Ofsted says settings are 'not physical enough'

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Ofsted is planning a new focus on physical development in early years settings, with deputy director of early education Gill Jones claiming that nurseries and pre-schools are not adequately physically challenging.

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Ofsted's early years head Gill Jones questioned whether settings were doing enough to encourage children to be physically active and to take 'safe risks'

Ms Jones also questioned whether the early learning goal for ‘moving and handling’ was challenging enough.

Speaking at Action for Children’s Munch ’n’ Move event at the Kia Oval last week, Ms Jones said inspectors are not routinely seeing children in early years settings being physically active and getting out of breath. To make children more physically active, practitioners need to encourage children to take more ‘safe risks’, she said.

During her speech, she highlighted the ‘disparity’ between the recent Early Years Foundation Stage Profile results for the ‘moving and handling’ learning goal and current levels of childhood obesity, which led her to question the goal.

She said, ‘Around 90 per cent of children at the end of Reception, according to the profile results, have scored well against the early learning goal for physical development, yet you put that against the levels of childhood obesity, which is also measured at the age of five, and they don’t match at all.’

Results from the National Child Measurement Programme for the 2016-17 school year showed that almost a quarter of Reception children were overweight or obese.

‘I suppose my question for the DfE is, is the early learning goal right? Is it challenging enough for those children in terms of their physical development? Is it looking at the right things? Secondly, is it more about the natural development of children than it is about physical activity and strength?

‘What I know about my own teaching experience is that there were some children in Reception and earlier who had very poor experiences before they came to school in terms of the amount they were physically challenged. Lots of children weren’t going on long walks, running around the park, not climbing on climbing frames. There are implications for practitioners running early years settings.’

She went on to say, ‘One of the questions I asked our inspectors at a recent training session was, “Put your hand up if you often see children in nurseries and pre-schools getting out of breath from being physically active.” Not one inspector put their hand up. It’s not something they see on inspection.

‘That doesn’t mean to say you don’t do it, but I think it is interesting that they are not observing that on inspection routinely. It’s not something that strikes them – seeing children being physically active and getting out of breath.

‘When I go and visit settings, which are lovely, sometimes I do wonder how much children are encouraged to be physically active, because they are so safe. I think there is a tension between physical activity and being safe.’

Safe risks

Ms Jones talked about her own children, who are now in their twenties, when they were young. She said her two boys were polar opposites: one loved going outside and getting messy, while the other did not like being physically active and was a ‘very cosy child’. She said because her children were close in age, ‘what one does, the other has to do.’

She explained, ‘My younger child wasn’t keen on having his wellies on and being active, as he was really challenged by it. He didn’t like getting wet, he didn’t like getting his hands dirty. Everything for him was a bit challenging and sadly he spent quite a lot of those occasions in tears or being close to. As a parent, balancing of risk was a hard thing to do.
‘You want to keep your child happy, but you know they need that challenge. As a practitioner, I think that judgement is even more difficult because you have parents who want you to keep their children happy, and perhaps who don’t like it if their child has cried, but then you have the threat of Ofsted coming in and what happens if a child has been unhappy. You have all those layers to cope with. What Ofsted is saying is, you need to encourage children to take some risks that are safe.’

One example she gave of a ‘safe risk’ is walking on stepping stones. She said when they start, some children might like their hands or under their shoulders held, but as their confidence grows and they master the risk, they won’t need any help unless the weather changes and it is wet or there is snow.

Ms Jones added that Ofsted, particularly HMI chief inspector Amanda Spielman, would like early years practitioners to challenge children and take such risks in order to make them more physically active.

The more active a child is, the stronger their body core and the better able they are to do things asked of them at school, Ms Jones said, adding that if practitioners do not encourage children to do this then they are not setting them up very well for the future.

Ms Spielman aired concerns over ‘risk averse’ nurseries at the Nursery World Business Summit last November.

Ms Jones added that physical development will be the subject of the inspectorate’s next piece of research.

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