Dear Catriona

Here’s just one part of the saga that played out over the months from inspection through the full inspection complaints process.  It’s my nature to be brief, but the facts in this case are difficult to relay and complex by nature so please bear with me.

It all stemmed from a minor injury when an 18 month old boy fell off a crate and unfortunately knocked out two of his front teeth.  The teeth were still loosely attached by the gum but were past the point where they could be reattached. The incident was captured on our CCTV but at some distance, in poor quality and with no sound. The injured child was in a ratio of one to two at the time and no more than six feet from a member of staff, but that member of staff was supervising another boy on a swing and was unable to immediately stop and move to supervise the child on the crates. Immediately after the incident the child was given every possible care, our manager took him in the ambulance to A&E and waited the parent’s arrival. What was striking was how calm and unconcerned the child was.  The hospital and paramedic crews commented on how little pain and distress the child was in throughout. The bleeding stopped quite quickly, and no analgesia was offered or needed. When the boy’s father arrived he was relaxed and joking, playing with his son and immediately sent our manager home.

We reported the incident to Ofsted as a minor incident, just to follow best practice and they agreed that in the circumstances this was indeed a minor incident and filed it as such. The child returned to nursery the very next working day. On his first day back at the nursery he bit two other children, and ate his meals well. So far so good.

The parents however began to put pressure on the nursery to remove the crates that had ‘caused the accident’ quoting health and safety law and that their son had been left ‘unsupervised’.  Despite our very best efforts to resolve this situation including walking them through the incident and where staff had been standing at the time of the accident, allowing the parents to speak to the staff on duty at the time and giving them our best reassurances that it was an unfortunate accident nothing more.  This was not enough for them – someone had to be at fault. We also explained that health and safety legislation did not apply at the nursery where the children were concerned and that we did have risk assessments for each area of the nursery. Despite their ongoing dispute they retained their child at the nursery.

Three months later the parents made a complaint to Ofsted which triggered a complaints based inspection. They removed their child immediately after the inspection, so they can’t have been that worried!

On the day of the inspection we were never given a copy of the complaint, for ‘data protection’ reasons. We immediately knew that the complaint could only have come from one set of parents as the inspector mentioned that it was because of an accident on a crate and we have only ever had one accident on a crate.

Towards the end of the inspection the inspector asked to see the CCTV footage of the incident. I showed her the footage once.  At this point, and to my certain knowledge the inspector had not walked the ground where the incident took place. The video clip lasts for some 15 seconds and shows the child, a small white blob some five millimeters high moving along from left to right, then falling forward before finally disappearing behind a fence. Immediately afterwards they are picked up and comforted by one of the staff and first aid is started.

At this point the inspector said “That child could have died!”

I remember being absolutely stunned at her response, which was so far out of order as to be outrageous.  I was speechless.  I thought there’s something I’m not getting here, something’s not right. So I asked her if she wanted to see the video clip again. She said no, she had “seen enough” which was also shocking.

At the end of the day she proposed to downgrade us from Good to Adequate, but when pressed she couldn’t really explain why.  She was really weak and practically incoherent during her debrief and summary. The next day she called us on the phone and downgraded us again to Inadequate in quite the most dismissive piece of retrospective justification I’ve ever been on the back end of.

So we draw up our first complaint and fired this off to Tribal.  To our count she’s breached at least 20 of Ofsted’s inspection guidelines. There are parts of her inspection report which might as well have been from another nursery. There are whole paragraphs in the report criticising areas in the nursery she never went into including the garden where the accident took place. We tracked her route round the nursery on CCTV and she simply cannot have been in the same space!  I am also convinced that there are parts of the report cut and pasted from the parent’s complaint. I recognise the writing style after so many months of email Ping-Pong. I think the end result was what we are now allowed to call a ‘flawed’ inspection. It’s not what I would call it but I’m trying to be polite, so it will have to do.

Anyway, time passes, new bookings are lost, some bills are paid, and existing parents are wonderful, supportive and brilliant. Life goes on, and the response from Tribal arrives in the post (late).

In the response from Tribal we had most of our complaints ‘partially upheld’ against the Inspector but on the crucial matters regarding our grading we were of course unsuccessful. What stunned us the most however was the core matter of the complaint regarding the accident. In the response to our complaint we discovered that our inspector had decided that the accident that triggered the complaint was ‘serious’.  Why? Because the child apparently suffered ‘pain that cannot be relieved by simple pain killers’. Simple painkillers in this case would mean injected or intravenous drugs or sedatives.

Well, had the inspector asked a few basic questions about our ongoing care for the child after the accident she would have found out that we looked after him for the following three hours, took him to hospital, sat with him in A&E, discussed with the medics what pain relief he needed and spoke to the parents when he next came into nursery. The child needed no pain relief at all. I can offer no other explanation but that the inspector simply exaggerated the level of injury to retrospectively justify her downgrading of our nursery.

What is even worse is that on viewing one 15 second CCTV clip of poor quality, the Inspector has given substance to an emotive complaint from the parents who do not understand the nature of exploring risk through play and were looking for someone to blame, or seek compensation from.

I am very pleased to say that when we forensically dissected this point in our next complaint direct to Ofsted this point was upheld, common sense broke out, and the paragraph was removed from our report. However, the fact remains that we are still Inadequate, and are still losing bookings as a result.

I would like to think that the Inspector concerned has been retrained and reassessed following this incident but I’m not confident, are you?

So what do we do about that?

So what exactly are Ofsted for again?

How much do we pay Ofsted a year for this ‘service’?

If there is to be a happy ending to this tale then let it be this.  Some months later the parents applied through a Freedom of Information request to view the CCTV clip of the incident.  We released a heavily edited version for them to see and their reaction was reported to be:

“Oh Yes – he does that all the time”.

Thanks for your patience


This item has been published to support the concerns regarding complaints led inspections. It can be verified by the publisher but no names have been printed to protect the identity of the child and inspector. Nor have any identifying features been given such as the name of the hospital, nursery or provider.

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