Ofsted's Bold Beginnings report is 'flawed' and should be scrapped, says open letter

Letter signed by more than 1,850, including academic and TV presenter Robert Winston, and the shadow early years minister, Tracy Brabin, damns the controversial report as undervaluing play in Reception year

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More than 1,850 early years academics, organisations and teachers have signed an open letter calling for Ofsted’s controversial Bold Beginnings report to be withdrawn, saying it is a “potential disaster that play-based approaches" are undervalued.

The letter, which has been backed by Professor Robert Winston, professor of science and society at Imperial College London, and Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted, joint general secretaries of the National Education Union, says that following the report’s publication there are “numerous examples” of leadership teams forcing changes on to Reception teachers, which teachers fear will have a “negative impact” on children.

The report, published late last year, said that Reception year was a “false start” for many children. It shocked many of those working in early years, who saw it as a push for more formal education in Reception.

The open letter to Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman and education secretary Damian Hinds says the report is “flawed and biased”.

The letter, coordinated by Keeping Early Years Unique, a group of early years trainers and practitioners, points out there is not one mention of “play” in the report’s recommendations but there are 15 references to phonics, reading, writing and maths.

'Top-down' pressure on children

“It is quite apparent that Ofsted visited only those schools where the approach to teaching was congruent with the recommendations the report would later make – ie, where teaching in Reception classes was similar to teaching in Year 1,” the letter states.

“In England we have seen a leap in the demands of the National Curriculum for key stage 1. However, these demands do not change the basic developmental needs of young children. We feel strongly that we must protect children in this critical foundation stage from the ‘top-down’ pressure that is the main theme of the Bold Beginnings report.

“The Bold Beginnings report is based on flawed methodology and yet it will now be used as a basis for future education policy. We are, therefore, asking for the report to be withdrawn.”

Gill Jones, co-author of the report and Ofsted’s early education deputy director, said that the report did not pre-select schools but drew on those that taught reading, writing and maths exceptionally well.

“I agree entirely with the authors of the letter that a wide range of learning experiences is best for Reception children. That is exactly what our Bold Beginnings report finds,” she said.

 “The report drew on evidence from high-performing schools around the country which are delivering the best start for young children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our inspectors found that they offered a wide curriculum. What they had in common was that they taught reading, writing and maths exceptionally well.

“None of the schools were pre-selected on the basis of teaching methods. There is nothing in the report to suggest that Reception should be taught like Year 1. Rather, it makes clear that the schools achieving the best start for their pupils planned a good balance of class teaching, partner work and play.”

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