19 Apr '13

News Many nurseries and pre-schools in England could be closed in shakeup

Chief inspector of children's services warns institutions labelled 'requiring improvement' will have four years to change

Thousands of nurseries and pre-schools in England could be closed as part of a government shakeup of care for babies and toddlers.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools and children's services, said more than a fifth of carers of children under four were "satisfactory" or worse.

From this September, nurseries, childminders and pre-schools previously deemed to be satisfactory will be branded "requiring improvement".

If they have not improved after four years, Ofsted inspectors will label them "inadequate" and they will face closure if they do not dramatically improve at their next inspection.

Wilshaw called for carers of under-fours to have A-levels or degrees. He said it was "absolute nonsense" that adults who worked with animals as veterinary assistants needed better qualifications than those working with young children.

"One of our biggest problems is that too many of the workforce are underqualified and there is far too much regional variation," he said. "We demand more from those who work with animals – they need at least five good GCSEs. There isn't the same insistence for early years providers."

Wilshaw said care in poorer areas was particularly patchy, despite the millions spent by the Labour government on Sure Start centres.

"We need to address this problem urgently. We all know from the research that children's early years are a period of rapid development and vital for building a secure foundation for future personal and academic success."

In January, Elizabeth Truss, the early years minister, announced that nurseries and childminders would be able to take on more pre-school children.

Childminders are currently restricted to looking after three children per staff member between the ages of one and five. In future, they will be able to look after four children, two of which can be aged under one.

Wilshaw added that he wanted to stop failing nurseries from renaming themselves and reopening.

Professor Andy Goodwyn, head of the University of Reading's institute of education, said early years workers did not need a tougher inspection regime, but a period of stability to build on their skills.

"It needs to become an attractive and high-status sector that can attract graduates who can see a real career path … The last thing it needs is more threats."

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