Campaigners against formal learning in Reception call for controversial report to be withdrawn

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More than 1,700 academics, Reception and nursery teachers, early years practitioners, parents, headteachers, union leaders, and MPs have signed a letter expressing concern about Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings report.

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The letter, which was published in The Guardian on Tuesday (16 January), says that the report into Reception class teaching is ‘biased’ and ‘flawed’, and risks being used as a basis for educational policy, and calls for it to be withdrawn.

Signatories include IVF pioneer and scientist Professor Robert Winston and children’s author Michael Rosen.

The open letter, co-ordinated by the campaign group Keeping Early Years Unique, has also been signed by the chief executives of early years organisations including the Pre-school Learning Alliance, the National Day Nurseries Association, the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, and Early Education.

The letter says ‘We are deeply concerned about Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings report. The report infers that reception classes should be taught like year 1. This would mean narrowing the curriculum to focus more heavily on literacy and mathematics, overly formal teaching and less opportunity for play. It assets that “successful” schools already teach in this way. However, the report is based on visits to less than 0.25 per cent of schools. It appears that Ofsted only visited schools where teaching was congruent with the recommendations the report would later make.’

It continues, 'Thousands of reception children make excellent progress following a broad and balanced curriculum where play is the central feature. Here, children engage in purposeful activities, both adult-guided and child-led, with teachers who are highly-skilled in moving learning forward. The basic architecture of a child's brain is forming during reception year. Introducing overly formal, unsuitable teaching practices is a potential disaster for children's learning.'

A copy of the letter has been sent to Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman and the newly-appointed education secretary Damian Hinds.

In response, Gill Jones, Ofsted early education deputy director, said, ‘I agree entirely with the authors of the letter that a wide range of learning experiences is best for Reception children. That is exactly what our Bold beginnings report finds. 

‘The report drew on evidence from high performing schools around the country which are delivering the best start for young children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our inspectors found that they offered a wide curriculum. What they had in common was that they taught reading, writing and maths exceptionally well.

‘None of the schools were pre-selected on the basis of teaching methods. There is nothing in the report to suggest that Reception should be taught like Year One. Rather, it makes clear that the schools achieving the best start for their pupils planned a good balance of class teaching, partner work and play.’

Others signatories include Cathy Nutbrown, professor of education at Sheffield University; Sally Tomlinson, emeritus professor of educational policy; and Wendy Scott, president of TACTYC (Association for Professional Development in the Early Years).  Among MPs, signatories include shadow early years minister Tracy Brabin, Labour MP Thelma Walker who sits on the Commons education committee, and Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas.

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