How to assess quality of childcare

A new study concludes that Ofsted grades are too broad to provide a detailed measure of quality in nurseries and preschools.

The study carried out by the University of Oxford and A+ Education with the charity, Daycare Trust, found that Ofsted reports are best used alongside other existing quality assessments.

The research was funded by a grant from the Nuffield Foundation and is published today alongside a new guide for parents on how to identify high quality childcare.

Researchers compared Ofsted inspections based on the Early Years Foundation Stage, with other quality assessments such as ECERS (Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale) and ITERS (Infant Toddler Environment Rating Scale), as well as quality assurance schemes.  Focus groups were also carried out with parents, providers and local authorities to explore how these different measures are understood.

The researchers found that some settings judged as 'outstanding' or 'good' by Ofsted were rated as lower quality on the ECERS and ITERS rating scales.  This could have implications for funding as Ofsted ratings are currently used by many local authorities to determine which nurseries and preschools receive government early years funding for free childcare provision.  

The study suggests that local authorities should use a range of indicators when allocating funding for existing free provision and in particular the extension of free childcare places to 40 per cent of two year olds by 2014.

Sandra Mathers, lead researcher from the Department of Education at the University of Oxford and Director of A+ Education Ltd said: 'We should not forget that Ofsted is a regulatory tool rather than a detailed quality measure. Our research suggests that Ofsted grades cannot necessarily be relied upon as complete measure of quality, and may need to be complemented by other measures.

'This has important implications for the way in which funding decisions around early education are made, and particularly the free entitlement for disadvantaged two year olds.'