'Ofsted must be careful not to lose all its credibility in early years'

4th December 2017 at 15:20
The response to Ofsted’s early years report last week suggests that the inspectorate has made a major miscalculation

Ofsted’s report on reception class teaching, Bold Beginnings, was published last week and on Thursday Tes featured an immediate, well-argued and passionate response from Helen Williams – which has attracted very many comments on the website and many more on, you guessed it, Twitter.

Similarly, though not as impassioned or as well-argued as Helen’s, my short tweets on the report elicited much comment views in the hours that followed and very many positive replies, although there was one exception from a “phonics enthusiast”. This was a tribute, not to my deft Twitter prose, but to the fury of countless early years specialists denouncing the emphases the Ofsted report makes on preparing reception children for Year 1 of a highly contested national curriculum and on prioritising the teaching of reading as “the core purpose” over all other early years priorities.

Make no mistake, Ofsted has badly miscalculated with this report: it runs counter to practice previously praised by the inspectorate, and which reflects well-established, research-informed practice here and in other European states. It has alienated a very powerful constituency. It needs to work with that formidable early years lobby, not confront it with a set of recommendations that could have been written with a view to garnering a favourable response from Early Years "expert" Nick Gibb. Ofsted's Early Years credibility has been dealt a major blow.

'Politicised messages'

Ofsted is good at changing the English language. Years ago it changed the meaning of "satisfactory" to its opposite. Now it is misusing the term "research" to mean anything it finds from its visits to schools – for example, about the Reception year or the school curriculum. This Reception report cannot claim to be research or be based on research-informed inspection practice.

In the light of the furore created by the report and by its clearly "politicised" messages (to quote from Helen Williams), Ofsted will find it difficult to maintain that it is independent of government ministers on this issue.

Ofsted has boldly stepped into a space in where, inspectors, let alone angels, should fear to tread. It has not heard the last of this issue. Reception is too important to early years specialists to be handed over, without a fight, to the "get the kids school-ready" brigade.

Professor Colin Richards was formerly staff inspector for the curriculum and editor of the Curriculum Matters series 

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