Bold beginnings? Are they really?

17th January 2018

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By Sarah Neville – Knutsford Childminding

The recently released Ofsted report ‘Bold Beginnings’ has caused much furore since its publication in December 2017, with many providers concerned about how it will impact on early years children. The report has been described as ‘narrow’ and ‘lacking in fact’ on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and there are a plethora of blogs which challenge the information in the report and the way it was collected and disseminated.

I have read quite a few of them and I am, like many colleagues, dismayed by the apparent push for school readiness to take away the playful aspects of the current early years curriculum: surely if children need to learn new skills in reading, writing and maths then they will need more sit down learning in the early years?

Ofsted, in dialogue with Early Education and TACTYC, have commented that hey did not observe issues with personal, social and emotional development which is why these areas of practice are not mentioned; we are to continue supporting children’s physical development (moving) because Ofsted believe children are too sedentary; and we are to continue to develop vocabulary because: ‘Children who hear rhymes, poems and stories frequently and join in with them develop a far better vocabulary to support their communication and wider learning.’

Similarly, Ofsted were keen to clarify in the above conversation that references to ‘direct teaching’ in the ‘Bold Beginnings’ report should not lead to practitioners sitting early years children behind desks teaching them in a formal way. Ofsted advise us to refer back to the ‘Teaching and play in the early years: a balancing act’ report (20145) which advocates the use of, ‘short, sharply focussed adult interventions’ to support children’s learning from the age of 2.

Things took a new turn earlier this week when an open letter to the Guardian signed by 1700+ early years experts was published.

Ofsted’s response, Tweeted by Sean Harford, was clear, unapologetic and unequivocal:

‘For the avoidance of any doubt whatsoever, our #BoldBeginnings report will NOT be withdrawn. We can’t help it if some people don’t like it, but we’re not charged with being popular – we’re charged with assessing standards and reporting on where things are/are not working.’

So that’s that then! We know changes are coming – Ofsted have asked the Department for Education to look at how the EYFS can be updated to reflect the findings of the ‘Bold Beginnings’ report and many believe it’s only a matter of time before the Early Learning Goals are revised and early years practitioners are told we are not trying hard enough to prepare children for the rigours of their reception year at school.

The main recommendations which are mostly likely to impact on the work of early years practitioners such as childminders and group providers, if a top down approach is advocated by Ofsted, Local Authorities and DfE, are that reception children should receive ‘direct teaching’ every day including reading, writing and mathematics.

However, when thinking about the little ones in my care, I will continue teaching through high quality and playful interactions because, after over 23 years of working with early years children and watching various strategies and ‘improvements’ come and go, I believe that is the approach which works best.

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