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Best nurseries are those which frequently assess children, says Ofsted

Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

The most effective nurseries are those which regularly assess children and set high expectations, according to Ofsted, which claims children at these nurseries make ‘excellent progress, whatever their background’.

Sir Michael Wilshaw

In a speech at Church House, Westminster, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said: “When children arrive in the nursery or reception class, the best schools quickly assess each child in terms of key skills such as language and grasp of numbers. They use this baseline to inform teaching and support for each child. They link frequent assessments of each child’s progress to the professional development and performance management of their staff.

“Children in these schools make excellent progress, whatever their background. In such schools, only children with substantial learning difficulties or other barriers fail to achieve the benchmark level 4 in English and mathematics by the end of the primary stage.”

He would like to see “this good practice” being applied nationally. High expectations are another indicator of an effective nursery, according to Sir Michael who made his comments in response to the Ofsted report ‘Unseen Children’ which found thousands of ‘unseen children’ from low income backgrounds are being let down by the education system.

He added: “Effective nursery and primary schools set high expectations right from the very start. In these schools, children are introduced from the first day to structures and behaviours that help their learning. Clear routines bring order and security into their lives and help build self-assurance as well as awareness of the needs of others.

“These schools and nurseries also go out of their way to engage with parents who may themselves have had a bad experience of education. They make strong use of family support and social workers, and routinely make pre-school visits to the home to get to know the children. They also ensure that parents are engaged from the start in their children’s education.

“Most importantly, in the best nursery and primary schools there is a systematic, rigorous and consistent approach to assessment, right from the very start.”

The success of regular assessment has led Sir Michael to recommend that the Government assess children as soon as they start school instead of at the end of Reception.

He said he would like to see the Government “review assessment in reception and Key Stage 1, with a view to publishing progress measures from the start of school to the end of Key Stage 1”.

“In my view, the current timing of national assessment, at the end of Reception year, is too late. Children may have lost a vital year of learning by then,” said Sir Michael.

“Therefore, in my view, a major change is necessary in our approach to assessment in the early years. There should be a direct link between national assessment in Reception and assessment at the end of Key Stage 1 in order to measure progress. In addition, if the government does not want to reintroduce external testing in these early years then it must ensure that moderation is more consistently applied by local authorities or others,” he added.

Many schools use the EYFS Profile to assess children but he believes it is “too broad an assessment and does not link effectively to subsequent Key Stage assessments and “provides a weak basis for accountability”.

However the Pre-School Learning Alliance expressed concern over Sir Michael’s criticism of the EYFS Profile.

Neil Leitch, Alliance chief executive, said: “The EYFS is universally recognised by the sector. The EYFS Profile gives an appropriate assessment of children’s progress at the summer after their fifth birthday. It was reviewed only 12 months ago in the light of Dame Clare Tickell’s independent review of the EYFS.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance He added: “We have consistently argued that the principles of the EYFS should be extended to the end of Key Stage 1 at age seven as this would give a better foundation for children’s formal learning thereafter. We would be concerned that Sir Michael Wilshaw’s proposal to extend the National Curriculum down into early years risks damaging young children’s learning and development.”

Sir Michael’s recommendation is just one of a range of recommendations in response to the report ‘Unseen Children’.

The recommendations are aimed at closing the attainment gap between England’s poorest children and those from better off backgrounds.

The report ‘Unseen Children’ found the distribution of underachievement has shifted and that twenty or thirty years ago, the problems were in the big cities with inner London schools, the best funded and worst achieving in the country. However now, schools in inner and outer London are the best performing, and performance in parts of Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Leicester has also improved.

The areas where the most disadvantaged children are being let down by the education system in 2013 are no longer deprived inner city areas, instead the focus has shifted to deprived coastal towns and rural, less populated regions of the country, particularly down the East and South-East of England.

A significant number of poorer children are also being failed by schools in areas of relative affluence, such as Kettering, Wokingham, Norwich and Newbury.

In his speech, Sir Michael set out eight recommendations aimed at making a lasting difference in closing the attainment gap for the poorest children. These include Ofsted being tougher in future with schools that are letting down their poor children and the development and roll-out of sub-regional challenges aimed particularly at raising the achievement of disadvantaged children.

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