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EYFS teaching is 'failing' reception aged children, says Ofsted

Article By: Michaela Chirgwin

Ofsted has criticised the EYFS framework for reception children, saying there needs to be more of a focus on traditional subjects, such as reading, writing and numbers so the curriculum is more in line with Year 1.

Credit: Romrodphoto/

The report, which is highly critical of early years teaching, said there is ‘insufficient clarity for the effective teaching of reading, writing and numbers’.

It also stated that about one-third of five-year-olds did not reach the expected level of development in reception in the year 2016. This number was increased to half for disadvantaged children.

The report said: ‘A good early education is the foundation for later success. For too many children, however, their reception year is a missed opportunity that can leave them exposed to all the painful and unnecessary consequences of falling behind their peers.’

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman believes that to stop children from falling behind, “reading should be at the heart of the reception Year.”

She said: “It is important that in the reception classroom young children hear new vocabulary and have the opportunity to practise new words and phrases. Reception should not just be a repeat of what children learned in their nursery or pre-school, or with their childminder. They deserve better than facing years of catching up.”

The Ofsted report, entitled ‘Bold Beginnings’ looks at a sample of 41 ‘Good’ and ‘Outstanding’ primary schools, which are held up as a standard for teaching reception age children. It is schools like this, Ofsted argue, that are providing a curriculum that moves children on from nursery and pre-school standards.

Ms Spielman said: “The best schools know how to design their curriculum so that children’s learning and development sets them up well for the rest of their schooling.”

The report states that in the best schools, reception aged children:

• Learn to read quickly and easily

• Enjoy listening to stories as the highlight of the day

• Learn poems and rhymes by heart

• Learn about numbers through practical activities and formal, written recording

• Develop their personal, social and emotional skills through play

Many of those in the early years sector however, don’t agree with key points made in the report. There has been particular concern about the report’s focus on more traditional learning methods.

Organisations such as the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) believe that the EYFS framework currently has the correct balance, with a more ‘holistic’ approach to child development rather than just a focus on educational results.

Susanna Kalitowski, PACEY's policy and research manager said: “PACEY will consider Ofsted’s recommendations carefully, but we are mindful that preparing children for school should not be overly focussed on literacy and numeracy.”

“In England, formal schooling, and the teaching of literacy and numeracy, starts significantly sooner than in many other high performing countries, notably South Korea and Finland. However, there is a wealth of evidence arising from a range of disciplines across the globe that an extended period of playful learning is highly beneficial for the development of children under the age of seven.

“Any changes to the EYFS curriculum, including what is delivered in reception year, must be based on robust evidence of what benefits a child’s whole development, not just their educational attainment."

The Pre-school Learning Alliance has also voiced concern over the report. Chief executive Neil Leitch said that it was "disappointing" that the report had focused on aligning the reception year with Key Stage 1 and literacy and mathematics.

Mr Leitch said: "While both skills are of course vital for early development, research has shown that a focus on them over and above broader skills such as physical development and personal, social and emotional development, is likely to be detrimental to children's early learning experiences."

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive at the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) was of the opinion that the hard work of nurseries and pre-school educators wasn’t fully recognised in the report.

Instead, she insisted that it is the work of nurseries and pre-schools that should be the foundation of reception education. She said: “Although the report acknowledges that schools need to ‘build on children’s learning from the end of nursery or pre-school’ it stops short of recognising the hard work that early years providers are doing to support children with their development.

“Education policy makers must build on this success. There should be a fundamental, robust relationship between early years and the reception year, where both professions have a clear understanding and share knowledge of their children’s achievements and challenges”.

Find the full report here:


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