The Work of Ofsted - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by a Registered Childminder

  I believe Ofsted is overseen by your Select Committee.

  I have recently become a registered childminder and I have been rather dismayed, to put it mildly, by the workings of Ofsted in regard to childminders. Rather than go through it all in my letter I have attached a summary of the difficulties I have had. I hope this doesn't seem like just a moan. I am seriously concerned that Ofsted isn't efficient, it uses targets as an excuse for not getting on with things and it has a mind boggling culture of buck-passing. Anything I have ever raised with Ofsted was always someone else's fault and it was never possible to speak to that person!

  None of these problems is desperately serious on its own, and had they all happened to different people at different times I would not be quite so concerned. However, they all happened to me, and within a short space of time. Also, some of the problems I encountered, such as the need to ring a separate phone number to get a receipt, are embedded in their systems and affect everyone who has to deal with Ofsted.

  Ofsted is funded from public money and ought to work to the benefit of the public. I got the impression that it is self-serving and insular, as well as very far from the modern world. They lay down the most tortuous rules for other people, often with no more basis than someone's "good" idea, yet are unable to run their own organisation properly. They are also possibly breaking the law on data protection.

  I raised these problems with my MP who wrote to Ofsted and received a reply from Christine Gilbert. The letter did not address any of my concerns and contained a reference to their target for registrations being 70% within 12 weeks which, according to Ofsted, is wrong. My MP did not seem very interested, although he said he would write again, so I thought it more appropriate to contact you.

  My very favourite thing that they did was to send me a letter, not a personal one but one they send out frequently, about a member of my household becoming 16, which was on two sheets of paper (no concept of using the back of the first), the second of which contained only a signature! This just about summed up for me their level of competence.


Duplication of material

  Ofsted and SureStart produce their own separate versions of the National Guidelines, both of which are given to childminders. The guidelines are anyway freely available on the Internet and could be distributed this way to the majority of childminders.


  I was sent a standard letter in which the second page contained just a signature and which used only one side of the paper. My seven-year-old could have put this right in 30 seconds.

  I have been given some documents two or even three times. There is no concept that printing and sending things costs money.

  The National Standards have been updated twice and instead of incorporating the changes into the Guidelines two further documents are handed out. Presumably Ofsted printed thousands of copies of the National Guidelines, so that rather than scrap them they have to print additional documents. These days you don't need to print thousands at a time. Everyone (except Ofsted, apparently) knows this. They should print fewer at a time and be able to give childminders just one complete document. And even if they can't get the printed version right they could make the online version just one document. It simply isn't reasonable to expect people to search through three big booklets every time they want to know something.


  My original problem with Ofsted was the absurdity that I cannot be registered for my own garden because it isn't fenced when I am to be trusted to take minded children anywhere else, including next door's garden which is the same as mine! Ofsted wouldn't tell me what document inspectors use to make their judgement. I now believe there isn't one. In the National Guidelines it says that gardens must be `secure'. This is so vague as to be meaningless.


  Ofsted were never able to give any indication of when my registration would be complete.

  Ofsted cannot tell me how many registrations they process a week or how many people work on processing them.

  Ofsted failed to phone back twice when they said they would.

  Ofsted refused to tell me where I could get a copy of the guidelines used by inspectors for assessing a person's property. They asked for my registration number even though, because of them, I wasn't yet registered and I had told them that! I later discovered that such a document does not exist. According to the inspector who inspected me the inspector uses the sketchy wording in the National Guidelines and different inspectors can make very different judgements,.

  Ofsted held on to my application for two weeks before even sending off for social security checks. Five weeks after the checks were returned they still had not processed my application.

  On the invoice for their registration fee Ofsted encourage you to pay by phone but once on the phone they tell you that you can't have a receipt. You can get a receipt by phoning a different number, which I did, and was sent a receipt for the wrong amount! They also suggested I use my (private and confidential) credit card bill as a receipt.

  There is only one phone number you can phone. The nice (sometimes) people who answer don't know anything and can't put you through to speak to someone who does know. They promise the relevant person will phone back but they never do.

  I drew to Ofsted's attention the fact that my son would become 16 during my application. They said that would be dealt with separately and have no effect on my application. When I phoned on 1 November they tried to blame the delay in processing my application on my son having become 16! Apparently the inspector dealing with my application had made the unusual and perverse decision to wait for his CRB check. If that were not irritating enough, the CRB check had come several weeks previously!

Data Protection

  Ofsted guidelines instruct you not to sign the permission section on the CRB form. Why do CRB process the form without this? The data protection laws specify that informed consent must be given.

  Ofsted make a general statement that they will carry out checks. It turns out they ask social services for personal information and social services divulge this! There is no informed consent so this is illegal.


  The existence of the 12 week target for completion of registrations appears to encourage Ofsted to take 12 weeks. I was repeatedly told that as my registration had not yet taken 12 weeks I had nothing to complain about, in spite of the fact that I applied at a very quiet time (according to my Ofsted inspector), there were no extra checks or investigations to be made and our CRB checks came back in less than two weeks so there was no hold up there either. The target appears to be causing applications to take longer than is necessary.


  There is no alternative to Ofsted. I can't choose to be registered by someone else. They're supposed to be specialists at the job so they should be really good and really efficient but they seem to shamble through the process as if it were the first time they had done it.

  They have a horrible 20 second (yes, I timed it! I had plenty of opportunity...) bit of music for when they put you on hold. It keeps stopping mid-bar and starting back at the beginning. This might seem trivial but they habitually put you on hold for long periods of time.

  Christine Gilbert wrote to my MP, in response to my complaints, that Ofsted's target for completion of registrations is 70% within 12 weeks. I have checked with several people at Ofsted and the real target is that registrations should be completed within 12 weeks, with no mention of 70%.

  I phoned Ofsted on 1 November and the Ofsted phone-answerer kept blaming someone, apparently the person who decided they must wait for my 16 year old's checks to be back, in spite of this not being normal practice. I then spoke to the team manager, who said she would review my case. I was not allowed to speak to the inspector concerned.

  I asked why I had been given wrong information about my application possibly being delayed by my son's birthday and she said it wasn't wrong! Then she said it would not normally have affected an application and hinted there might be something about my son that was holding it up when she didn't have access to the information. This was untrue and was not an appropriate comment for her to make. When I asked for the exact wording of the 12 week target she said there is no mention in it of 70% anywhere and that the wording in the Guide to Registration is the correct wording.

November 2007

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