Four for the future: how Tickell's early-years vision will take shape

8th April 2011 at 01:00
After sifting through 3,300 evidence submissions, the Government- commissioned Tickell report concluded last week that the Early Years Foundation Stage should be overhauled, slashing the assessment and bureaucratic burden on professionals. Dame Clare also called for more schools to be exempted from the system altogether. Here, Helen Ward examines the key recommendations


The Tickell review has paved the way for hundreds of independent schools to be freed from the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) learning and development goals.

Dame Clare has called for an immediate exemption for all Steiner schools, a small number of which have already won exemptions from part of the EYFS framework.

She has also asked the Government to consider allowing other groups of independent schools to opt out en masse rather than having to go through the exemption process individually. But this should only happen when providers are of a "universally high quality", Dame Clare said.

The recommendation has been welcomed by the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS), which has argued that the learning and development goals have hampered their work. About 500 of the schools represented by IAPS have early-years classes.

David Hanson, the association's chief executive, said that while not all the 500 schools would want to opt out, the existing arrangements are too prescriptive and "seen very much as a strait-jacket".

"We didn't agree with the one-size-fits-all pedagogy, with that whole issue of quality settings . being told what to do and that not being negotiable," he said.

The wider exemption for IAPS members would be "hugely welcome", Mr Hanson said. "For us the key driver was being told what we must do," he added. "Many will still follow the framework, but there is a psychological difference."

Martin Bradley, chairman of the Montessori Schools Association, said that many of his members found the existing exemption process "incredibly complicated and long-winded".

"It really is a bit daft when each school has to apply to the local authority and QCDA (Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency) when they all want the same thing; a group opt-out might be of interest to them," he said.

Assessment at three

All children should be given a progress check before they are three years old to identify those who may need extra help, the review recommended.

The assessment would cover personal, social and emotional development, physical development, and communication and language skills.

Early-years workers are already expected to observe children and report their progress to parents, but the Tickell review recommends that parents be able to request a written summary of their child's development.

Examples in the report for judging progress of physical development include children being able to pull off their socks and shoes.

The communication section includes being able to talk in simple sentences.

The report says that the success of early assessment requires a local infrastructure, including children's centres and special educational needs co-ordinators to provide any support required.

Nigel Utton, head of Bromstone primary and chair of campaign group Heading for Inclusion, agrees.

"With all the money being taken away from early-years settings, who is there to do the early intervention?" he asked.

"It is all very well identifying needs, but there needs to be someone there to do the work once a need is identified.

"We all do an enormous amount of assessing, and if these recommendations reduce that bureaucratic burden they will be welcomed by teachers."


Separate assessments of children's phonics abilities should be scrapped and replaced with an overall assessment of reading skills, the review has recommended.

Phonics should still be taught, but teachers should use a wide variety of techniques to help prepare children for reading, it says.

The review says that although children's attainment in phonics has improved, this is not reflected in their reading scores - and one of the stumbling blocks is the application of phonic knowledge.

While many children can grasp the theory of phonics, they are not always able to apply their skills in a meaningful way, the report notes.

"Thus the new aspects incorporate the acquisition of phonic knowledge and skills with its application to reading and writing."

Christopher Jolly, managing director of phonics publisher Jolly Learning, is concerned that in slimming down the paperwork, some basic principles are in jeopardy.

Mr Jolly said: "To have no mention of learning letter sounds is a serious omission.

"The process of decoding starts from knowledge of letter sounds.

"I don't believe this is adequate advice to raise standards in schools. It should say children need to learn the letter sounds of English and blend them to read words.

"We look to people like the developers of this report to pick out the crucial factors - that hasn't happened. The factor which is most crucial has been omitted."


The Tickell review has questioned the quality of Ofsted inspections in early-years settings.

It highlights inconsistencies in inspections, with some providers being asked for "disproportionate" amounts of information.

Evidence to the review also raised concerns that Ofsted inspectors did not fully understand the nature of early-years settings.

The report calls for Ofsted to work with local authorities to produce consistent information and to provide a clear definition of satisfactory, good and outstanding practice.

It adds: "I recommend that Ofsted reviews the training, capacity and capability of the current early years inspectorate and existing guidance to inspectors, with a view to setting clear minimum requirements for all early-years inspectors in terms of experience, skills and qualifications."

In the evidence submitted to the review, one parent said: "At the moment your inspection totally depends on the inspector's point of view, what one likes another could hate, and we have experienced this a lot."

An Ofsted spokesman said the organisation welcomed the review and its intention to simplify the EYFS.

"When (inspectors) inspect a setting, their primary concern is what the experience is like for each child attending, not the quality of paperwork," he said.

"Inspectors do require some paperwork from providers but only what is expected by the government-set Early Years Foundation Stage."


Helen Williams, headteacher of the 42-pupil Cerne Abbas Church of England First School in Dorset, believes that the guidance that accompanies the EYFS is "monstrous".

Ms Williams, who has been at the school for four years, said the EYFS is misunderstood because too much focus is placed on the guidance.

"The statutory stuff is really quite a small document; it is the guidance that is monstrous," she said.

"I don't mind the EYFS profile as such because it does show progress over time."

Cerne Abbas has recently improved its rating from satisfactory to outstanding.

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