Ofsted expands on Bold Beginnings messages in sector meeting

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Ofsted early years chief Gill Jones said that the controversial 'Bold Beginnings' report should not be taken in isolation, as she sought to clarify its action points.


Early Education and TACTYC (also known as the Association for Professional Development in Early Years) arranged a meeting with Ofsted after the report on Reception class teaching received a storm of negative feedback from the early years sector following its publication last month.

The organisations said they had ‘a very positive dialogue’ with Ofsted deputy director early education Gill Jones and Lee Owston, Ofsted’s specialist adviser for early years. 'We are grateful to Gill and Lee for engaging with us and agreeing that the notes of the meeting could be shared. We hope that they will support a constructive dialogue in schools about improving all children’s experiences of the Reception Year.’

Attendeees were Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, and trustee Sue Allingham, and from TACTYC, vice-chair Nancy Stewart and Jan Georgeson, a member of the TACTYC executive committee.

Key points made by Ofsted included:

1. Bold Beginnings should be seen as part of a suite of complementary Ofsted reports including:

  • ‘Are You Ready: good practice in school readiness’
  • ‘Teaching and play in the early years: a balancing act’
  • ‘Unknown children: destined for disadvantage?’

2. Points covered in previous reports - for example in relation to the Prime Areas, SEND and under-fours – were not repeated in ‘Bold Beginnings’ for reasons of space, and because they had already been made elsewhere. It should be seen as an extension, which does not replace or contradict messages from previous reports.

3. The recommendations focus on what is not done well enough, and do not comment on what is already done well. If an area was not mentioned, that meant it was not a concern, not that it was unimportant. Schools should not stop doing what they already do well.

4. The report could be considered a think piece to encourage head teachers to engage with Reception teachers, review their practice and challenge their thinking.

5. Ofsted does not have a preferred style of teaching.

6. Schools must do what is best for children, not what they think Ofsted wants.

7. The current inspection framework remains in place until 2019, so schools should not be unthinkingly changing what they do to accommodate what they think the report may be saying.

Early Education and TACTYC agree with Ofsted on several points:

  • Children leave nursery and pre-school with good outcomes and skills, although these are not always recognised by schools when children arrive in Reception, and it is important to build on this progress especially for children experiencing disadvantage.
  • Inspection reports comment on play and continuous provision in Reception, and enabling environments. Where provision is judged less than good, there is often a lack of challenge in Reception compared to nursery.
  • Ofsted is concerned that children in the early years are often too sedentary. There is insufficient emphasis on physical development – practitioners should not just replicate inside provision in outside areas.
  • Ofsted believes that more should be done to improve spoken language, which is why the report recommends a focus on reading, in all aspects of the word. Children who hear rhymes, poems and stories frequently and join in with them develop a far better vocabulary to support their communication and wider learning.
  • Ofsted was keen to emphasise that references to direct teaching in the report have been misinterpreted to mean formal, sitting down learning, rather than short episodes of adult-led teaching. Schools should continue to refer to ‘Teaching and play in the early years: a balancing act’ for a fuller discussion of teaching approaches in the early years.

Areas where TACTYC and Early Education’s views differ from Ofsted, or see solutions differently include:

  • The report found some schools were mistakenly taking the Early Learning Goals as a curriculum, perhaps explaining why some teachers felt the EYFS and ELGs were too limiting. Ofsted has recommended that these should therefore be reviewed, but EE and TACTYC believe teachers and leaders need better information and training about the EYFS and differentiating teaching appropriately for all children.
  • The EYFS Profile is not the cause of workload issues, but rather the pressure of uneccessary data collection.
  • They disagree with Ofsted that the teaching of reading, including systematic synthetic phonics, is the core purpose of the Reception Year, and argue that the core purpose is that which applies throughout the EYFS, which is building solid foundations in the Prime Areas and Characteristics of Effective Learning.
  • For the full summary and to download a PDF of the notes see https://www.early-education.org.uk/node/1791
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