Ealing Nursery Slammed in Undercover Report
Reporter reveals every parents' worst fear at Buttons Day Nursery in BBC 1 'Whistleblower' Programme at 8pm tonight
"I saw two nursery assistants hauling a boy across the nursery by his arm. Then I heard a child being called a "sh*t-bag" and saw a little girl's head being shoved into a mattress on the floor as she didn't want to go."
During an eight-month investigation for the BBC1 investigative programme Whistleblower, Imogen Willcocks uncovered a childcare culture where a new carer's criminal records and references are never checked, yet they will immediately be left alone with young, vulnerable children.
The reporter was initially alerted to the scandal by an inspector for Ofsted (the government agency that regulates childminders and nurseries), who said that, as a parent of two and having inspected 700 nurseries with her colleagues, she had found only five that she would have let her own children attend.
She reportedly said that Ofsted inspection reports - the only safeguards that parents have to go on when choosing a nursery - "aren't worth the paper they're printed on."
"We are literally skimming the surface," the Ofsted inspector had told her. "We are told constantly: "If you don't see a problem, don't look for one. Take a quick look and get out."
"The priority for all Ofsted inspectors is to meet their targets. If they don't, they are disciplined. Targets take priority over safeguarding children."
Imogen decided to test these claims by going undercover and getting a job in a number of nurseries. The first on her list was Buttons Day Nursery in Ealing and here's what she found...
"We'd had a tip-off that its supervision of babies and toddlers was unacceptable.
After a cursory interview, I was appointed as a nursery assistant. No one checked my references in the five weeks I was there and even though the law states that everyone working with children has to have their background checked by Home Office agency the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), the all-clear didn't come back until I had left.
Buttons is based in a rambling, 19th-century detached house and caters to the area's professional middle classes. It was not cheap, charging £1,100 a month for a child who is dropped off at 8am and collected at 6pm.
On my first day, I was terrified - partly afraid that my secret filming equipment would be discovered, but mostly because apart from a quick nappychanging lesson with a friend's baby, I had no clue how to look after children.
As it turned out, no one noticed my inexperience. At 21, I was one of the oldest nursery assistants. Many were trainees and had no idea what they were supposed to be doing. There was no on-the-job training. Instead, we were thrown in at the deep end.
At times I was on my own with as many as 13 children, even though the law says carers waiting for their CRB clearance should always be closely supervised at all times.
And they shouldn't be allowed to change nappies and take children to the toilet.
With so many children to look after, I could barely make sure they were safe, let alone care for them individually. Instead, it was just damage limitation - I found myself grabbing broken glass, sticks and sharp objects from children as young as three.
One day, builders were brought in to fit guards to the radiators because one little boy - weeks earlier - had badly burnt his hand on one.
The other staff told me that the owner, Satnam Parhar, had blamed the staff for not supervising the burned boy properly and that he was only getting the guards fitted because an Ofsted inspection was due.
The builders left their power tools inches away from where the children were playing and no one seemed to notice. I spent that particular session on tenterhooks.
The nursery assistants at Buttons were poorly supervised and very poorly paid. I was on about £100 a week - less than the legal minimum wage. It's hardly surprising, then, that many of the staff were less than high-quality carers. I saw two nursery assistants hauling a boy across the nursery by his arm. Then I heard a child being called a "sh*t-bag" and saw a little girl's head being shoved into a mattress on the floor as she didn't want to go.
When I complained to the owner that I had been left on my own with 13 children, he refused to accept what I was saying and called the idea crazy.
When I contacted him later, saying I had been undercover for a TV programme, he issued a statement.
"The care and safety of our children is of utmost importance.
"New joiners to our staff undertake a full induction programme and there are procedures in place to ensure the safety of children.
"We take any allegations or criticism very seriously and will investigate these complaints and take appropriate action."
3rd March , 2008