Speaking up about Bold Beginnings

Jane
One way of speaking up

Do you remember our blog New Year’s resolution was to ‘speak up’ for children? It has been interesting to hear about your different approaches to this. Practitioner and student Jane (not her real name) decided she needed to ‘speak out’ about the recent Ofsted report ‘Bold Beginnings’.

Jane wrote to her MP to register her concern; below is her letter in full.

Dear…

I am concerned about “Bold Beginnings,” Ofsted’s recent report and list of recommendations on what constitutes effective practice and pedagogy in Reception classrooms. Besides the fact that this “report” is methodologically-flawed and ideologically focussed on making Reception more like Year One, reports that recommend pedagogy and policy like this are fundamentally outside of Ofsted’s role. The report is already having an effect on Reception classes around the country and many Early Years educators are legitimately worried about the consequences. We need your help to get Ofsted back in line.

The UK has one of the youngest school starting ages in the world and the Early Years Foundation Stage was created to address this. It is called a Foundation Stage for an important reason. Young children’s brains and bodies go through crucial and distinct stages of development. Decades of research into early childhood development are quite clear; young children do not need “mini-primary school.” They need plenty of opportunities to develop socially, emotionally and physically. If the foundation is not firmly in place, children’s learning and success later in life is in danger.

Training four year olds into acting and “appearing” as they are learning a watered-down Year One curriculum actively harms their opportunities for social/emotional, physical and brain development. There is a reason that most countries in the world start children in school at the ages of 6 or 7; children need time to develop.

Ofsted only visited 41 schools that clearly favoured a “formal” approach to Reception and based recommendations mainly off individual head teachers’ opinions. There are many schools in the UK that get fantastic results with a play-based pedagogical approach. I am not sure that a single one of them was visited to prepare for this report.

 There are dozens of reports of Reception teachers being pressured by senior leadership teams into introducing more formal practice, going against their own professional training and understanding of what young children need. We need your help. This report should be withdrawn and Ofsted needs to stay within their role of monitoring, not providing policy recommendations.

 Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you at your convenience.

Her MP sent the letter on to Nadhim Zahawi (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families) who replied thus:

Dear ???

 Thank you for your email…I am replying as the minister responsible for this policy area.

 Access to a high quality education from the earliest age is vital for giving all children the best start in life and to lay the foundation for success at primary school and beyond.  We are in the process of making improvements to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYS) Profile, and as set out in the government’s response to the Primary assessment Consultation, published in September 2017.  This includes revising the communication, language and early learning goals (ELGs) to focus on developing children’s vocabulary and strengthen numeracy, reading and writing skills.  The full response can be viewed at: tinyurl.com/mka5mJd.

We want to ensure that the ELGS are better aligned with the year one curriculum to ensure that children are better prepared for their progression to primary school.  We do, however, recognise that the early years form a distinct stage, and this will remain a key principle of the EYFS statutory framework.  We will take this work forward with the help of experts form the sector to ensure our reforms are based on the latest evidence in childhood development.

We have also recently announced a series of programmes to tackle early language and literacy skills in reception, through the Strategic School Improvement Fund, the Teaching and Leadership  Innovation Fund and the creation of a network of English Hubs, as set out in the social mobility plan published in December, entitled ‘Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential’.

This plan sets out our plans to identify and share best practice on what should be taught in the reception year, and how we plan to work with Public Health England to enable early years practitioners to identify and support children’s early speech, language and communication needs.  Further information is available at: tinyrul.com/YabbGt8z.

I am unable to comment on the points ??? has raised on Ofsted’s methodology and ideology, or the design of the report and survey.  I would advise ??? to contact Ofsted directly at: enquiries@Ofsted.gov.uk.

Thank you for writing about this important matter.

 Yours sincerely,

 Nadhim Zahawi MP

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families.

Thanks to Jane for this wonderful example of taking the time to make her voice heard on behalf of young children. She may have had a frustrating initial response but who knows what impact she may have had just by sowing seeds for thought.

Do you have any similar examples you can share with us?  Please leave your comments below.

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