Just over a fifth of early years day care and pre-school services inspected in 2004-05 led to "requirements" for improvement, a report by HMIE and the Care Commission states.
But only 3 per cent of these 189 services involved cases where there was poor control of infection and poor management of clinical waste, the report says in what may be a reassurance following recent outbreaks of E-coli in early years centres.
None the less, the two bodies point out, "requirements reflect real concerns about the quality of care and supervision of children, not just the absence of a policy or procedure".
The most common concerns in relation to hygiene were a lack of any clear policy on infection control, access to hand-washing facilities, lack of nappy changing facilities and inappropriate food storage.
By far the largest number of concerns were to do with wider issues affecting young children's health and welfare, mainly their safety and security in and out of doors. Lack of child protection featured here but so, too, did lack of protection from accidents involving hot radiators, hot water and hot food.
Only 5 per cent of the requirements were prompted by inadequate levels of staffing.
The inspections found a slightly higher proportion of local authorities were offenders compared with the private and voluntary sectors. The report suggests this could be because councils first became subject to regulation in 2003 while other organisations had been regulated for a number of years before that.
The majority of parents who were surveyed on the inspections, however, did not notice any difference where improvements had been demanded. Inspectors believe this is because most were generally positive about their child's pre-school centre before the inspection occurred, so the finding that inspection had not made a dramatic difference to care and education was "not surprising".
The report noted that local authority staff were more critical of the inspection process than parents and other providers. They complained about inconsistencies, over-frequency of inspection and lack of a cohesive approach. HMIE and the Care Commission now carry out joint inspections using a single officer acting for both organisations, and there are more unannounced inspections to increase flexibility and cut down on the preparations centres have to make.
The report also hints at further changes in the number of inspections which might mean a more "proportionate approach" from April next year.
But this would have to be "extremely carefully considered and dependent upon detailed and robust risk assessment".