Ofsted chief calls on nurseries to help close the 'word gap'

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Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman is telling childcare practitioners to read 'time-honoured classics' to children to help solve the problem of four-year-olds starting school unable to communicate.


Ofsted's chief inspector Amanda Spielman

Speaking today at the Pre-school Learning Alliance’s annual conference in London, Ms Spielman will stress the importance of nurseries and childminders investing time early on reading aloud, singing, reciting nursery rhymes or just talking to children as much as possible.

According to Ms Spielman, some children at age four have less than a third of the English vocabulary of their peers, adding that this is not just the case for children who don't have English as a second language.

'Unlucky children’ don't have nursery rhymes, ABCs and settling down for a bedtime story as part their daily routine, she says. She suggests these children need more structured learning to replace what they don’t get at home.

She is expected to say, ‘It is well understood that reading to young children builds their vocabulary and their knowledge of the structures of language. In turn, this helps them to understand, think and communicate. This is why children who read a lot often have wider vocabularies and better problem-solving skills. They also have the words they need to express the complexity of their own emotions and those of others.

‘And that’s where you come in. Investing time early on, whether it’s reading aloud, singing, reciting nursery rhymes or just talking to children as much as possible. This is so important and makes a real difference. Stories, songs and rhymes spark emotions, stimulate imaginations and broaden minds. Helping children to enjoy and join in with them gives them a language for life.

‘So, the significance of reading to children those time-honoured classics, from Hans Christian Andersen, Dr Seuss, Judith Kerr, Maurice Sendak through to Julia Donaldson, can’t be overstated.’

During her speech, she will also highlight a growing number of children starting school without being able to use the toilet and urge nurseries and childminders to play their part in getting children ‘school ready’ in terms of their physical development.

She will say, ‘While parents clearly have the most important role here, it follows that nurseries and childminders must also play their part. After all, many pre-schoolers spend much of their daytime in childcare. What you do to identify children who are struggling, work with parents and monitor progress, can make a world of difference.

‘I am not suggesting nurseries are substitute parents. Nor do I think children should start Reception as perfectly well-turned out mini adults, who always go to the toilet unaided and never have accidents. But we know that the best nurseries work closely with families, helping to establish simple routines, such as sleep time and potty training, as well as introducing children to foods that they may refuse at home.'

Ms Spielman will also encourage nurseries to promote risky play and not ‘take away the climbing frame in case a child falls or avoid journeys to the park for fear of crossing the road.’

She confirmed that Ofsted's next piece of curriculum research will look at physical development in the early years.

Nursery benefits

June O’Sullivan MBE – CEO of London Early Years Foundation said, 'The findings from Ofsted’s research are what LEYF has been saying for many years. There is no doubt that a good quality nursery education, where children remain in nursery up to the age of five, is the most effective way to ensure children are properly prepared for primary school.
'What’s more, evidence shows that children who attend and remain in nursery are more likely to develop language, curiosity and confidence, behave socially when they arrive in primary school and do better at maths, English and reading at age seven. We could learn a lot from other European countries who keep children in nursery until the age of six.'

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