The Subjects 

Providers 

hope you won't Ask About

Disclaimer
What follows should not be taken to be statements made about any particular setting and it must not be assumed that the statements refer to any setting within the same locality as our nursery. Any similarity to any person, setting or place is purely coincidental.

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Maximum Group Size

The standards state that "The size of a group should never exceed 26 children". It may be worth asking settings with larger rooms about this.

Ratios

Who are staff and who are students in the room? (only staff and long term students can be counted in the ratios). Some settings use students on placement within their ratios. Some even dress them the same as staff.

People under 17 years of age must be supervised and not counted within the staff to child ratio. Settings sometimes employ young staff as they can get away with paying them far less. (The National Minimum wage only applies to people of 18 and over.) Many settings have a large number of unqualified apprentices which again reduces the cost dramatically and possibly the quality.

The standards state there should be at least two adults on duty. Settings don't always adhere to this. Common times are first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Possibly at the start of a before or after school club. (Note it is acceptable for people changing nappies etc to counted within any overall ratio for the room. e.g. nine children in the room (on a 1:3 ratio) means 3 staff. However, if one member of staff goes to change a nappy this leaves 2 staff with 8 children in the room. However, Ofsted have indicated that this is acceptable for the short time the person is away with the child).

Recruitment of Staff

The Standards and the Guidance do not prescribe the minimum procedures to be followed when recruiting and vetting new staff. 

However, the setting does have the responsibility to ensure that the person appointed is "Suitable". 

The standards state that a suitable person is someone who is both mentally and physically fit to look after children. They have to be knowledgeable, be able to provide warm and consistent care, and not be disqualified by any crime they have committed.

Does the setting therefore:

Interview potential applicants - Is this just 10/15 mins or a more substantial time frame?

See the applicant working within the nursery and assess their actual child care abilities - again is this just 10-15 minutes or longer?

Whilst they may ask for the names of referees do they ring them for verbal references and/or ask for written references directly from the referee? Do they ask previous employers for references? NOTE: Ofsted do not take up references on staff.

Ensure that criminal records checks are requested and managed through the Disclosure and Barring Service (this used to be the Criminal Records Bureau?) - this is not Ofsted's Job)

Take copies of the applicants actual certificates?

Check on the applicants mental and physical state with a Doctor? (This used to be done by social services, but with Ofsted it is not, except for the Manager or Proprietor) - It is amazing the number of young people today who are taking some sort of antidepressant or having counseling and actually don't disclose it.

Recently it has come to light that some applicants are providing friends (telephone numbers and addresses) as works references. The friend then takes the call and poses as the applicant's previous workplace. The nursery should therefore be checking the address of the nursery and also the manager's name - but do they?

On one occassion a nursery owner said that she would not need a reference as she had known the family for a long time. This type of attitude was highlighted as inappropriate by the Plymouth Safeguarding Board after a number of children had suffered abuse from the person who the owner had not checked the references of!

We would agree with anyone that said that the above is all you would expect. I'm sure it is assumed by parents, that recruitment procedures will be very rigorous. But, it's amazing how many times you hear that they are not. We certainly are aware of people who have gone to work at other settings and we have not received a request for a reference.

What is the settings stand point on taking on an applicant that was dismissed from their previous position for gross misconduct - dishonesty?

The standards state that there should be an induction programme for new staff. Is there? What does it consist of? It's amazing how many reports there are from various sources that whilst there is one documented, this type of essential training really isn't provided.

The ratios have to be met at all times. The standards in particular mention times such as staff breaks, holidays, sickness. We would also point out some other times including: Lunch time, staff training, NVQ assessor/candidate meetings and beginnings and ends of the day. How do settings do this? The standard answer for holidays and sickness is that the setting has relief staff. This usually gets any inquisitive parent off the scent. However, relief staff are potentially very difficult to find - especially as there are more jobs than there are nursery nurses. They may over staff the nursery - but this is perhaps unlikely given the issue of profit. This still leaves Lunch times, beginnings and ends of the day. If a setting is open from 8 until 6 (or perhaps longer) this is 10 hours. Nursery nurses tend to work around 40 hour weeks and would not normally work for 10 hour shifts - possibly 8/8.5 hours. A lot of nurseries employ only full time 40 hour a week staff. How then do they cover the beginnings and ends of the day and how, more importantly do they give their staff a lunch break and still provide the correct ratios? The only way to do it would be to overstaff the nursery for the majority of the day. We just suggest that you check out exactly how they do it.

Staff Qualifications

The nursery must have 50% of the total staff who are not Supervisors holding the equivalent of at least a NVQ 2 qualification appropriate for the care or development of children.

Fees

Everyone, especially parents want to pay low childcare fees and no one wants to feel that they are paying over the odds. The largest single cost a nursery has is staff wages - this can account from between 50% to 70% of the costs. Loans and Insurances, Utility bills and Business Rates are the next largest items. Whilst we would not say that low fee providers are necessarily doing anything wrong, it is worth asking how they are able to achieve such fee rates when others seemingly can't.

We have been told of settings paying staff below the minimum wage but offering free child care. Equally employing unqualified apprentices so as to pay them a training wage rather than even a minimum wage.

On the days of inspection new resources appear, but only during the inspection period.

Security

Were you just let in? How do they ensure only valid people are let in?

Schools

Some schools state that parents won't be allowed a place in the reception class if they don't join their nursery - this statement is false and is frowned upon by LEA's.

Schools operate on a 1:13 ratio with classes of up to around 26. Private settings such as Day Nurseries, Preschools and playgroups usually operate on a 1:8 ratio. The Government grant can be used in a school or a private setting. Schools do not necessarily offer better quality than private settings. There are good and bad in both sectors. The curriculum followed is exactly the same.

Teacher Input

Most settings involve a Qualified Teacher, however, what does this really mean. A few visits from a teacher from the LEA or a more detailed involvement.

Registration

Has the nursery had an initial Ofsted Inspection?

Is the Nursery still registered with Ofsted? If the date of issue is sometime ago then the nursery may not be currently registered with Ofsted. Give Ofsted a ring and check they are still registered.

Nurseries as Training Organisations

More and more nurseries are branching out and becoming training providers. This means they get paid effectively from the Government for training people. They also, sometimes, count the students in their ratios in the nursery. They can also pay the trainee a lower training rate for the first 12 months of their employment. Whilst there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of this, it is possibly worth investigating just how the nursery and the training organisation co-exist and who will be looking after your child.

Comments made to us concerning inspections.

It is interesting to relate some of the stories one hears about Inspection Days at some nurseries. We don't say any of these are true but they have been related to us as true.

 

On the inspection day gloves appear and every one is told to use them when changing nappies.

On the inspection day new staff appear, to ensure the staff to child ratios  are correct. (possibly borrowed from other nurseries - possibly stated as covering staff illness).

If the nursery is over its registration numbers, children are left off registers and taken to a location the inspector won't visit.

New aprons suddenly appear for the staff to wear

Doors get fixed

Paper towels are brought in just for the day

New toys appear and then perhaps disappear because they have been borrowed.

Staff told not to use the TV as much.

Staff told to be careful disciplining children whilst the inspector is around.

 

All nurseries will pull the stops out for the inspection day. This is only natural and shouldn't be taken as a negative - it's like a driving test after all. However, the basic regulation requirements should be just that and always adhered to.