'Clear political agenda' behind Ofsted Reception report

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Kym Scott says that Ofsted risks taking the early years backwards

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Kym Scott

This report seems, from its opening line, designed to rubbish reception teachers and the incredible job they do in ensuring that the emotional needs of our youngest children in schools are met, alongside helping them learn the basic academic skills of reading, writing and mathematics. 

I do not know of a reception teacher in the land, for example, who doesn’t directly teach children phonics, or focus on supporting children with developing their handwriting skills, yet three of the five key recommendations in the report are around this.

And no recommendations are made around the areas that have been highlighted as being the real building blocks of future learning – Physical Development, Communication and Language and Personal, Social and Emotional Development and around promoting the Characteristics of Effective Learning, all of which are shown by research to be key indicators of later achievement. We have a mental health crisis looming in our young people and this report is not only a missed opportunity to address this but in some ways risks contributing to it, by encouraging schools to put our youngest children under increasing pressure.

I help to run a EYs Facebook group called Keeping Early Years Unique which has almost 40,000 members, many of whom are reception teachers. The universal reaction from the group to this report has been utter dismay. Already we hear daily stories of frustrated reception teachers who are being prevented from giving children the play based education experiences they know they need by well meaning head teachers insisting that our four-year-old children are sat down at desks for long periods. This report appears to give the green light to even more of this and hence I have had over 100 responses from those working in reception classes in the last 24 hours, telling me how deeply concerned they are, not only about the impact this report could have on children’s learning but also on their wellbeing and physical health.

It is of course, vital that we support all of our children to achieve the very best outcomes, but evidence tells us that making young children do too much, too formally, too soon is not the answer to this and can end up sabotaging the very outcomes we desire. In my experience, young children’s attainment soars when they feel connected, nurtured, are deeply engaged in their learning and are taught by knowledgeable adults who inspire them to challenge themselves. It is desperately sad that the key recommendations in the report focus instead on ensuring children are sitting at tables and holding their pencils in the correct grip. Learning to be a writer is about so much more than this, and recommendations like this risk a narrowing of the curriculum, the very thing Amanda Spielman was warning against recently!

As someone who has worked to support reception classes in achieving the very highest outcomes for children for the past 17 years, I urge caution to those reading this report. It appears that a very clear political agenda for introducing more formal learning lies beneath it and it concerns me deeply that this report will feed into DfE policy making on assessment and teaching in reception classes.

Bold Beginnings represents a potentially massive backward step for EYs education in this country and it is vital that the sector joins together to express their concerns about it. It appears from Ofsted’s responses on Twitter that they are not comfortable with the content of their own report and this comes through in their responses as they suggest key messages should be taken from it that are not even mentioned in the recommendations section!

Ofsted have worked so hard to gain credibility with and engage those working in the EYFS, publishing excellent documents such as 'Teaching and Play in the Early Years - a balancing act?' Sadly, by publishing a report that ignores evidence and demonstrates lack of knowledge of young children’s developmental needs they risk losing the trust and respect of the sector.

Kym Scott is a freelance early years consultant, conference speaker and trainer.

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