International Perspectives on Early Years -part four

International Perspectives on Early Years -part four

A report by the UK Government, released last year, looks at the aims and purposes of Early Years provision in an international context. It also reflects on where England is within the international context. In part three of our review, we looked at what the report says on curriculum and pedagogy, and in this final part in a series of four, we look at what the report says on inspection and regulation in Early Years.

Purpose
.

Ofsted is responsible for the inspection and regulation of all Early Years settings in England. Its inspections evaluate the overall quality and standards of provision. It ensures that those registered are suitable to provide care and education for children. Its inspections also have an important role in supporting settings to improve their provision. In Norway, inspectors have similar roles to see if a service is meeting standards but also to help guide the service. The experiences of children are at the heart of inspections in England with Ofsted focussing on their improvement experiences and on outcomes for them.

Ofsted’s regulatory role plays a crucial part in safeguarding children. When it receives concerns about a setting, Ofsted must decide whether to wait for the next inspection or to make a regulatory phone call, visit the setting or carry out an inspection. Belgium is working to increase the frequency of its inspections due to recent issues around safeguarding.

In countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, inspections are used not only to evaluate individual services but to assess the entire Early Years system. For example, evaluations of individual settings may be collated to report overall findings on a local, regional, or national level.

Quality

.
The quality of Early Years provision is affected by many factors, but these are usually grouped into two categories: structural quality and process quality. Structural quality describes organisational and physical features such as health and safety, staff qualifications, and staff-to-child ratios. Process quality concerns how well the setting supports learning and child development. Monitoring process quality is not very common in OECD countries with England being one of the few to do so.

It is crucial that quality requirements and guidance are clear in order to assess quality effectively. The report notes that there is concern that weak requirements and guidance have consequences for effective inspection. For example, the Swedish Education Act has few quality requirements for pre-schools that are measurable and can be inspected. Therefore, since there are no achievement goals for children in preschool, there are also few variables that can indicate that pre-school has problems with its education and teaching.

Quality requirements are less clear, or quality standards are lower for some provide types. In England, all Early Years provision is subject to the same standard. However, in the Netherlands, while home-based provision – Childminding – broadly has to meet the same requirements as other types, differences in the way it is inspected may result in poor-quality provision.

Inspections
.

Countries such as England, Spain, and the Netherlands consider both structural and process quality when inspecting centre-based settings. In Portugal and France, only structural quality is assessed in settings for children under the age of three. In Germany, inspectors are consistent in their evaluation of structural quality but not process quality.

The focus on structural and/or process quality is usually linked to the body responsible for the inspections. When an education inspectorate or ministry carries out the inspection, the focus is usually on process quality. Whereas when a non-education inspectorate or ministry carries out the assessment, the focus is usually on structural quality.

Around half of all European countries have different government bodies that are responsible for Early Years settings for children of different ages. Education ministries may be responsible for children over the age of three and ministries for children and families are responsible for children aged under three years. Some countries have different bodies for inspecting different aspects, such as Ireland, where Tusla focuses more on structural quality and the Department of Education focuses on aspects of process quality.

In Nordic countries, Germany, and Lithuania, the body running the setting is responsible for monitoring the quality of provision. These may be the local authority or other private bodies. The frequency of inspections also varies from country to country. In the Czech Republic, France, and Poland the top-level authorities do not set the frequency of inspections of settings for children under three. This is left to the local authority. In Ireland, Spain, and Malta, settings for children under three are inspected regularly.

Internal Evaluation & Involving Parents and Children in Inspection
.

Internal evaluation is also used to assess quality. This may include completing a self-evaluation report or a setting development plan. In Ireland, providers must submit a Quality Improvement Plan as part of their application for funding. In Spain, Latvia, and Turkey, internal evaluation is compulsory across the entire Early Years phase, and in Poland and the Czech Republic, it is compulsory for children aged over three years too.

Many countries have guidelines about involving parents in inspections. Some countries value the view of parents during inspections. Each Danish Early Years setting has a parental board that expresses the views of parents. The setting manager and parental board together assess the environment from a child-centred perspective. In England, parents are also involved in inspections. Inspectors discuss with providers if they should consider the views of parents and how they should do so.

Only about half of European countries have guidelines on how to involve children in the inspection of settings. In Iceland, focus groups of five and six-year-olds form part of the external evaluation process. In Portugal, the inspection handbook for pre-schools has a list of topics on which inspectors should include the views of children. In England, inspectors observe children at play and talk to them about what they are learning from activities and their experiences.

If you have any questions regarding this report, please contact our policy team.

Share this post

More to explore

Early Childhood in the Anglosphere

Early Childhood in the Anglosphere

In Policy in Focus this week, we unpack a new book ‘Early Childhood in the Anglosphere – Systemic failings and transformative…
Policy in Action 21 May 2024

Policy in Action 21 May 2024

Oireachtas Report . “Early learning and childcare is a public good” – Minister O’Gorman The funding model, “Together for Better,…

Share this post

More to explore

Early Childhood in the Anglosphere

Early Childhood in the Anglosphere

In Policy in Focus this week, we unpack a new book ‘Early Childhood in the Anglosphere – Systemic failings and transformative…
Policy in Action 21 May 2024

Policy in Action 21 May 2024

Oireachtas Report . “Early learning and childcare is a public good” – Minister O’Gorman The funding model, “Together for Better,…