Last week Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, gave a speech at the 2018 Pre-school Learning Alliance conference. Her talk covered several themes, including the importance of the early years and of early literacy, Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings report (which we considered in a previous blog post), closing the ‘word gap’ (citing the Oxford University Press report we also looked at in a recent post on children’s language development) and updates to Ofsted’s inspection framework.
The part of Spielman’s speech that stood out to us the most was what she said about school readiness and physical development. She suggested that this includes the ability to kick a ball, use cutlery and form healthy eating, sleeping and exercise habits. She also said that (health complications aside) it’s not acceptable that children are starting school unable to use the toilet, referring to a 2016 report by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers that in a survey of almost 700 education staff, 70% of those working with 3-7 year olds said that they thought the number of children not toilet trained had increased since 2011. However, children are not expected to achieve the EYFS’s Early Learning Goals, one of which includes the notion that children can “manage their own basic hygiene and personal needs successfully, including dressing and going to the toilet independently” (Early Education, 2012: 27) until the end of their reception year. Thus, it seems unreasonable that Spielman is now arguing that this goal should be achieved by the start of children’s first year at school.
Spielman suggests that responsibility for toilet training children should fall to both parents and ECEC practitioners: “While parents clearly have the most important role here, it follows that nurseries and childminders must also play their part. After all, many pre-schoolers spend much of their daytime in childcare.” The chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, Neil Leitch, has since responded to this by saying that practitioners do work hard to support young children for starting school, but need support and funding themselves to be able to do this, making reference to the closure of 500 children’s centres since 2010 that we spoke about last month. He also stressed that children develop at their own pace and therefore “focus of the early years should be on ensuring that schools are ready for children, and not the other way around”. This sentiment echoes Unicef’s (2012) conceptual framework for school readiness, which proposes three dimensions of being ready for school: (1) ready children, (2) ready schools and (3) ready families. They suggest that these three areas must work together to support children’s transition into the school environment.
What do you think? What aspects of physical development do you think children should be able to do when starting school? Whose responsibility is it to ensure their capabilities? And what support do you think children, parents and practitioners need to achieve this?