Blog | Another week, another high profile story for early education and childcare

Family and Childcare Trust | 07 Apr

Last week Ofsted published its first Early Years report, with Sir Michael Wilshaw’s speech receiving wall to wall media coverage.

The coverage focused almost entirely on early years teaching becoming too formal and not focused enough on play.

However, the main thrust of the speech, and indeed the report itself, did not actually say this. Indeed, Wilshaw’s speech was, in fact, a stirring (and radical) call for early years services to better meet the needs of the most disadvantaged.

The figures are stark. Two key statistics – only just over a third of children from low income backgrounds reached a good level of development.  And perhaps even more striking – in just seven local authorities were the number of children on free school meals who achieved a good level of development over half. That’s seven out of 152 – and they were all in London.

I was very pleased to see the emphasis on the key role of information.  Making sure parents have reliable, up-to-date, and easily accessible information, is crucial if they are to benefit from the services and support that currently exists to help them and their children. Far too often this is seen as an easy area to cut.

As the Ofsted report highlights, choosing childcare can be very difficult because the information for parents may not be there, is not clear and simple, contains too much jargon, suffers from variable quality, and is inconsistent across the country. This is of course frustrating for all parents, but it is particularly problematic for disadvantaged parents who may be less well equipped to navigate a complicated system.

Sir Michael’s focus on the quality and qualifications of the people who look after our children was also welcome. The research is definitive. Only high-quality early education makes a difference for children’s outcomes. Unfortunately, it is in our most disadvantaged areas that quality tends to be the lowest. The Wilshaw solution is to put schools at the vanguard of this approach, and building on the 7,000 schools who are already teaching almost 350,000 two- and three-year-old children.

The role of schools in early years education was at the heart of the debate surrounding the report and Sir Michael’s speech. Is a school environment inappropriate for very young children? Is this approach a threat to the current system of early years provision, much of it being delivered by a private and voluntary sector (PVI sector) that Ofsted shows is steadily improving in quality? Do we want to see more partnerships between schools and PVI providers?

A lot of sound and fury was generated by this report, but if the effect of it is to focus the debate on what we need to do to make sure that our most disadvantaged and marginalised families get what they need from the early years system, then all credit to Ofsted and Sir Michael Wilshaw.

Anand Shukla
Chief Executive