MumsnetGuestBlogs (MNHQ) Thu 14-Nov-13 15:57:35

Ofsted chair: Children should begin early education at two to be 'school-ready' at five

Last week, Ofsted chief Sally Morgan sparked controversy when she suggested that children should begin their education at two years of age. In this guest blog, she expands on her suggestion – and explains why she thinks that a ‘wraparound’ educational model could help counteract educational disadvantage.

Lead photo
Sally Morgan

Chair of Ofsted

Posted on

Thu 14-Nov-13 15:57:35

(70 comments)

Early education: should children start sooner?

The importance of the quality of the provision small children have in early years settings is well documented, but as I found last week in the reactions to a speech I made, the whole topic is quite contentious! "Early years" provision includes nurseries, childminders, nannies, play groups and, of course, these are often part-time and mixed with time at home with parents or grandparents.

Despite the impression given by some of the media headlines, I do not believe children should start formal schooling at the age of two. Around the country, however, I have seen inspiring examples where infant and primary schools are also delivering high quality nursery provision for their local children. Indeed the 3-18 model is working successfully in many academies up and down the UK. I have had the good fortune to see some of these first-hand, and to talk to headteachers who know it has an impact.

In short, I would like to see more of this type of provision. We must ensure children dealt the toughest hand in life have access to highest quality pre-school education. Of course this should be led by play and discovery, but it also helps to prepare them for school. We should not be scared of that. The debate that has been played out in recent days sometimes seems to miss that point. Good nurseries are both caring and stimulating - places where young children develop social skills in readiness for schools. This includes things many of us take for granted, but not experienced by all young children: sitting and listening to an adult reading a book and looking together at the pictures, colouring and painting, sitting round a table having a meal, building with bricks. There is a false division between playing in a sandpit and emptying sand from a big pot into two smaller ones and seeing what happens; when does play become early education?

Nurseries attached to schools are uniquely placed to help young children master the skills and learning habits that will lead to success in primary school and beyond.

Here is where I get annoyed with the arguments from those who call for us to copy the Scandinavian style of children not starting school until they are seven. In the strictest sense of formal education, that might be true - but in these countries younger children will go to kindergarten. It seems to me that we are often fighting over terminology and semantics.

The beauty of the 3-18 model - and my argument is that this could easily extend to two year olds - is that it offers children the best chance of being "school ready" by the age of five. Nurseries attached to schools are uniquely placed to help young children master the skills and learning habits that will hopefully lead to success in primary school and beyond.

I know from the teachers I meet and the visits I make to schools, that a depressingly high number of children start reception class with the bare minimum of social and communication skills. This can be for a whole host of reasons. Clearly we have a duty to tackle the inequalities and disadvantage that some families face. But regardless of the root causes and how they can be addressed, we must surely take any steps we can to improve the life chances of these children. And this is not about absolving parents of responsibility, or somehow saying they should not play a part in their childs development, it is simply about offering more support where it is needed and can make the most difference.

It is good to see that politicians of all parties are talking about the importance of good early years provision for the most disadvantaged children. While I am not advocating that funding should be restricted to only one model it is surely sensible to encourage good schools to embrace nursery provision as part of their basic offer to parents and children.

Finally, lets not forget the importance of what is at stake here. The figures are stark; at present, by the age of five, there is a 19 month gap in attainment levels between the poorest children and their affluent peers. This is a disgrace and we need bold, brave measures to bring it to an end.

By Sally Morgan

Twitter: @Ofstednews

BlackberrySeason Thu 14-Nov-13 20:20:37

Yes Catch and in small enough groups to offer anything to a 2 year old!

I think this shows a real like of ambition from the OFSTED chair. Personally I think they should be ready to be school educated from birth and that an early phonics programme adapted to the foetus in the womb should be devised. Early bird catch the worm and all that. Also play is sooo overrated let alone being allowed to grow at one's own pace

How bizarre whatever happened to my post?

Jax123 Thu 14-Nov-13 20:29:45

I think several childminders and nannies are being overly defensive here. I have put all 3 of my children in the nursery attached to their school from the age of 2, starting from a couple of mornings a week. They all loved it and got used to being in a "school environment" so the transition to Reception was really easy. The carers were happy to change nappies and help with potty training. Contrary to the beliefs of previous posters, the children are not expected to sit behind desks for 6 hours a day; they DO play outside, in sand pits, with playdoh, Lego, dressing up etc. Some of the activities focus on letters and numbers, but it is all learning through play. What's wrong with all that?

ooh it is doing the same to Jaxx's, Might be a glitch on the thread.

MrsDeVere Thu 14-Nov-13 20:55:38

I am neither a childminder nor a nanny jax and all of my five children have attended nurseries. The two youngest have had 2 year funded placements.

There is a huge difference between children going to a early years play based environment through parental choice and sending all two year olds to school based nurseries.

Working in the community I do NOT have any confidence the state would be capable of setting up kindergarten type settings that would give children age appropriate day care.
This country is floundering when it comes to accommodating non-average 7 year olds ffs.

Just think what we would do to a generation of two year olds.

MissMiniTheMinx Thu 14-Nov-13 21:00:54

I think its a great idea. I have two dc who are turning out quite differently. One went to a pre-school (which was quite formal) attached to a pre-prep and he is the most calm, centred and academic 12 yr old you could meet. The other went to a private/for profit nursery that was neither attached to a school or particularly formal with virtually no structure and little learning, he is some way behind and is rather less interested in learning. Just from my own exp I would if anything go further and say pre-school should start to incorporate more teacher led learning as well as child led play. It is, after all only for a few hrs a week.

My daughter has benefited enormously from attending an excellent nursery. It isn't attached to a primary school. I don't think that the quality of provision is in any way related to whether a nursery is attached to a primary school.

The things that truly allows her nursery to excel are:
- the high staffing ratio right the way through to 5 - much higher than required by legislation.
- high quality staff - the majority are level 3 qualified with years of experience.
- being a small enough nursery for her to know all of the staff and be recognised as an individual.
All of these factors contribute to a nursery which can genuinely be child led.

However high quality provision is expensive. Many nurseries are staffed by young, inexperienced staff, need to work to the minimum staffing ratios to maintain any profit margin and squeeze in as many children as possible. Moving provision to schools won't change that.

My daughter's nursery does offer the free hours for 2 year olds who are eligible. It makes much more sense to use the funding available to target those 2 year olds with truly high quality education than to provide a blanket offering of lesser quality care to those whose parents are able to afford it anyway or provide a rich and educative environment at home.

I know that my daughter's nursery will provide her with opportunities to learn the skills that will make her "school ready" but they have made it very clear that this does not mean training her to sit at a desk all day or drilling things into her. They intend to prepare her for reception - so a continuation of what they themselves do. Most of the staff have school age children, so have a good idea of what is needed for a child starting reception. The emphasis seems to be on practical things like getting dressed, eating a packed lunch independently and being able to sit, listen and engage for short periods of time.

When is the UK going to pull its head out of its arse regarding children and education (and childcare) and look around at the rest of the world. We already pack children into each stage 2 years earlier than anywhere else. I started school at 6/7, went into secondary at 13 and left high school at 18. As do most countries globally, for good reason!

Children here are expected to grow up far too early.

Instead of trying to "educate" them so early, let the poor little bugger be children! Set up good quality state nurseries (like the kindergartens the rest of the world has) where children are expected to learn only through play until they're 6 or 7, and then stuff them into uniforms and classrooms.

I can understand that under-privileged children need help and better preparation for school. But to force them into formal education earlier and earlier is not the way to do it, longer state-sponsored informal education (childcare) is the way. And it will help people (esp women) who can't afford private childcare back into work, bring in more income tax - everyone's a winner.

Look around you, UK. Please!!!!

MaryPoppinsBag Thu 14-Nov-13 21:23:52

Jax I am not defensive I am passionate about children's early years.

wrenno Thu 14-Nov-13 21:52:43

Rather amusing take from Miles Jupp on Lady Morgan's comments on Radio 4's News Quiz - www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01ldmzs

How early should we start preparing babies to ensure that they are ready to start early education at 2yo?

SoftSheen Thu 14-Nov-13 22:15:47

Terrible, terrible idea.

Parents should not be thinking about preparing their very tiny children for school, but about preparing them for life. School is only one part of their overall education.

What a two year old needs is a secure, reliable relationship with their caregiver, be that a parent or a substitute such as a grandparent or childminder. They do not need to be shoved in a classroom with 20 other kids for 6 hours a day.

I do think that many disadvantaged families could do with more help, but a better idea would be to provide more funding for children's centres so that they can organise more groups and activities for parents and children to attend together.

magnumicelolly Thu 14-Nov-13 22:49:26

I don't believe that many, if any schools are prepared/could easily be prepared for 2 year olds. Primary schools are far, far behind good early years providers. This kind of statement just shows how out of touch Ofsted are with the sector, and with how children need to learn and develop.

The disgrace is that the funding for 'free' places for 3 and 4 year olds is so woefully inadequate. The truly excellent settings lose money offering these 'free places' because the pittance they are given per child per hour by the government does not in any way cover the cost of providing the place. So now the 'free' places have been extended to 2 year olds- hmmm! The only settings that can offer these funded hours without making losses on them are the places that cut corners and have cheap, poorly qualified staff and not very good ratios. What a way to 'drive up standards'!

It is interesting that in the last year or so far more early years settings have been downgraded by Ofsted, especially after complaint driven inspections. The number of settings driven to closing by the things going on with Ofsted (with these events/problems also resulting in the recent Ofsted 'Big Conversation) is worrying in the context of Sally Morgan's idea that the 2 year olds should be in schools- is this the agenda behind how Ofsted are currently operating?

It has already been asked, but no answers have been forthcoming- who, exactly, inspects Ofsted? As there is certainly a lot of discontent in the early years sector at the moment- apparently driven by the attitudes and statements coming from high up at Ofsted. A sad state of affairs, which will not be improved by Sally's assertions here.

I am appalled at this idea. I think young children need to be with parents or people who care for them individually, not teachers who are educators first and not carers, IMHO so they do not need to be in school.

As MrsDeVere s elloquantly puts it w about this? Instead of getting children 'school ready' we make schools 'child ready' and stop trying to shove tiny children into a model that does not work?

Children are not little workers in the making to be churned out into the workplace, they are individuals and so although some might thrive in this type of situation, others will not! They will spend a lot of time missing their parents and struggling to cope with what is expected of them. How will that make them better prepared for school.

I can see that children who are either 'disadvantaged' in having less material things at home (like pens and paper and a garden to play in and books etc) or by having parents who can't read to them or don't want to read to them etc etc could benefit from being in this different environment (I mean to cause no offence at all, there are some parents who struggle more with things that would be helpful in early years). So how about a place where parents and children can be together, explore ways of learning about the world in general and their small words in particular with support available for parents who want it?

Why not provide more support for Toddlers groups and other voluntary organisations that provide these positive experiences for kids and support for parents?

Just my opinion. My DD went to nursery at 8 months part-time and loved it to bits. I had to work so there was no choice but there was a choice where to take her and she went to a private nursery at DH's work which was very well run. However, this would not suit all children and I am very suspicious of the wider desire to get kids school-ready. Don't we want them to grow up to be wonderful people, school is only a part of that. I agree that most of the world starts formal education later and I have a feeling our countries own study into this (the Rose report?) concluded this was better! And most other couteries in the western world have lower rates of bullying etc. I am sure there is a connection.

fossil971 Thu 14-Nov-13 23:15:07

I was irritated by the "early education for 3 year olds" that seemed designed to undermine ordinary, caring parenting and daily activities as part of a young child's life. Extending it to 2 year olds, who will hardly be ready to separate from their mums and who need a lot of looking after and interaction, is unspeakable. At this age secure relationships with the main carer or few carers are crucial and far more important than "education".

For struggling families the govt would be better to work with the parents to improve their confidence, parenting and relationship with their children, in fact to continue to invest in the many good projects that already do this, Sure Start and similar.

A person's development and success are down to a lot of things: security, self worth and family support - supporting these will set up a child for its whole educational life far more than a fat folder of 75 "early learning goals" that will surely accompany this ill conceived scheme.

NorthernShores Thu 14-Nov-13 23:18:18

Yes - didn't they cut back on all the funding for all the childrens centres sad It doesnt seem to really address the issues.

And yes to your list. I'm Oxbridge educated but lacking in security, self worth and family support STILL, with a huge effect on my (non)career, following a chaotic upbringing. I'm hoping to do better for my child.

Magnumicelolly - it isn't entirely true that only settings which cut corners and have cheap, poorly qualified staff and not very good ratios can offer the free/funded hours.

My DD's nursery offers those hours and is quite the opposite of your description (though I am obviously not privy to the salaries paid). It is also fairly expensive for the unfunded hours.

BlackberrySeason Thu 14-Nov-13 23:30:30

Fossil, I couldn't agree more.

fossil971 Thu 14-Nov-13 23:40:58

I'm not saying nobody should use childcare - plenty of us need to, and choose to. And lots of children develop really good relationships with their key workers and childminders. But not to be confused with "education", or held up as some kind of necessity <fumes>

littlemissbrum Fri 15-Nov-13 06:37:49

This is absolute madness. If there is a gap, why not help parents from deprived background parent rather than taking away the times with a book/blocks etc and getting someone in an institutionalised setting to do it instead? Kids need love at this age. Why doesn't she name it? There's a gap because of bad parenting. It's not the parents' fault per se, but why not try to fix it rather than removing the children for huge chunks of the day?

RevelsRoulette Fri 15-Nov-13 07:17:52

It feels to me like it's saying any environment is better than the child being with the parent and parents are so useless that the child should be in other settings as early as possible. Doesn't matter where they are - nursery, childminder, whatever. As long as they aren't at home with the parent.

I'm not saying childcare is crap or damaging, that's not the issue. There are very many fab providers out there. It's not about childcare, it is about the idea that parents can't be trusted with their children's care and development and that it needs to be outsourced.

I wonder if she realises how truly offensive that is.

Booboostoo Fri 15-Nov-13 07:42:33

I find it very odd that the only evidence appealed to for this recommendation are the author's own conclusion from her random school visits. Surely decades of educational studies provide us with some information on this topic (overwhelmingly that early schooling is not effective and may be counter productive, but, you know OP, academic search engines are available to anyone to look up so why not give them a go for yourself?).

NorthernShores Fri 15-Nov-13 08:04:47

Gosh revels -thats exactly how it felt when we told not only were we eligible for 2 year funding -but then rung to ask why we hadn't chosen a provider and that pie needed to be in in Jan. We were only planning to use it if I managed to find work. I may currently be broke but I can provide a good start for my child. I didn't like the thought that a private, for profit, run by teenagers nursery would be somehow better just because my husband was made redundant.

Riasaakshi Fri 15-Nov-13 09:59:04

Evidence suggests that later school starts are better for children all round
www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence ... anyone engaged with Educational and Psychological research can tell you that early literacy and numeracy, or 'formal instruction' does not help children.

Developmental Psychology studies that are long established tell us that children are not ready to learn in a formal school manner until they are much older, why does Ofsted and this Government ignore biology?

Little ones have yet to develop notions of Theory of Mind, so they are not suited to a formal environment where you need to understand what other people are thinking and expecting of you and WHY they are doing that... nor have they fully developed categorization in their mind which allows them to make groups and associations. Plenty of research shows that formal academic instruction really does not take hold till a child's vocabulary has expanded enough to allow them to deal with more abstract concepts properly... even at 5 years old children are not fully ready to deal with a classroom environment.

Basically what is suggested is pointless. Toddlers are not ready developmentally for school, and that is biological not social - exposing them to more school like environments won't do anything at best, at worse it could distress them and teach them that school is a confusing place where they cannot do anything they are being asked to do.

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