An operational note for Ofsted inspectors carrying out interim visits to registered early years providers from 1 September 2020.
This operational note covers our activity from September to December 2020. View guidance about assurance inspections of registered early years providers from January 2021 .
On 17 March 2020, all routine inspections were suspended. We have continued our regulatory work during this time. As part of a phased return to routine inspection from autumn 2020, we are carrying out interim visits. These visits are not inspections and will not result in an inspection grade. Inspectors can use regulatory or enforcement actions, if appropriate.
This guidance sets out the process and range of evidence-gathering activities that inspectors will carry out in these interim visits, from notifying a setting that a visit will take place to publishing an outcome summary about what we found during the visit.
How the interim visits apply
We will visit providers that are currently judged less than good and that had safeguarding and welfare actions raised at their last inspection.
We will select settings where:
- the overall effectiveness grade of requires improvement or inadequate (with actions) was given at the last inspection
- the judgement for the last inspection carried out under Annex A of the Early years inspection handbook was not met with actions
- actions were set at the last inspection for a breach of any safeguarding and welfare requirements
- the re-inspection date for these providers may have passed due to COVID-19, or the re-inspection may be due before routine inspections are due to re-start
We continue to monitor providers that received an inadequate (with enforcement) grade at their last inspection through our usual regulatory activity. In line with our usual process, we will publish an outcome summary. This is set out in our early years compliance handbook and Guidance on writing complaint and compliance action outcome summaries.
When we return to inspection activity, we will begin by inspecting those providers that were judged as inadequate and requires improvement.
When carrying out an interim visit to a provider, we will not be checking whether they have met learning and development requirement actions set at the last inspection. We want to allow providers time to get back to normal following the period of uncertainty caused by COVID-19. Until 25 September 2020, providers should use ‘reasonable endeavours’ to meet the requirements of section 1 of the early years foundation stage (EYFS). Section 2 of the EYFS is disapplied. After 25 September 2020, providers must meet the learning and development requirements in full.
We would usually re-inspect a provider with an inadequate or requires improvement grade within 6 or 12 months respectively and look at learning and development requirements through an inspection under the education inspection framework. If a provider chooses to speak with an inspector about how they are meeting any learning and development actions that they have, the inspector will acknowledge this and explain that we will look at learning and development requirements during the next inspection.
Inspectors will be sensitive to the challenges presented by COVID-19: we will always take that context into account.
We will prioritise the safety and welfare of everyone involved in the visits, including children, carers, staff and inspectors. We will follow the most up-to-date guidance from Public Health England.
We continue to be guided by existing guidance and principles for carrying out our compliance and enforcement, as set out in our early years compliance handbook.
The legal context
We carry out interim visits in line with the letter sent by Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, to Amanda Spielman, HMCI, on 17 March 2020.
We will use our regulatory powers to carry out interim visits. Section 77(2)(b) of the Childcare Act 2006 provides the right of entry to the provider for the purpose of determining whether any conditions or requirements imposed by the Act are being complied with.
Interim visits will take place during the period September 2020 to December 2020 inclusive.
This guidance is applicable from 1 September 2020.
The interim visit
For most providers, this will be an on-site visit, but there may be rare occasions when a telephone call may be an appropriate alternative.
When deciding on whether it is appropriate to carry out our work by telephone, inspectors will need to consider each individual case carefully and whether a telephone discussion is the best approach in line with our early years compliance handbook.
Inspectors must record the reasons for their decision to carry out the work by telephone rather than through a visit.
The inspector may request that the provider shares, electronically, relevant documentary evidence.
If there are no children present
For providers that do have children on roll, and it becomes clear during the notification telephone call that children will not be present on the proposed day of the interim visit, the visit should be scheduled on a day when children are present instead, if practicable.
If there are currently no children on roll or a provider is not operating
An interim visit or telephone call may still take place if a provider has no children on roll or is not operating. The inspector will still need to monitor if the actions set at the last inspection have been met. This is because care could resume at any time.
Before the visit
Notifying the setting of a visit
If possible, the inspector will call the setting to announce the visit on the day before by 12:30pm. They will ask to speak to the childminder/nominated individual/manager, or the most senior member of staff available.
If the inspector is unable to contact one of those named above, the inspector may visit unannounced. The inspector will make a professional judgement on whether it is appropriate to visit unannounced. In the event of an unannounced visit, the inspector will confirm the provider’s arrangements for COVID-19 security on arrival at the setting.
The purpose of the notification call is to:
- make practical arrangements for the visit, including that inspectors are aware of any infection-control arrangements the setting has in place
- allow the provider/manager and inspector time to discuss the context of the setting and purpose of the visit/telephone call
The nominated individual/manager may be able to have this conversation at the point of the notification call. Alternatively, they may wish to arrange a different time during the day to have the conversation. Inspectors will do their best to accommodate any reasonable requests regarding the timing of these calls.
During the call, the inspector should inform the provider of any documentation that they will need to see that shows:
- arrangements for first aid, in line with the current disapplication and variation for paediatric first aid (PFA) certificates
- that there is a record of a valid Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check for every person who lives or works in the setting (group settings)
- the improvements the setting or childminder has made in relation to the safeguarding and welfare actions set at the last inspection
During the discussion the inspector will ensure that providers are aware of the interim visits’ purpose and focus. Inspectors will confirm that the visit will not result in a change to the inspection judgement.
During the notification call, inspectors must re-confirm with the provider that no one in the household or at the setting has COVID-19 symptoms.
Inspectors must confirm with the provider that they have been following the government guidelines on COVID-19.
The inspector will discuss and agree arrangements for the visit. They will also discuss how the inspector and provider will ensure that they follow government guidelines during the visit.
We will continue to carry out our regulatory and compliance functions as normal, as far as the public health emergency allows.
Requests for deferral
We will continue to carry out our regulatory and compliance functions as normal, as far as the public health emergency allows.
We will consider any requests for deferral of interim visits in line with our deferral policy.
Preparing for the interim visit
We will plan for the interim visits in line with our guidance for carrying out regulatory visits in the early years compliance handbook.
Interim visits should be informed by:
- the last inspection report
- action(s) set out in the inspection report
- a review of all information received since the last inspection
- any local intelligence or contact from the local authority adviser
If we receive a concern or notification linked to the provision before the planned interim visit, we will follow our usual risk assessment procedures. If urgent action is not required, we may take the concern or notification into account at the interim visit and follow any lines of enquiry needed about these.
Inspectors must check:
- the provider’s registration details and the accuracy of the information about individuals associated with the registration
- the date and judgement of the previous inspections
- the safeguarding and welfare actions raised at the previous inspection
- the inspection and compliance history of the provider and details of any further information that has come to Ofsted’s attention since the previous inspection
Inspectors must also complete a COVID-19 general risk assessment before carrying out any on-site visits.
To avoid any unnecessary travel, the inspector should re-confirm with the provider that everyone in the setting/household remains symptom-free before starting their journey.
During the visit
Inspectors should be sensitive to the situation that the provider is in and conduct themselves in line with the conduct during Ofsted inspections guidance. We also expect providers to comply with the expectations for providers set out in the same guidance.
Inspectors should limit contact to the minimum number of individuals and household members where possible. They should follow government guidance for hand washing, physical contact and social distancing.
On arrival, inspectors should:
- ask to see the registered person/nominated individual, or in their absence the manager, introduce themselves and confirm their identity by showing identification
- confirm the arrangements for the interim visit, including the provider’s arrangements for COVID-19 security
- confirm the purpose of the interim visit
- check there is a record of a valid DBS check for every person who lives or works in the setting (group settings)
- check that there is appropriate first-aid provision in place
The focus of the interim visit will be the safeguarding and welfare requirements, particularly the weaknesses/areas for improvement that are set out in the safeguarding welfare requirements actions set at the last inspection.
Inspectors will use their professional judgement to decide the best method to gather sufficient, valid and reliable evidence to support the outcome of the visit decision.
The main questions that the inspector must consider
- What has the provider done to tackle the actions set and how has it improved the care of children?
- Is it apparent that the provider has let other aspects slip and is there now cause for concern in different areas and subsequent breaches to the statutory requirements?
To answer the second question the inspector will consider:
- the impact on children
- if children are being kept safe
- if children’s needs are being met
The inspector will consider other matters as they emerge, pursue other lines of questioning and enquiries and ensure that they have fully understood and considered the impact on children.
Inspectors may have concerns about the effectiveness of the setting’s leadership and management or that safeguarding and welfare requirements are not met. If inspectors have significant concerns, or if they find further breaches to safeguarding and welfare requirements, they will raise their concerns with the provider/manager at the appropriate time.
If a provider remains non-compliant with one or more of the safeguarding and welfare requirements, or new safeguarding and welfare concerns come to light, the inspector will consider whether enforcement measures are required. Our approach to compliance and enforcement is set out in the early years compliance handbook.
The inspector must summarise the information gathered at appropriate times during the regulatory visit and share this with the provider/manager.
Gathering and recording evidence
Inspectors will gather evidence in line with our early years compliance handbook for recording gathering and recording evidence. The evidence must be sufficient to determine whether the provider has taken effective action to meet the safeguarding and welfare actions set at the last inspection.
The inspector must make notes throughout the visit in the agreed format. They must record all evidence that demonstrates whether the provider is now meeting these requirements or is failing to meet them. This should reflect any areas that may have slipped.
They will record evidence in the relevant sections of the interim visit event form.
The evidence must:
- be sufficient in quality and range to describe the regulatory activity carried out, including planning, methodology and findings about the specific requirements
- support any enforcement outcomes
- include confirmation that there is a record of a valid DBS check for every person who lives or works in the setting (group settings)
- provide a record that underpins and secures the findings
Evidence gathered and recorded will vary but is likely to include:
- observations, when appropriate
- discussions with leaders, managers and staff
- viewing documentation
Considering all the evidence gathered, the inspector will determine whether the provider has:
- taken effective action to address the safeguarding and welfare actions reported on at the last inspection
- not taken effective action to address the safeguarding and welfare actions reported on at the last inspection
- let other aspects of the provision slip and consequently there are further breaches of the statutory requirements
On all visits, inspectors should consider whether it is appropriate to identify additional priorities for action based on issues they found during the visit.
The inspector must summarise the information at appropriate times during the regulatory visit and share this with the provider/manager.
The provider will receive feedback at the end of the visit. During feedback, the inspector must:
- confirm that there will be no change to the last inspection judgement
- use plain English
- ensure the provider is clear about the outcome of the visit and what the next step will be, especially if new issue(s) have arisen or actions are still not met
- support the findings with clear explanations and illustrations
- make sure that outcomes are in line with the requirements and associated guidance, legislation and our handbooks
- explain the options for further action, non-statutory and statutory, if there is evidence that the provider is failing or has failed to meet statutory requirements, which may result in enforcement action
- be proportionate and fair in line with our enforcement policy – see the section on ‘The legal basis of our work and our options for ensuring compliance’ in our compliance handbook
The inspector will make any concerns clear to the provider/manager. They will explain that there will be a published outcome summary, which will outline what action the provider has taken and include whether we require the provider/manager to take other action.
If the inspector is satisfied that the provider has taken appropriate steps to address the actions, they will inform the provider that the next inspection will take place at an early stage within the inspection window, unless there is a reason to visit the setting sooner.
After the visit
The inspector will record all of the relevant information about the case and the visit on our inspection database. This will include:
- any evidence of non-compliance
- any action we are taking in response to any non-compliance
- the outcome of the regulatory visit, including any action that we or the provider has taken or will take
The inspector will complete the outcome summary, which we will publish on Ofsted’s reports website.
If the provider fails to meet the safeguarding and welfare requirements of the EYFS, the inspector will issue the provider with a welfare requirements notice or notice to improve and/or take any other enforcement activity that may be required.
Due to routine inspections being suspended, we have not been able to report on whether providers have met the safeguarding and welfare actions that we reported on at the last inspection.
After the interim visit, we will publish an outcome summary that explains the action taken by the provider to meet the safeguarding and welfare actions set at the last inspection. Publishing an outcome summary provides an update to parents while routine inspections are suspended.
The published outcome summary will include:
- the date of the last inspection
- the inspection judgement
- reference to the safeguarding and welfare actions that were raised at the last inspection
- whether the actions raised at the last inspection have been met
- any further action we are taking in response to any non-compliance
- the next steps
Quality assurance and complaints
All outcome summaries and evidence for interim visits may be subject to quality assurance arrangements. We will handle any concerns and complaints during the visit or about the published summary in line with our complaints policy.
In these cases, we will not delay publication of the outcome summary if some action is still in progress. This is because we think that it is important for parents and carers to have up-to-date information. If the outcome of our work changes once we have completed it, we will publish an amended outcome summary. Published outcome summaries will remain on our reports website for 5 years.