Ofsted chief calls for school for disdvantaged two-year-olds

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Sir Michael Wilshaw is to say this morning that the early years system is letting the poorest children down.

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He will call for schools to take the lead in providing high-quality early education, saying, ‘What children facing serious disadvantage need is high-quality, early education from the age of two delivered by skilled practitioners with degrees in a setting that parents can recognize and access easily. These already exist. They are called schools.’

Ofsted’s Early Years Report is being released this morning, and will reveal the continuing gap between outcomes for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and more affluent children.

Sir Michael is to say that this results in too many children not being ready for school, and finding it difficult to catch up as they don’t have the basic language and counting skills,

The report makes a series of recommendations for a simpler, more flexible and accountable early years system, to make it easier for parents to navigate the range of childcare options available, says Ofsted.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said, 'Given that Ofsted is supposed to be an independent and impartial inspection (not policy-making) body, we find the extent to which they appear to be trying to dictate the direction of early years policy rather alarming.

'It’s perhaps unsurprising that Sir Michael, a former school headteacher, is such a supporter of school-based provision. However, while we recognise that there are, of course, some schools that are equipped to offer high-quality provision appropriate to the needs of children of a young age, the assertion that these are the best early learning environments for young children is completely misguided.

'We are at a loss to understand why Sir Michael has essentially dismissed the existing huge network of experienced, passionate group settings and childminders who currently provide excellent, and appropriate, care for young children despite chronic underfunding and a never-ending wave of ill-researched, ill-thought-out early years policies.

'In his eagerness to insult the sector, Sir Michael seems to have forgotten that recent research from the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the UK’s childcare system as fourth out of 45 countries in terms of quality, accessibility and affordability. This is despite the fact that as a country we invest half as much as much into our childcare system as a percentage of GDP compared to countries like Sweden and Norway – a fact that is completely at odds with Sir Michael’s inaccurate and frankly bizarre assertion that there is “so much money” being spent on early years.