An Ofsted inspection found “choking hazards,” “dirty cots” and “a risk of cross-infection” at a Northampton nursery...but owners say they are disputing the findings of what they say was an “unfair” inspection.
They also criticised staff and management for not being “clear about their roles and responsibilities” and called the quality of teaching “variable.”
As a result, Woodley’s Park Day Nursery, in Kent Road, Upton, which earned a ‘good’ rating in a 2013 inspection, was graded ‘inadequate,’ the lowest possible result.
But managing director Michelle Harris has hit back at the report and says it is not “in anyway reflective of the outstanding teaching that occurs” there.
And other Northampton nurseries have railed against Ofsted for a series of inspections they claim were ‘unfair and harsh.’
In a letter to parents, Michelle Harris said: “We do not agree with the majority of the conclusions.
“We are working very closely with our county council advisor who is very pleased with the nursery, the teaching and the staff. She does not feel that the inspection report is reflective of the nursery.”
The report from November 2016, based on an inspection by Prospects, an Ofsted contractor which handles early-years facilities, said:
“On the day of the inspection, a hair slide had been left in a cot within children’s reach.
“At the inspection, a baby was seen to put a small plastic disc in their mouth. Staff removed the item but then returned it to a place where children were able to reach it again.
“Staff did not notice when children in the toddler room used and then licked a knife that was being repeatedly used for spreading cheese from a shared container. Such practises put children at potential risk of cross-infection.
“The cots and carpet in the sleep room are dirty and the room is not prepared in readiness for when babies need to sleep. The quality of teaching is variable. Staff do not consistently follow children’s interests during activities and this results in children not being fully engaged.”
Michelle Harris, who owns a chain of day care centres, including Rhymetime Nursery, in Berrywood Drive, St Crispins , said: “The claim of a choking hazard in the baby room is completely misrepresented. No child would have been put to sleep in the cot whilst the hair slide was still in there.
“Since November we have taken advice on appealing the outcome of the inspection.”
New guidelines for inspections were set out by Ofsted in 2015 have been criticised for being ‘harsher’ in some quarters.
Other day care groups have rejected their official ratings by the education watchdog and say inspectors focused on ‘isolated’ issues to affect the whole rating.
And some claim the inspectors tried to find faults in a bid to secure their jobs against a company reorganisation.
Little Learners Childcare, in Cliftonville, off Billling Road, received a ‘requires improvement’ rating in an inspection in May 2016.
Sam Evans, proprietor of Little Learners Childcare, which also has an office in Corby, said: “It was a terrible inspection. Our Corby office is rated outstanding in every inspection. We know how to run a nursery.
“When the inspector first arrived, they said ‘I know your other facilities have been rated outstanding but don’t expect that to be the case today.’”
Currently, early-years facilities like nurseries and day care centres are not inspected by Ofsted but by third-party contractors.
But starting from April, Ofsted will manage early-year inspections in-house in a move that makes the two groups’ futures unclear.
Now, following ‘harsh’ inspections, day care centres in Northampton have said their poor ratings are a move by inspectors to secure their jobs.
The Northampton Chronicle & Echo has been made aware of five county nurseries that were dropped from ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’ after the guidelines were set out and are now disputing their ratings.
Miss Evans said: “Our inspector had a bee in their bonnet. We normally do a full tour when parents come to see us where we show them everything we can and explain why we do things. We are very pleased with the work we do and were excited to show the nursery. But they rushed the inspection, and kept saying ‘next please, next please.’
“We have to deal with some behaviour issues. On the day of the inspection, we dealt with a situation, and the inspector said we handled it well. But in their report and feedback, they said incidents like that affect the development and experience of other children. We dealt with the incident as well as we could. To blame us for how it affects other children is unfair.
“The inspector seemed to be very offputting and dismissive of the children. When they came over to her they told them to go away. They could have taken this is a positive thing that showed their confidence. They never sat down and stood above the children with her laptop out. It was very rude.
“I said we were going to complain about their inspection. Then, things that they said at our feedback meeting were never published, but only after I complained about it. But other things that weren’t discussed at our meeting were added.”
Two of the five day cares who had their rating dropped are in discussions with Ofsted to overturn the decision and declined to comment.
Davey Day Care, of Quinton Green Farm, in Wootton Road, were rated ‘requires improvement’ in an inspection in August 2016.
A spokeswoman for Davey Day Care said: “We are on new premises and that means we needed a new inspection. At our old premises, we were rated outstanding and now we have been knocked straight down to grade three.
“I don’t think it was a fair inspection.
“It was a very hot day when we were inspected and my policy is if it’s too hot we don’t take the babies outside. Other children went out but the babies stayed in for their own safety. But that didn’t meet the standards for the inspection and was picked up on in the report.
“For one brand new member of staff, the inspection was her first day at work. She was questioned by the inspector about ‘prevent duty’ and radicalisation, which she couldn’t answer. I take safeguarding very seriously and all of my staff receive rigorous induction training but this was her first day.”
Michelle Harris, managing director of Woodleys Park Day Nursery, who were rated ‘inadequate’ in November 2016, said: “It is heart-breaking that parents are led to believe that highly-qualified teaching staff are not providing the teaching that their children deserve because of a subjective assessment of their abilities, taken over one hour on a Monday morning, without the classroom being revisited again during the inspection.
“We are not saying, like all early years settings, that we are perfect. There is always room to improve, develop and enhance what we provide. But we are not an inadequate provider of childcare and nor, I am sure, are the other two provisions in the county that are also suffering from these inadequate inspections.
“The majority of the downgraded reports have been executed not by Ofsted themselves but by two subcontracted organisations. The usefulness of this subcontracting has been in question in the media since 2013 and now they are taking these inspections in-house.
“This is a combination of inconsistencies, irrational conclusions and disregard for glowing Ofsted ratings.”
A spokeswoman from Ofsted said: “Ofsted’s priority is to ensure that young children are well cared for, provided with good quality teaching and learning and supported by staff who have sound knowledge of safeguarding practices as required by the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework, set by the Department for Education.
“We inspect early years settings against this framework and while these inspections will be brought in-house and directly managed by Ofsted from April, there will be no change to the way they are inspected or judged. All inspections, regardless of who conducts it, are thoroughly quality assured to ensure that the judgements and findings are firmly grounded in evidence.”