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E-coli outbreak hits care inspections

Moves to reduce the frequency of inspections of early years providers by the Care Commission are likely to be put on hold following the E-coli outbreak last month.

However, proportionate integrated inspections carried out jointly by HMIE and the commission will go ahead from April next year, and may mean fewer education inspections for providers reaching the highest standards.

Up to 26 children in Fife and two in Aberdeenshire were struck down by the infection in May, as it emerged that the provider at the centre of the outbreak in Fife, Careshare, had been criticised in 2005 for poor hygiene in nine of the 21 nurseries it operates.

Currently, nursery providers face annual inspections by the Care Commission (singleton inspections). In 2003, integrated inspections by the commission and HMIE were introduced to drive up educational standards within pre-school. The plan was that, every three years, each provider would be jointly inspected. Since then, 2,500 centres have been gone through an integrated inspection.

The Scottish Parliament gave ministers the power last year to reduce the minimum frequency of Care Commission inspections. However, a Scottish Executive spokesperson said this week: "Ministers have yet to consider the services where they might propose a reduction in the minimum frequency of inspection and they will want to reflect very carefully on the recent events in Fife before taking any decisions in respect of daycare services for children."

However, plans to reorganise integrated inspections into a more "proportionate" model from April next year will go ahead, HMIE said. Those that receive positive inspection reports will face fewer, more light-handed inspections, freeing inspectors to work more closely with those that do not.

This model has already been adopted for primary and secondary schools.

"Proportionate integrated inspection will mean that the interval between inspections may vary between centres, depending on a number of criteria such as the outcomes of the previous integrated inspection, the results of any follow-through inspection or the conclusions of discussions we have on an ongoing basis with Care Commission colleagues," Kenneth Muir, chief inspector, said.

Annual Care Commission inspections will continue for the foreseeable future, but those reaching the highest standards could face less frequent integrated inspections, down to every seven years from the current three.

Nursery classes could then be inspected as part of the whole primary school inspection cycle.

An independent report by MRUK, commissioned by HMIE, to be published shortly, will reveal that nearly 90 per cent of early years providers described their experience of integrated inspections as "good" or "very good" and a similar number found inspectors efficient and helpful.

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