The Statutory Framework of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)
intends to set standards to ensure that every child receives the best
possible start. The legal standards, however, are drawn with a very
broad brush, and the ways they are interpreted mean children can receive
very different experiences in different settings.
Ofsted has the job of determining whether a setting meets the standards, but also goes beyond a basic pass-fail to give its interpretation of how well the setting is working. There is currently a built-in divide in Ofsted interpretations that prevents a level assessment of quality. School nurseries and reception classes are judged by the school Ofsted framework and inspectors, while private, voluntary and independent (PVI) settings on the early years register are judged to completely different descriptors by a different set of inspectors.
Recent comments from Ofsted point to a change coming soon, which will bring the two systems together in a unified approach to inspecting early years across schools and PVI provision. This could be good news - but there are threats as well as opportunities.
Until a few years ago school, Ofsted reports contained separate judgements on the provision in the EYFS. This recognised that teaching and learning look different for very young children. Currently, EYFS quality is lost in the whole report and the EYFS is judged on descriptors that apply right through secondary school, with a heavy emphasis on literacy and maths, attainment and progress.
Judgements under the early years register are more detailed about the EYFS and refer to the importance of the characteristics of effective learning, children developing attached emotional relationships with the key person, the central prime areas and engaging parents - all crucial to quality practice. There is also a description of 'teaching' that says it does not mean a top-down or formal way of working.
Early years register inspections now put more emphasis on children's progress, in line with expectations for schools. Progress is important, but so are the ways adults support children's whole learning and development. By all means bring the inspections together, but not by 'school-ifying' our youngest children.
Instead, it's time to highlight the essentials of effective early years practice in schools.
Nancy Stewart is principle consultant at Early Learning Consultancy