Ofsted's early years report - sector reaction

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Ofsted’s first annual early years report, with its focus on school as the best place for two-year-olds, has drawn a vocal response from the sector.


Here are a selection of comments received so far:

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA)

NDNA strongly disputes the idea, which is not backed by Ofsted’s own figures, that nurseries are letting down children, including those from a disadvantaged background. 

 We have to question how Ofsted can draw the conclusion disadvantaged two-year-olds are being failed by nurseries when the scheme to give free places to these children has only just started. The two-year-olds who have taken up free entitlement, most of whom would not have had any early education without it, have not reached reception age so their ‘school readiness’ cannot be judged.

 Ofsted’s figures show the majority of nursery provision is rated good or outstanding and high-quality nurseries are specifically designed to cater for the needs of very young children with experienced expert staff trained in early years development.

 Rather than push toward schools setting up their own nurseries, we should be looking at making full use of the capacity already available in private, voluntary and independent nurseries.

The most recent figures from Ofsted (October 2013) show around a fifth of nursery provision required improvement, roughly the same amount as schools.

The two sectors are so similar in their inspection results that if early years care is not working, then schools are not working either and any improvement needs to be universal not limited to one sector.

 Ofsted needs to look closely at the inspection process which is not fit for purpose and instead of trying to side-line the nursery sector, look at the situation from the other side. I would invite Sir Michael to take the time to visit a nursery, speak to the staff and children and get a proper insight into the sector.

The report also says there is a lack of information for working parents on the quality of childcare. Ofsted has been inspecting early providers since 2001 so we would query how information is lacking. It seems to conflict with proposed changes to the law by DfE which would allow schools to provide care and early education for under-threes without having to be registered on the EYFS.

We think a two-year-old should benefit from the protection of full registration and inspection under the EYFS whether the child is at a nursery, childminder or school. Removing it is a backward step which would leave parents with even less information on a school’s quality of provision.

June O’Sullivan, chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF)

We need to have a very focused conversation with Ofsted to ensure we all define and embed a shared pedagogy which is understood at every level of the sector and by parents.  The report may worry many parents whose children are in nurseries and who now think they should be in school.

While Sir Michael and Ofsted agree they do not want to dismiss the important role high-quality voluntary sector nurseries play in the provision of care and education to two-year-olds, the overemphasis and willingness to deregulate schools needs consideration.

As it stands there is no research that suggests that schools are by definition good for two-year-olds. In fact, schools have not raised the bar for three-year-olds since they started taking them approximately 12 years ago.

Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) 

PACEY does not believe that increasing the level of formal education delivered to pre-school children will help reduce inequality or provide children with a strong foundation for success in the classroom and beyond.

The evidence shows that high-quality childcare delivered through a play-based approach to learning is vital to help children develop the social, emotional and physical skills they need to thrive and is one of the most effective ways to lift children out of disadvantage.  A child’s confidence, independence and willingness to learn is more important than being able to recognise letters, sit still and focus on a task.

High-quality early years education can take place in a wide range of settings, not just schools. We need to see more support for all childcare professionals to help them improve their expertise and deliver the best possible care for those children and families most in need.

Ryan Shorthouse, Director of the Bright Blue think tank

Children with higher cognitive ability at the start of their lives are overwhelmingly more likely to achieve better grades when they are older, making pre-school education one of the most important parts of the education system. Though childcare has improved in recent years, much more needs to be done to ensure children from deprived backgrounds in particular experience high-quality care. 

The Liberal Democrats should reconsider their opposition to childcare providers being able to relax their staff-to-child ratios to recruit better qualified staff.

Dr Hilary Emery, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau (NCB)

We welcome Ofsted’s commitment to improve the quality of early education and childcare, and to narrow the gap in outcomes for disadvantaged children.

However, we are concerned that the Ofsted report focuses on increasing the capacity of school-based early years provision, whilst downplaying the excellent work of the majority of nurseries and other providers in delivering the Early Years Foundation Stage. 

We support Ofsted’s recognition of the importance of providing high-quality places for two-year-olds. While research shows the value of graduate professionals, it is imperative that all early years practitioners have a strong grasp of child development and can meet the individual and personal needs of two-year-olds, which can differ quite significantly from those of older pre-school children.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL)

If we believed that Ofsted understood what good early years provision looked like, then we would be happy for them to call for more of it.

ATL believes that schools, including nursery schools, should be at the heart of early education provision. However, we know from members and research that an overly formal and narrow academic curriculum at too young an age damages children's learning. Although the Chief Inspector's remarks imply he doesn't understand, Ofsted inspectors need to understand that young children learn best through planned and structured play, talking, sustained shared thinking, by exploring real world experiences and in inspiring learning environments.

We've been telling Ofsted for some time that inspectors must have recent experience of, and significant expertise in, early years teaching. Ofsted needs to address the inconsistent quality of its inspections and consider how it can help teachers and early years staff to meet the needs of children, rather than making them scapegoats for the effects of poverty on young lives.’

Deborah Lawson, general secretary of Voice the union

We welcome Sir Michael’s recognition that in some areas of the country ‘most children do well and the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged is closing.

Yes, the gap needs to be narrowed further and there is much excellent provision across the country doing just that.

We reject the notion that the primary purpose of nurseries is to ‘prepare children for school’. Early childhood and childcare must not be ‘schoolified’.

Yes, it is essential that children receive the right foundation for learning but it must be appropriate. There is no one-size-fits all model, and a school-type, formal approach that stifles children’s natural curiosity and creativity is not the right foundation.

Though early childhood is recognised world-wide as a crucial stage in its own right, ministers and officals in England persist in viewing it simply as preparation for school.

The term 'school readiness' is now dominating policy pronouncements, despite considerable criticism from the sector. The role of play is being down-valued in England's nurseries.

Ellen Broome, director Policy, Family and Childcare Trust

We are pleased that Ofsted has highlighted that high-quality childcare is vital to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children. However, investment and better pay and conditions are necessary if we want the childcare providers that serve the most disadvantaged children to deliver high-quality care.

Ofsted also highlighted the problems parents face identifying and finding high quality childcare. This echoes what parents tell us and what we have told the government.

Extending the Pupil Premium to the early years is a welcome first step but must be followed up through long-term investment and funding reform that ensures all providers are able to offer high quality care for our most vulnerable children. Inspections have an important role to play in driving up quality, as do schools, but a priority for the next government must be a new childcare strategy that sets out the steps needed to make sure all children can get the childcare they deserve.

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