Ofsted report says best place for twos is in schools

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The early years sector has been left in no doubt that Ofsted believes that the best place for the poorest two-year-olds is in schools.


Sir Michael Wilshaw

In a speech in London to launch Ofsted's first early years report, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw told a roomful of nursery owners, childminders, local authorities, practitioners and experts from the sector, 'I believe the best way of ensuring that the most disadvantaged children are ready for school is to put schools in the driving seat.'

There are not enough good childminders or PVI providers in disadvantaged areas and children's centres could also not be relied upon to cater for the poorest families, he said. Poor parents are being let down by a 'confusing' and complex early years system.

Listing the different terms used to describe early years settings - nursery, childminder and pre-school play group, among a number of others - he said the language in early years was 'confusing' for poor parents, leaving them unsure about where they would send 'a two-year-old to learn'.

'If I, as chief inspector, can't really tell you the difference, what chance do parents on the estate have of getting their head round these terms?'

The report itself goes further, suggesting that, 'There should be agreement nationally on a small number of words for different types of early education and childcare that would make sense to parents and could be used consistently across Government.'

During a question and answer session Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, who had been interviewed earlier with Sir Michael on BBC Radio 4, said, 'Some of your comments on Today undermined the integrity of the sector, including childminders, (who are) delivering really high quality. Schools are not the only answer and excellent high-quality exists across the board.'

In response, Sir Michael said, 'I didn't want to criticise the PVI sector, but are they doing a good enough job for the poorest children in our communities? And our view is that schools would do a better job,' he said.

Ofsted deputy director of early education Gill Jones added, 'We're not suggesting that the PVI sector and childminders are not doing a good job; we're talking about schools working with the sector.'

June O'Sullivan, chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), which works with many families in deprived areas, said that talking about two-year-olds was 'very emotive'.

She said there needs to be 'a better conversation about pedagogy for talking about two-year-olds, so we all understand what matters for twos.

'A great deal of them are really only babies and they're really very needy and when you use language like teaching and education - and in a much more formalised concept - it confuses people and confuses parents and that's the kind of language that terrifies them,' she said.

She added that Ofsted needed to work with the sector much more closely. 'We must have a much more honest and comprehensive conversation because otherwise we just add to the confusion for parents.'

LEYF added that there was no research to suggest that schools were good for two-year-olds and that in fact schools have not raised the bar for three-year-olds since they started taking them approximately 12 years ago.

Local authorities

A table in the report shows that only seven out of 154 local authorities in England are over the 50 per cent mark for children on free school meals achieving a good level of development at the end of the EYFS.

Nick Hudson, director of early education at Ofsted, said local authorities were not being held to account on early years.

'Why is it that a good level of development is below 50 per cent in the absolutely overwhelming majority of local authorities in this country?'

He added, 'Local authorities are not being held to account for this, so are not paying as much attention to it. This is about accountability, quite clearly.'


Ofsted's report also includes a list, first included in Frank Field's 2010 Foundation Years report, of 'ten ticks' that any parent can understand.

Referring to the concept of 'school readiness', early years consultant Nancy Stewart said that the descriptors used in the report to list the skills that every parent should ensure their child has before they start school were 'very low level' and there was 'a lot of evidence about what counted towards children's later success and it was not putting on shoes, going to the toilet or even being able to recognise your name.

'It is about being confident, being curious and motivated, and when we talk about the parent in a one-way conversation with a baby, the key is it's not one way,' she said. 'It's the parent who knows it's two way, who is listening to the child, who doesn't just teach the child a nursery rhyme by rote or read a book to them but has a conversation about the book. There's much more subtle ways that we support children to be learners.'

She added that this needed to be taken into account when looking at 'baseline measuring'.

Stressing the importance of the quality of the workforce, she said that she 'deplored' the Government's decision to keep the requirement for only half of practitioners to have a Level 2 to be counted in ratios.

Summing up

Sir Michael said the 'status quo is not an option' and the Government needed to make radical changes, and that the regulations around early years need to be much more simple.

'We at Ofsted have got to make sure that our inspection process is thought through and that we look for the right things when we visit early years settings, with an emphasis on learning and outcomes,' he said.

'We want to see those people with the requisite skills and qualifications taking more responsibility for early years in disadvantaged communities and we think that can be better done in schools.

'If Sure Start was the answer we wouldn't be making this speech and we wouldn't be having this report today. We've got to look beyond Sure Start and look at other alternatives for early years education for our poorest children.'

Commenting on the report, Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said, 'Sir Michael Wilshaw is right to emphasise the importance of the early years in supporting children's development and 4Children shares his desire to raise the quality of early years provision to enable all children to flourish.

'However, he is wrong in dismissing the excellent early education and care that is provided in thousands of nurseries around the country every day and it is simplistic and misguided to suggest that all children will be better served by the provision of formal education in schools from two.

'4Children is calling for the Government to put early years on an equal funding and statutory status to schools and for Sir Michael to create a new group of expert early years advisers to support his team in measuring and developing early years quality in nurseries, childminders and schools.

'Children from the poorest backgrounds need the most support in the early years to enable them to prepare for school. This means high-quality, nurturing environments where children are able to play and learn with the individual support of expert early educators and teachers who are specially trained in the early years.'

Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, said, 'A school setting isn't appropriate for all children.

We know, for instance, that many families benefit from the flexible, home-based care offered by childminders, who as well as supporting a child's physical and educational development are ideally placed to strengthen a child's social and emotional skills. This is especially important for more vulnerable children.

'Ofsted's report points to the lower quality of care delivered by some childminders in disadvantaged areas, but doesn't address the need to offer them more training and support to improve - nor celebrate the fantastic efforts of those many childminders who deliver consistently excellent care on very little pay.'


  1. To review if 15 hours a week is enough for the poorest children to make the necessary progress.
  2. To direct the new pupil premium for threeand four-year-olds through school-led provision.
  3. To give the poorest children an advantage in the admissions criteria for primary schools.
  4. Lastly, to work with Ofsted to streamline inspection and regulation of schools who provide for younger children.

'These are all important recommendations, which we hope Government will act upon.'


- To sit still and listen.

- To be aware of other children.

- To understand the word no and the borders it sets for behaviour.

- To understand the word stop and that such a phrase might be used to prevent danger.

- To talk in sentences.

- To be potty-trained and able to go to the loo.

- To recognise their own name

- To speak to an adult and ask for needs.

- To be able to take off their coat and put on shoes.

- To open and enjoy a book.

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