What do you expect?

14th August 2015 at 01:00

My children's nursery has just had a visit from Ofsted. Although I'm not exactly a fan of the watchdog's work, I'm happy for the nursery to be inspected - after all, when you hand over your most treasured possession to relative strangers, it's good to know that they're not going to just stick it in a highchair and play Candy Crush all day.

The report was very positive, which came as no surprise. My children love nursery; the staff are great and, since my eldest is articulate and of a watchful disposition, I feel pretty clued up about what goes on there.

What I found bizarre was the language used in the report. Staff in the baby room were praised for having "high expectations of the babies". This sounds like a good thing until you realise how ridiculous a statement it is - some of the babies are just a few months old. Why are there any expectations at all, other than to be a baby?

When I was pregnant with my first child, I had high expectations that it would sleep through the night and not leave snot and sick on me. These were not met. By the time the second one came along, my expectations consisted solely of keeping everyone alive until at least their first birthday. No doubt Ofsted would have marked me down for this.

One of the nursery's weaknesses was that staff in the toddler room didn't give the children enough thinking time when asking them questions. Again, this seems reasonable until you remember that the thinkers in question are tots in nappies who are still figuring out where their feet are. I find it hard to believe that an extra two-second pause after the question "Where is Spot hiding?" is all that's standing between them and future academic brilliance. I own one of these toddlers and the only questions he responds to are ones that contain the words "chocolate" and "biscuit". He spends the rest of the time shouting at cars or trying to break into the fridge.

But that's OK because, as a parent, I'm not the one being tried, tested and found wanting. Despite being paid peanuts, the early years practitioners are responsible for magically filling the gaps that poor or indifferent parenting has created. You hear far more about plans to tackle poor early years provision than to support struggling parents. In the same week that I read about the drive for higher literacy qualifications among nursery nurses, I also read a report by Kellogg's that found almost a third of parents on low incomes skipped a meal so their children could eat during the holidays.

As he announced the publication of the early years annual report last month, Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said: "What the poorest children need is to be taught, and well taught, from the age of 2." I'm not convinced. What all children - poor or otherwise - need at the age of 2 is to be well loved (not to mention well fed). If they don't have that, no amount of good teaching is going to compensate.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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