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Ofsted chief tells inspectors to check nursery children are 'school-ready'

Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, is placing a heavy emphasis on teaching and learning in nurseries and has called on early years inspectors to focus on “evaluating whether children are being adequately prepared for the start of their statutory schooling”.

Sir Michael has written a letter to all early years inspectors in England setting out what he expects them to look for when visiting early years settings.

In the letter, he says: “Too many reports focus on describing the provision in early years settings rather than on how well children are learning and making progress. In other words, inspectors should focus on evaluating whether children are being adequately prepared for the start of their statutory schooling.

“Research shows that children’s development is at its greatest between birth and five. Therefore, the activities they do are absolutely crucial in giving them a good start in life. This is especially important for children from poor backgrounds.”

He says that children as young as two can be taught a range of things, such as learn new vocabulary and begin to use it in a meaningful way, recognise and sing nursery rhymes and familiar songs and enjoy listening to stories and looking at picture books.

Sir Michael urges inspectors to observe how well adults help children to learn, teach children to listen to instructions and be attentive, teach children to socialize and teach children the early stages of mathematics and reading.

Inspectors must expect adults to provide more than just supervision and care for children, he said and need to consider if staff sufficiently focus on children’s learning and whether staff have sufficient expertise to teach children basic skills in the three prime areas of learning as well as in literacy and mathematics.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of Pre-School Learning Alliance chief executive called it “fairly ironic that Ofsted is delivering further guidance for inspectors when early years practitioner guidance is being stripped back”.

He added: “More concerning, however, is that this latest guidance appears to focus on teaching and learning with no mention of the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage).

“A child’s early learning is broad, complex and varied and any inspection process should reflect this; however, the content in the letter could be interpreted as a move towards seriously undermining the intent of the EYFS. It is not the role of the inspectorate to redefine the framework, and we are concerned that this could potentially result in an increase in distorted inspection outcomes.”

Liz Bayram, PACEY's chief executive, claimed the prioritizing of teaching and learning in the early years is “further evidence of a growing over emphasis on educational attainment taking place in the early years”.

She said: “Our school readiness research has shown that childcare professionals, parents and teachers advocate a play-based approach to learning and that preparing children for school involves much more than just early reading, writing and maths skills.

“PACEY believes it is important that inspection judgements made by Ofsted are holistic in their focus, with equal consideration for children’s physical, social and emotional development as well as educational development.”

In November 2013, Ofsted launched a revised early years inspection framework, emphasising that nothing less than good provision is acceptable

To read the letter go to


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Caroline Emmett

Caroline Emmett

24 Mar 2014 8:18 PM

My worse fears realised..I have been waiting for formal confirmation of Ofsted (government) inspection focus on adult led rather than child centred play based learning...Maths and English seem to be much more important than social and emotional skills, creativity and imagination, enquiry, exploration and investigation for life long learning. is it time to leave early years or carry on fighting for children to enjoy preschool, play together, form lifelong friends and teach us adults a thing or two! Rant over from an exhausted early years practitioner.