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Last Updated: Monday, 1 November, 2004, 10:55 GMT
Nurseries to get snap inspections
Children playing
Childcare providers largely backed the plan
Nurseries in England are to be inspected without prior warning from next year, the education watchdog Ofsted has announced.

They will also be graded in the same way as schools: outstanding, good, satisfactory or inadequate.

Other childcarers, meanwhile, will get a few days' warning that inspectors are going to pay them a visit.

Care providers are currently told the month for which an inspection is planned. This, many say, is disruptive.

'In favour'

There are 118,000 registered childminders and nurseries in England. Ofsted has inspected them since 2001.

Its poll, to which 281 care providers, organisations and parents responded, found that 94% were in favour of inspections with little or no notice.

Some 91% wanted to be graded like schools.

Also, 89% were in favour of introducing a simple self-evaluation form to be completed prior to inspections.

David Bell, chief inspector of schools, said he was "delighted" that "teachers, childcarers and parents alike support our vision for a more integrated approach to the inspection of education and care".

Inspectors investigated 6,250 concerns about childminders and nurseries between April 2003 and March this year.

Four childcarers were prosecuted.

Ofsted has also proposed a three-year inspection cycle for schools. The maximum gap between inspections is currently six years.

The inspections should also take no longer than two days at the school, Ofsted said.

It is hoped this approach "will reduce the levels of stress" often associated with visits and show schools "as they really are".

Ofsted said it had started consulting schools over the proposals.

The changes to nursery and childcare inspections come into force in April.

A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said: "We welcome the decisions that Ofsted is taking on the way that it will inspect early-years provision in future.

"Our children need the best start in life that they can get and a good inspection regime is one thing that the government can do with Ofsted to encourage improvements in the quality of early-years services."

Anne Nelson, of the British Association for Early Childhood Education, welcomed the plan to reduce notice for inspections.

However, when it came to pre-school carers being graded in the same way as schools, it was important that Ofsted staff had the "same understanding of the criteria" used.

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