MSA Chairman’s Update December 2014

Earlier this year I wrote about the number of consultations and policy announcements which have affected early years and primary work. We are now up to 36 since January 2013, and still they come! I posted a blog about the requirements to address Britishness on the MSA website and it is now a requirement for all providers who receive three and four year old funding to show that they are promoting British values, such as respect for the rule of law, democracy, and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. It is likely that there will be a revision to the EYFS in the New Year to make it a requirement for all providers to show how they deal with the issue.

Besides these changes to the EYFS, the safeguarding requirements have been the subject of some confusion since the March 2014 publication of the revised EYFS (which came into effect in September) was followed by the April publication, also by DfE, of Keeping Children Safe in Educationalready often referred to as KCSIE. The uncertainty arose when, despite being mandatory for schools and colleges, KCSIE does not refer directly to the EYFS. So, if you are registered with DfE as a school with over 3 year olds, KCSIE applies to you, but if you are registered with Ofsted as an early years setting, the position was much less clear. Having recently heard the NSPCC talking about various professionals dealing with safeguarding operating in their own separate silos without talking to each other, DfE seems to have a similar problem and early years does not appear to have been considered by the safeguarding group. In October the Department published Keeping children safe in education: childcare disqualification requirementssupplementary advice (reference DFE-00613-2014, October 2014). This seeks to clarify the duties of pre-schools and schools about the checks to be made before appointing a new member of staff and also on existing members of staff. The criteria for disqualification from working with children or managing provision for them have been widened to include cautions or convictions for some violent and sexual offences, issues relating to the care of children especially where orders have been made in the past, having registration refused or cancelled regarding childcare, childrens homes or private fostering, and living in the same household where another person who is disqualified lives or works. It is the last of these which significantly extends the checks employers need to make on both existing employees and prospective ones. The intention is to check whether an employee is disqualified (from working with children) by association.

The requirement is to obtain relevant information about a person living or working in the same household as the employee in case that employee may be under the influence of a person who lives with them and where that person may pose a risk to childrenhence the term by association. DfE says that schools may choose to ask staff to complete and sign a declaration which would help those caught by the by association requirement, particularly where an individual may be reluctant to self-declare. Where possible employees should be asked to provide information about themselves or any person who lives in the same household as themthis includes details of any order or conviction or other grounds for disqualification against the person, the date of such an order or other matter, information about the body or court which made the order, and a certified copy of the order (presumably certified by a solicitor or other person, such as someone who could sign a passport application). The information gained must be passed to Ofsted within 14 days of the provider becoming aware of itor ought reasonably to have become aware of it if they had made reasonable enquiries. This last point seems to place a major burden on the employer to act promptly when any suggestion of disqualification by association arises.

It is possible for the employee to seek a waiver from being disqualified by association, but they must not work in the provision or be directly concerned with the management of the provision once any disqualification is identified. The employer must explain to the individual the implications of being disqualified by association and advise them that they can apply to Ofsted for a waiver.

Whilst there are clear and good reasons for this requirement, the burden on employers seems potentially great. The majority of employees will have no problems, but should anyone in your setting or school be affected, the potential for challenge seems great. No doubt specialist lawyers might seek to challenge any decision whether by the setting, the school or Ofsted. MSAs advice is that employers should undertake such checks, and if any employee is identified as being affected by disqualification by association, immediately refer to case to Ofsted for a decisionthat is, make it absolutely clear that it is not your decision as an employer, but Ofsteds as a regulator. You are simply doing as Ofsted says you must do.

As ever, in case of any problems, get in touch with us and we will aim to help and support you.

Another development which we are watching is the introduction of paid-for inspections. These will generally be where a school or setting has had a satisfactory grade, or more recently requires improvement and wants to have an inspection earlier than Ofsted might normally provide. Such providers are disqualified from receiving funded places and may seek an inspection sooner than might otherwise be the case, in order to be readmitted to the funding scheme. As ever, the issue becomes one of cost. The currently proposed likely charges are £1,300 for childminders and £2,500 for nurseries. That is even though Ofsted has estimated the cost of a childminder inspection is about £700. There are also potential knock-on effects on Ofsteds regular inspection programme if inspectors are being taken away from their usual work to provide paid-for inspections. There are other Ofsted inspection proposals which we are watching, including the idea of a common framework for schools, FE and skills providers and registered EY settings, along with changes to the judgements which inspectors are asked to make.

Besides these ideas, we are watching the Labour partys proposals that independent schools should link with and support other education providers under the Labour partys proposals. Clearly large independent schools or schools with extensive grounds which could be used by other local schools are very different to the situation of small Montessori independent schools. We are concerned that catch-all proposals whereby schools are judged on the extent to which they work with, help or sponsor state schools, and so qualify for various exemptions from taxes or for charitable status, do not take proper account of the size and nature of smaller independent schools. Of course it could be that if you are not registered as a charity or do not claim for any reductions or exemptions from taxes, you will not be affected, but MSA wants to be able to act quickly if necessary.

Finally, I would like to hear from you about the ways in which the new Code of Practice for special education needs is bedding in. How far is it the case that only more serious special needs are now being considered, instead of the former scale of school action, action plus, statementing and so on? Also has the amount of local authority support changed, whether due to the new system or to more general cuts in support?

The next few months leading up to the general election promise to be interesting, with childcare being one area where there may well be policy differences between the major parties. It is all too easy to get so bound up with all the policy issues that we forget that their main purpose is to support good practice. In our Montessori schools and settings we are clear that good practice is both celebrated and maintained.

Best wishes for a good New Year.

Dr Martin Bradley

National Chairman

Montessori Schools Association