Inspectors Prepare Post-Covid Regime

Child painted hands

With the increased restrictions due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis in place over the winter, the English regulator Ofsted has decided to delay the reintroduction of full inspections until the summer of 2021. It will however be carrying out a programme of assurance inspections beginning in the spring. These will be against simple met/not-met criteria and are intended as a measured, sensible response to changing conditions. This approach differs from those elsewhere in the UK. In Wales, inspections have resumed albeit with inspectors minimising the amount of time they spend on site, while in Scotland, the Care Inspectorate developed Key Question Five over the summer to help providers assess their own Covid-19 response.

Covid-19 has posed a difficult problem for inspectorates. The fact that these were unprecedented times created a strong case for giving childcare providers latitude to adjust their provision to the unique circumstances. However, that hands-off approach comes with the risk that childcare as a whole will be harmed by the loss of regular inspections. This latter issue has become more acute as time as passed; in the spring it was far from clear that the crisis would last until the winter and into next year. Even so, inspectorates have clearly felt that it was right to trust providers to do the right thing without supervision, at least in the short term.

It is important that the return to the normal inspection regime is handled properly. The grades given by inspectors are relied upon by parents when making decisions about where to place their children, and in fact the quality they ensure underpins confidence in the whole childcare market. The exam results debacle last summer, in which the replacement for the ordinary grading system swiftly fell apart under scrutiny, shows how easy it is to get things badly wrong. While the approaches in the home nations may differ, they are unified by a sense of caution.

Child play time

Ofsted’s intention is to start with a programme of assurance, rather than full inspections. This means that providers will simply be assessed on whether they are adhering the requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage. The purpose is more to identify those in need of remedial action than assessing the quality of provision. Routine, graded inspections meanwhile will be discussed with the sector and subject to limited pilot schemes, to ensure they are working properly. Allowing themselves until the summer to return to normal will also mean the flexibility to change, should the situation develop in unexpected ways.


Providers are being trusted to look after their own provision and this is a testament to the professionalism and expertise of the childcare sector. 2020 has been a remarkably difficult year, and while the development of vaccines means the end of the Covid-19 crisis may at last be in sight, it is still some way off. Not only that, but the impact of the national restrictions will continue to be felt long into the future. Even so, there are at least now the first signs of what the future will hold.