How Useful are Nursery Care Inspectorate Reports?

Putting Care Inspectorate reports in context

Dr Irene Pollock, Edinburgh Montessori Arts School and University of Glasgow

Early learning and childcare, like most other aspects of society, has been affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Last year, in an article for Nursery Guide, I outlined the upcoming expansion to 1140 hours of funded childcare, which has now been postponed. Likewise, I usually recommend that the best way to get a feel for whether a setting will suit your child is to visit the setting, but most settings are not currently offering tours. Finally, inspection visits, from both the Care Inspectorate and Education, have also been disrupted, and so settings may not have a recent inspection report.

However, many parents still require or desire childcare, whether this is in a local authority nursery, from a private provider, or with a childminder. With all of these changes taking place, parents are faced with numerous decisions in selecting a nursery for their child. Available spaces and attendance patterns will help with this choice, as will considerations such as a nursery linked to an older sibling’s school, a setting within walking distance, or a preference for a particular pedagogical approach such as Forest Kindergarten. Families will also likely hear recommendations from others living in the local area. In order to find out more about settings, parents might use social media, attend virtual tours, and speak to current staff and parents.

Another tool that can be useful is to read the setting’s inspection reports. Both Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland are regulatory bodies that inspect how settings are meeting the Health and Social Care Standards and providing high quality early education. Both bodies are increasing their focus on outcomes for children – that is, what impact the experiences on offer have. It is important to check the date of the report: Staffing and practice can change quickly in settings, particularly if the setting has had requirements or recommendations as part of their inspection.

Both types of inspection reports include ‘grades’ for the setting, which offer a superficial method of comparing settings. A summary of the most recent Care Inspectorate grades is provided as part of the Nursery Guide. However, it is important not to consider grades alone. By reading the full report – although this may not address all four quality themes of care and support, environment, staffing, and management and leadership – parents will be able to make a more informed decision. The report is still however only a distillation of the practice observed on the day that the inspector visited, with additional input from the setting’s self-evaluation and from parents and carers. Reading comments from parents can provide further insight.

The quality of early years setting in Edinburgh and the Lothians is high overall, so inspection reports can be used as one tool among many to help parents to narrow down their choices. Given the current circumstances, you might also want to consider the following issues around how the setting has incorporated COVID-19 guidance: clarity on the ‘settling in’ period for new children starting; an overview of the cleaning protocols in place; how the setting uses ‘bubbles’ (small groups of children) and what happens if the practitioner tests positive or needs to self-isolate; how the setting communicates with parents and encourages their involvement; and, for private settings and childminders, what financial arrangements and other safeguards are in place should the setting need to close. While choosing a childcare setting looks different this year, parents and carers still have access to a good deal of information to support their decision.