Bold Beginnings: Ofsted’s response to the EYFS curriculum in Reception Download

On 30th November 2017 Ofsted published its report, Bold Beginnings, exploring the curriculum in Reception and how it prepares 4 and 5 year olds for the rest of their education and beyond.

What research is the report based on?

The research is based on visits to 41 good and outstanding primary schools during the summer term – it is part of Ofsted’s review of the curriculum across all school phases. It is important to note that this is representative of less than 1% of the 16,000 primary and infant schools in England.

What are the statistics it quotes?

The report highlights that in 2016, 72% of children achieved a good level of development in their Reception year… this was much lower, at 54%, for children registered for free school meals.

What ‘revelations’ does the report highlight?

The report outlines the following issues, highlighted through the research:
  • That many school leaders are concerned that children leave Reception unprepared for Year 1, even when they achieve an ‘expected’ categorisation for the Early Learning Goals (ELGs)
  • That teachers found the processes of the early years foundation stage profile ‘burdensome’
  • That Reception teachers often end up inventing tasks for children, simply to tick off ELGs
  • That there is a lack of alignment between Early Years education and the KS1 curriculum
  • That most Year 1 teachers found profile information ‘shallow and unnecessary’ and that they would prefer more specific information about a child’s reading, writing and mathematical ability
  • What does the report recommend Early Years settings to do?

    There are five key recommendations for Early Years settings:
    1. Settings should make the teaching of reading (including systematic synthetic phonics) the ‘core purpose’ of the Reception year
    2. Settings need to attach greater importance to the teaching of numbers when building children’s fluency in counting, recognising small numbers of items, comparing numbers and solving problems
    3. Settings should ensure that when children are learning to write, resources are suitable for their stage of development and that they are taught correct pencil grip and how to sit correctly at a table
    4. Settings need to devote sufficient time each day to the direct teaching of reading, writing and mathematics, including frequent opportunities for children to practise and consolidate their skills
    5. Practitioners should use the EYFS profile as a guide to end-of-Reception expectations rather than to define what should be taught There are also several implications and recommendations for initial teacher education providers, the DfE and for Ofsted.

    Responses to the report:

    The Preschool Learning Alliance

    "We have long argued that the principles of the EYFS should be extended further up into primary education, rather than the principles of KS1 being extended down into the Early Years.
    As such, although we know that this shift is one that has been led by the Department for Education, it’s disappointing that this report focuses so heavily on aligning the Reception year with Key Stage 1, and the narrow skills of literacy and mathematics.
    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.
    As such, we urge both the Government and Ofsted to work with Early Years experts to ensure that the Reception year is focused on all the skills that children will need during their primary years, and throughout their longer educational journeys."

    Early Education

    "We absolutely agree with Ofsted about the crucial importance of the Reception year, especially for the most disadvantaged children, for whom gaps that open early are hard to close as time goes on. However, it is deeply disappointing to hear them making recommendations based primarily on the opinions of head teachers, not on the extensive evidence base in relation to child development and its implications for good early years pedagogy.
    The EYFS provides firm foundations for all children when taught by teachers who are trained in age appropriate pedagogy. When excessively formal approaches are used, the gap will widen especially for boys, summer born children, those with SEND.
    The supposed workload issues around the EYFS profile are another indicator of where lack of Early Years expertise is turning a simple summary of what teachers already know about children's learning into an unnecessary bureaucratic exercise - the need for review of the Profile is much overstated. If we are to give every child the best possible Reception experience, Ofsted and government need to engage with the evidence base and established good practice, not perpetuate the misunderstandings of those used to teaching later key stages."

    National Education Union

    "Ofsted has missed the opportunity to call for the quality of early education that our children need and deserve. Reading, writing, numeracy have their place in the curriculum, but the best Early Years education involves teacher-guided learning through play. The international evidence for this is clear, and it is a great pity that Ofsted is paying it no attention.
    Instead of exploring research evidence, Ofsted has chosen to play politics with young children’s learning based on a small-scale survey. This report risks strengthening moves towards the formal teaching of content to young children, in ways that are not appropriate to their age and interests.
    The youngest children in our schools should not be fed a narrow curriculum diet of synthetic phonics and rote memorisation, but encouraged to explore their world through play. Play-based learning is not a soft option, but the best way to ensure rounded development of young children. Done well, a play-based approach will help children to develop the broad vocabulary, self-regulation, and the fine motor skills to thrive when the time is right to begin more formal learning. This is something that other countries grasp, but we are in danger of forgetting in England."

    Department for Education

    "Thanks to our increased emphasis on phonics, six year olds are reading better than ever before – with an additional 155,000 more on track to become fluent readers. We also know the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is narrowing.
    But we want to make sure all children have access to a high-quality education from the earliest age, so they get the best start in life and a strong foundation for success at primary school and beyond. That’s why we’re making improvements to the EYFS Profile, and opening our £140m Strategic School Improvement Fund to programmes that help boost literacy and numeracy in Reception."

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    Related courses:

    Child Development in the Prime Areas of the EYFS

    Outstanding Practice in the EYFS

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