Imagine a situation where there were no national standards.Where, for instance, no one agreed about the weight of a kilo.

You could have Lewes insisting it was 1,000 grammes, while Manchester defined it as 1,200, or vice versa.

Unthinkable. But there have been, until recently, no national standards in childcare.

True, the guiding principle for childcare nationwide is the Children Act, which protects the interests of children under eight.

But each local authority has interpreted it slightly differently, with the result that some have a higher ratios of adults to children than others and some have banned child-minders from smoking while others have not.

Something had to be done. And, after much consultation, it was. So, farewell to the local inspectors from the Registration and Inspection Unit and hello to the new Ofsted inspectors.

Well, almost. In reality, many of the Council inspectors are taking up new posts as Ofsted inspectors.

So while they may be carryingsmart new lap-top computers, they will still be monitoring standards, but 14 national ones.

Childcare providers were asked for their views on national standards, which provoked passionate arguments.

Most controversial was the Governments suggestion that, although smoking and smacking wer banned in nurseries, play-groups and out-of-school clubs, it was not reasonable to impose a ban on childminders, as they are in loco parentis, literally in the place of parents, and so should decide for themselves.

It was also said to be unenforceable. Registration and Inspection Units across the country, the National Child-minding Association (NCMA) and childminders themselves all protested, citing seatbelt legislation, which was resisted using the same argument.

And so a compromise was reached, a small victory for the physical and emotional health of future generations: smoking and smacking are not allowed without written permission from the parent.

As far as the rest of the new standards are concerned, there will be few changes in East Sussex as standards are already high.

For example, the national minimum ratio of one adult to every three children under two is slightly lower than the county ratio of 1:2.

Regardless, many child-care providers are maintaining the old standards ask yours what they are doing.

On the other hand, although we offer a wealth of free first aid training for childminders, and many childminders have a first aid qualification, we have not insisted on this.

Parents will be pleased to know, though, that all new childminders will have to gain a first aid qualification within six months.

But why should Ofsted be responsible for childcare? The obvious answer is that childcare and early education should have the same status as formal education.

Hence the Ofsted Early Years Directorate, which will be with us next month. Less obviously, it will reduce bureaucracy, as Ofsted already inspects nurseries and playgroups offering subsidised early education places.

Why not extend their role? someone asked, and so they did.