CHILDREN ate ‘dried pasta and discarded food’ while left unsupervised at a short-staffed nursery, a scathing report has revealed.

An Ofsted inspector observed youngsters eating uncooked pasta and running with scissors at Stepping Stones Day Nursery in Witney, and has branded it with the watchdog’s worst rating.

The nursery, which looks after for 94 children, has been rated ‘inadequate’ in all four categories - just one year after gaining a rating of ‘good’ across the board.

A report published by Ofsted yesterday said: “Due to staff shortages children were left to wander on their own.

“Some were observed eating dried pasta, unnoticed by staff...Younger children were observed eating half-eaten and discarded food, as they were unsupervised by staff.”

Adding to safety concerns, the inspector added: “Children run across the room unchallenged, holding scissors in an unsafe manner.”

The nursery in Deer Park insisted necessary changes have already been implemented, however, and said the inspection came at an ‘unfortunate’ time prior to new staff members joining.

Ofsted listed a catalogue of concerns, including about children’s progress, confidentiality breaches and ‘inconsistent’ teaching.

It noted the nursery in Edington Square, which employed 16 staff members at the time of inspection, was insufficiently-staffed and supervision was inadequate.

An inspector also highlighted concerns about senior staff, writing: “The owner does not monitor the manager’s and staff’s practice, and fails to address weaknesses in staff’s performance.

“The manager fails to monitor staff’s practice effectively.

“There are occasions when staff share confidential assessment information with parents pertaining to other children.”

The inspector, who visited on December 13, said staff left children alone at a computer with no program to use, ignoring ‘repeated requests for help’.

She observed staff setting bad examples such as ‘repeatedly standing on chairs in front of children’.

Her report added: “Some children, including those due to move to school, do not have the confidence or speaking skills to make their needs known, develop friendships or to join in activities.

“Older children are not motivated and fail to sustain their concentration at any of the provided activities.”

There was some praise, however, including that staff maintained ‘very effective’ partnership with health and welfare agencies, and offer engaging provision for toddlers and babies.

Jane Kelly, who owns the nursery, insisted the rating was a result of poor timing and stressed that the pasta was only out for creative purposes during playtime.

She said: “We had an unprecedented period where we had staff leaving for various reasons. We were struggling with staff but we’ve had a huge recruitment drive and it’s paying off.

“We now have a very good room leader who has already made a big impact.

“We are optimistic and I’m positive we can be ‘good’ again, hopefully within six months.”

The nursery has been given an action plan with six key aims, which must be met by January 31, and Mrs Kelly said she was sure these have all already been met.

Aims include ensuring adult-to-child ratios are maintained at all times.

The nursery is not linked to Stepping Stones Nursery in East Oxford, nor to Stepping Stones Early Years Foundation Unit at The King's School in Witney.