meeting discussions under the agenda item entitled "Inspectors'
(b) Inspectors report viewing the Just Learning
Nursery case via Ofsted's internal systems and discussing the
setting with colleagues. In fact, staff reveal that they did this
due to: a child dying at that nursery, discussion within teams,
discussion with colleagues, media interest etc. Following Ofsted's
reply to Nursery World (after the airing of the BBC Whistleblower
programme) in which Ofsted state:
"Inspectors have a whole day to inspect
a single childminder, the same as for a small primary school ..
Inspectors in the main disagree with Ofsted's statement and state
that they are generally allowed only one day to prepare for inspection,
attend inspection, and produce the report, with the actual inspection
visit taking two to three hours only due to time restraints and
(c) Over 50% of survey respondents report that
they had been told by their Managers to take "short cuts"
when undertaking inspections. In order to meet targets Inspectors
report Managers using phrases such as "why reinvent the wheel,
just go in and out" and "don't unturn stones" and
to undertake a "lighter touch inspection". Other comments
from Managers include: "If it fits, use it", "don't
make work for yourself". Inspectors also report that the
pressure to meet targets changes constantly, and being told "to
assume that things have been looked at beforeno need to
dig too deep".
(d) Over 50% of survey respondents report that
they always feel under pressure. Just under 50% of respondents
report that they have had their judgements of provisions overturned
by their Managers, and they did not agree with the decision. Inspectors
state that they completely disagreed with the decision to overturn
their judgement, but were given no chance to discuss or debate
the decision. Concerns from Inspectors include a childminder who
had breached a regulation relating to safeguarding children (full
survey results attached). The report was made null and void, and
at no time was the Inspector asked for their professional input
as part of the decision. Quote from one Inspector: "I was
shocked. I no longer feel that Ofsted safeguard children".
(e) Comments include that, in some cases, when
Inspectors are interviewing personnel under the "Suitable
person Criteria" (ie interviewing personnel for Manager positions
within a provision) Inspectors will judge that a particular interviewee
as "not suitable", but, despite the Inspectors professional
judgement, they are told by Managers to "pass" these
individuals as "suitable". Others report that they are
instructed "not to dig too deep" and to pass previously
"inadequate" provision as "satisfactory".
Childminders who are not currently minding children, are having
their inspections delayed, and Inspectors are concerned that childminders
have become aware of this as a way of avoiding an inspection for
an indefinite period of time. (Indeed, Inspectors have reported
being told that some of these inspections can be undertaken via
9. Obviously, UNISON will continue to effectively
represent the individual who has been suspended. However, we believe
that there are some deeper and wider issues that should be examined
by your Committee in relation to the effectiveness of the Organisation,
safeguarding of children, and their public accountability, as
well as the working environment for Early Years Inspectors.
10. Whilst we, as a Union within the London
region, have repeatedly raised our concerns in the past 18 months,
relating to the way staff are being treated by Ofsted, this latest
example of a Senior Trade Union official being suspended on the
basis of the most flimsiest of evidence, leads me to believe that
the current Ofsted Management approach, particularly in the Southern
Division is "not fit for purpose".
11. Indeed, I believe that due to the past
and current Management style within Ofsted, there is a current
"climate of fear". Examples of the Management style
over the last 18 months include:
(a) Four members of staff being suspended without
warning, and after the event, for "cutting and pasting"
reports. Following the internal and appeal process, all four members
of staff received a written warning.
What was appalling was that an estimated total
of at least 28 days of Senior Managers time was deployed to undertake
the investigations, first hearings and appeal hearings. We estimate
that this cost Ofsted at least £146.00 per day (based on
an average salary of £36,000.00 per annum) which was paid
out of the public purse. In addition, four members of staff, on
a salary of approximately £28,000.00 each were suspended
for between four to six months each, giving a further estimated
total of £42,500 spent from the public purse.
(b) We have raised a number of issues relating
to the bullying and harassment of staff within the Southern Division,
which (despite the promises given following the previous staff
survey) notwithstanding formal grievances being lodged, has, we
believe, fallen on deaf ears.
This situation, of course, is appalling, and
I may add unacceptable, particularly given the bland assurances
and promises given in the past on this topic to previous Select
(c) We are concerned at the number of cases that
end up at the Employment Tribunal as a result of the abject failure
of the Ofsted internal Management structures to resolve what were
initially internal grievances. What I find equally of concern
is that when such cases are lodged, Ofsted, instead of using I
house or Treasury Solicitors, use a little known legal consultancy
based in Leicestershire. Once again, this is fully funded by the
public purse in what I believe is an unaccountable fashion.
(d) On at least four separate occasions within
the last 18 months, formal grievances have been lodged by Ofsted
staff within the Southern Division, relating to the breach of
the Data Protection Act. These hearings involved a total of 12
members of staff.
(e) The response to the grievances from Ofsted
was appalling to say the least, particularly when it related to
managers putting confidential data on the Ofsted open (shared)
drive for all to see. Indeed Ofsted advised UNISON that their
internal computer security system could not identify these individuals.
Needless to say, that on the basis of this information, it would
appear to be the case that anyone within Ofsted can post offensive
or racist material on the Ofsted (open) shared drive without any
fear of being identified.
We as an Organisation were sufficiently concerned
in respect of these breaches that we reported Ofsted to the Information
Commissioners Office (ICO). The Information Commissioners Office
in November 2007 confirmed to us that these were breaches of the
Act and that Ofsted had promised them that they would take more
care in the future over such confidential matters. Notwithstanding
this promise, we had cause to lodge a further grievance alleging
a data protection breach in December 2007.
For the record, the breaches raised with the
(f) The storage of confidential information on
a common computer access drive which was not password protected
despite the staff involved (15 in total) being advised that such
personal information would remain confidential. Ofsted could not
identify the individual who placed this information relating to
staff who were on an Improvement Plan as well as their sick leave
records, at the conclusion of the grievance.
(g) A Manager circulated widely to inspectors
an e-mail which identified staff requiring training as a result
of the "Coaching Drive".
(h) A Manager from Ofsted's Health and Safety
Committee circulated the document prior to a meeting involving
other Committee members. This document, involving eight individuals,
detailed their sickness absence, number of days lost due to this
absence, and identified the nature of the illness or disability.
(i) A document was placed on the open shared
drive which identified all members of staff in the Southern Division,
identifying each individuals work output. In addition, comments
were placed alongside each individual, including whether they
were on sick leave, long term sick leave, annual leave, maternity
leave or bereavement leave. Needless to say, after a grievance
and appeal hearing, we were advised that, once again, the Ofsted
IT security system could not identify the person who placed this
on the open drive.
(j) The Assistant Division Manager for the South
Region, circulated to all staff in the Early Years Division of
the South Region, all employees individual home postcodes.
12. Notwithstanding the intervention of
the Information Commissioners Office, and following the assurances
being provided by Ofsted, a further breach occurred, which related
to the publication of staff members' full home addresses on an
open shared folder.
13. Given the foregoing catalogue of deficiencies
and concerns relating to the internal Management operation within
Ofsted, particularly in relation to its apparent "gung ho"
attitude when taking the step to suspend individuals on the flimsiest
of evidence, I would ask that your Select Committee take on board
our concerns with a view to examining in more detail the internal
Management activities in relation to staff who work within the
Early Years Division. We believe that this "management style"
is reflected in the organisational approach to issues raised by
the BBC in respect of the vulnerability of children within the
gambit of the Early Years Division (see results of survey). Clearly,
I have set out above a number of differing yet specific concerns
which we have encountered. I and our members within the London
region are more than happy to provide you with chapter and verse
of the issues referred to above. In this connection, I look forward
to hearing from you. You will note that I have attached to this
(a) a copy of the press release from the BBC
prior to the airing of their programme;
(b) a copy of the articles in Nursery World
following the airing of the BBC programme;
(c) a copy of a letter received in November 2007
from the Information Commissioner, and my response; and
(d) UNISON's survey following the suspending
of their London Representative.
1 Not printed. Back