Ofsted: 'Strong leadership' in early years key to being ready for school

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Poor leadership in some early years settings means that some children, particularly those in deprived areas, are not starting school ready to 'make the most' of it, an Ofsted report says today.


Ofsted’s report, Getting it right first time – Achieving and maintaining high-quality early years provision, highlights the importance of ‘strong and effective leadership’ in making settings good or outstanding.

Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said, ‘I have said many times since my arrival at Ofsted that the importance of early years is beyond question.

‘But, a significant minority of children are simply not ready for school when they arrive in reception classes and too many do not get the high-quality provision they need to make a secure start. Our inspections show a strong correlation between low-quality provision and poorer areas, particularly among childminders.’

The settings Ofsted had visited for the survey had strong leaders determined ‘to get it right first time for children’ who ‘understood that they are only as "good" as the quality of the interaction between adults and children.’

Sir Michael added, ‘They are not afraid to set high expectations and to introduce structures that help children’s learning. They ensure that children are given clear routines and procedures that help build self-assurance as well as awareness of others’ needs. This means that they are not afraid to teach children and to ensure that their staff are highly skilled adults who improve the vocabulary, cognitive and social skills of very young children, particularly when they are not able to gain them at home.’

While the report acknowledged that the proportion of good and outstanding settings had risen since 2008 with year-on year improvements in children’s Early Years Foundation Stage Profile scores, it also said that in 2012 just over a third of children were not working securely in communication, language and literacy and that this rose to four in ten children in deprived areas.

In 2008, 49 per cent of children reached a good level of development, rising to 64 per cent in 2012.

Ofsted said that many providers across all types of early years settings are supporting children’s learning well, but ‘this masks the fact that two fifths of all early years settings are not improving fast enough to give children the best start in life, including the skills they need to be ready for school.’

Satisfactory provision is not effective enough to close the attainment gap sufficiently quickly, it said.


Strong leadership

The report describes features of strong leadership with good practice examples ‘for settings that are not improving quickly enough and for those that want to build on their current strengths.’

It highlights the importance of self-evaluation and the importance of individual staff reflecting on their own practice.

In ten of the 11 settings visited leaders ‘sought scrutiny of their practice’ from advisers, network or cluster co-ordinators, settings and children’s centres, and through quality assurance schemes.

The best settings have highly qualified practitioners with five of those surveyed employing at least one teacher, six at least one Early Years Professional, and in five settings the EYPs also had relevant early years studies degrees.


Quality of teaching

Leaders in the survey were clear that the quality of adults’ interaction with children had the greatest impact on learning.

They were clear about what aspects of teaching needed improvement and generally needed to ensure that staff were:

  • prioritising children’s communication and language skills, personal, social and emotional development, mathematics and early literacy, and working with parents to help them support their children’s development
  • planning activities based on regular, accurate assessments of children’s learning, knowledge and skills, and adjusting activities to meet the needs of individual children at risk of falling behind
  • routinely planning and making the most of structured teaching opportunities each day
  • taking every opportunity where children were initiating their own play to extend children’s learning, develop their language, feed in new vocabulary and challenge their thinking
  • developing high-quality questioning skills
  • emphasising the importance of listening to children and thinking about the best time to intervene, rather than just jumping in.

The report goes on to highlight the importance of planning activities and checking the accuracy of staff’s assessments to ensure activities were ‘matched well to learning needs and children’s progress was tracked precisely’.

Purnima Tanuku chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association said the report was a useful insight and identified the keys to high quality.

'However some of the language used by Ofsted around teaching  is a change in tone for the early years sector. It is vitally important providers and Ofsted have a common understanding of what ‘teaching’ means in early years.  In striving for quality we must not forget the importance of adult: child interactions, as well as the importance of development through play,' she said.

'The sector is currently going through a period of change with the role of local authorities altering and Ofsted becoming an agency of improvement. This report is a useful resource but there is still an anxiety to understand what support on the ground will look like, especially for weaker settings who need intensive input.

'In compiling the report Ofsted visited a handful of settings and it gives a useful insight. It is important that good practice is recognised by Ofsted and shared wherever it takes place, private, voluntary or state sector.'

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said, 'Investing in the best early education and care is vital, particularly for the most disadvantaged children. ATL welcomes the report’s focus on the need for leaders with excellent understanding and knowledge of young children’s learning and development, and with high expectations of what those young children can accomplish.
'Good settings have staff with qualifications and ongoing training which encourages observation and reflection on their own practice, while supporting and challenging each other. ATL is particularly pleased to see Ofsted acknowledge the importance of children’s play and sensitive teacher intervention to encourage sustained shared thinking.
'However, while this report is intended to provide support for settings to learn from each other, we hope that the government will also listen to the messages. High-quality early education needs high-quality practitioners, well-qualified leaders, and time to develop meaningful relationships between staff, children and families. It can’t be provided on the cheap.'


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