Ofsted inspection framework creates ‘two-tier system’

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Early years organisations have been responding to the Ofsted consultation on the Education Inspection Framework and handbooks that has just closed.


Ofsted has been consulting on the new Education Inspection Framework

  • Draft early years and schools handbooks reference EYFS differently
  • Other concerns highlighted by sector in consultation

Early years organisations have been responding to the Ofsted consultation on the Education Inspection Framework and handbooks that has just closed.

A key area of concern is the way the EYFS is referenced with significant differences between the Early Years Inspection Handbook and the Schools Inspection Handbook.

In its response, Early Education said, ‘The EYFS Statutory Framework applies in the same way to schools and other early years providers. Given the increasing number of Reception-age children staying in other provision, and the growing number of two-year-olds in schools, as well as three- and four-year-olds, it would be a matter of concern if different criteria or standards were applied based on the type of setting rather than needs of the child.’

Michael Freeston, the Early Years Alliance’s director of quality improvement, told Nursery World he was concerned that the differences between the way the EYFS is referred to in each handbook appear to suggest ‘a cleave between early years provision in the PVI sector and childminders, and schools’.

The schools handbook, which will apply to Reception classes and nursery classes in schools, does not refer to the EYFS as a regulatory framework that all children under five should follow.

The EYFS is referred to as a ‘phase rather than a curriculum [in the schools handbook], which is factually incorrect,’ Mr Freeston said. He added that the early years section of the schools handbook ‘seems to run counter to the very key positive messages from the early years team at Ofsted in recent years’.

However, he said Ofsted’s new focus on intent, implementation and impact will be ‘very helpful in early years’.

In its response, TACTYC said, ‘The divergence between the [handbooks] is worrying, as children should have comparable experiences, regardless of where they are placed for their entitlement to the EYFS.’

Susanna Kalitowski, PACEY’s policy and research manager, said, ‘The two sets of grade descriptors effectively create a two-tier early years system with different requirements based on the type of setting. We are calling on Ofsted to revert to the status quo and use the same grade descriptors in both handbooks.’

Narrowing of the curriculum?

wendy-scottWendy Scott, president of TACTYC, said, ‘The headlines of Ofsted’s consultation on the proposed new Education Inspection Framework are promising – the focus on a rich curriculum rather than data, and proposals grounded in research are welcome. However, closer reading reveals that the prospects are depressing for the youngest children in school. Ofsted emphasise that the focus in Key Stage 1 is to be on maths and reading – synthetic phonics cannot be described as literacy – which will give children the basic skills they need to access the broad curriculum which is to be encouraged from Key Stage 2 and onwards.’

She added that the ‘limited and limiting research’ cited by Ofsted in support of its proposals was another frustration.

In 2017, TACTYC, together with the BERA Early Years Special Interest Group, offered evidence-based proposals to policymakers.

‘We regret that this advice has not been taken into account, and have now followed up with a more comprehensive list of relevant studies, which have influenced the world-leading heritage of outstanding early years pedagogy for which the UK is rightly renowned. Unless Ofsted pays attention to early years expertise, we fear that their demands will result in further deeply damaging changes,’ Ms Scott said.

In its response, Early Education said, ‘Schools Inspection Handbook talks about ensuring there is no narrowing of the curriculum from KS2 onwards. This gives the impression that Ofsted endorses a narrowing of the curriculum in the EYFS or KS1. Narrowing the curriculum in the EYFS, whether to focus on literacy and numeracy or any other aspect of the curriculum, would be in contravention of the EYFS Statutory Framework, and any impression given by Ofsted that this is allowable or encouraged would therefore set Ofsted’s criteria in direct conflict with the EYFS, causing problems for providers. The EIF and the handbooks need to make clear that all children are entitled to the full range of the EYFS.’

Are the EIF 2019 judgements appropriate to a range of settings?

TACTYC welcomed the explicit mention of children with SEND.

However, it said the judgment of Good for quality of education appeared to depend ‘on a sequenced, taught curriculum with children expected to learn and remember specific knowledge. It is not responsive to children’s exploration, meaning-making or growth as learners. An “ambitious and coherently planned and sequenced curriculum” will be understood as directive teaching by most practitioners.’

Stella Ziolkowski, NDNA’s director of quality and training, said, ‘Our main concerns are around the language of the new EIF which doesn’t reflect the language used in the Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications. Due to this there is a risk that practitioners will not interpret the EIF in the way that Ofsted intends. This could have negative unintended consequences as it is a very vague framework and its language is open to interpretation.

‘The focus should be on play and child-led learning rather than a sequenced curriculum which could leave children behind or more advanced children disenfranchised.

‘We also are unclear why Ofsted’s emphasis is on good or bad behaviour – children exhibit behaviours for a number of reasons. Practitioners are well versed in understanding these behaviours and using them in a positive way to develop children and move them along their learning journey. To label it as bad is too simplistic and undermines practitioners’ knowledge and experience.’

Meanwhile, one of the most controversial aspects of the new framework is the introduction of cultural capital. PACEY said it strongly disagrees with the move, ‘which we believe is unnecessary and open to misinterpretation, serving to lead to some children, families and practitioners being labelled culturally deficient, and to advance a predominantly white, middle-class model of “culture”’.

Mr Freeston said that the Alliance wanted Ofsted to work with the sector on ‘what cultural capital means and what will be inspected’.

  • See Helen Moylett’s feature about cultural capital in our 29 April issue
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