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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.

Sally Morgan

Chair of Ofsted

Posted on: Thu 14-Nov-13 15:57:35


Lead photo

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

oodyboodyboocs Fri 15-Nov-13 10:30:21

Children in those earliest years of life need to be developing a strong bond with their families. I think as a society we should be providing support to those families where children are not getting the experiences they need to enable them to provide for their children's needs in the home not taking them away from their families into education settings at such a young age.

TwerkingNineToFive Fri 15-Nov-13 10:37:07

The problem with the current system is it treats everyone the same and asumes a equal level of parenting skills across the board. This results in some parents feeling patronised and dictated too and others being left without the support they need.

Many parents would ensure their children started school with all the skills nessiary and would identify and deal with any deficit while providing a nurturing loving home environment.

Some parents do not/can not identify and encourage these skills and their children would probably be better off in a preschool play based setting to acquire them.

How we provide a differentiated system is the hard bit.

Husbandplus3 Fri 15-Nov-13 10:46:40

This is a very interesting thread. Thanks for all the comments. They also are interesting.
When our eldest was around 12 months old we started thinking about the education thingy. Then when she was 2 and a bit we started looking at education options in earnest, knowing that if we didn't enrol her early we may not get the school close to where we lived.
We looked at home schooling, private schooling, public schooling and so on. Whilst looking at home schooling curriculum we came across Starfall. Our daughter was just about 2.5 at this time. About the age you all are discussing here. She was sitting on my lap whilst I looked at this on the computer. She was absolutely fascinated. We decided to see how far if we could teach her the alphabet using Starfall. Our aim was one letter per week. Well, she loved it. Six weeks later she knew the entire letter. She could recognise any letter, anywhere.
She did 3 year preschool in a formal setting and at 5 waltzed into school like she was made for it.
Our second child was the same almost. She also has breezed through school. Loves it. Enjoys it.
Timothy we have done slightly different. We walk our girls to school each day. On the way to school there are signs with big letters and numbers. We used those signs to teach him his alphabet.
Should a child start education at 2? Maybe. It worked for us. But for some of our friends it didn't work at all.

Booboostoo Fri 15-Nov-13 11:03:59

God forbid anyone should rely of facts and studies when a good old emotive argument about how we are failing our precious little ones will get the job done (provided the job you are interested in is self-promotion of course).

magnumicelolly Fri 15-Nov-13 12:07:31

Breathe slowly- yes, they may well offer the funded hours at your nursery. But if it is a good one, they probably make a loss on the hours- i.e. they are funding it themselves, the government aren't!!

magnumicelolly Fri 15-Nov-13 12:09:33

Just noticed your comment that it is also expensive for the unfunded hours- yes, this will be one of the ways they recoup their loss on the funded hours- the money has to come from somewhere.

craftykids1 Fri 15-Nov-13 12:11:49

Totally agree with the idea that some children would be better off if they spent some time away from the home at an earlier age. Everyone moans that these poor children neglected, hurt or even killed slip through social services net. This would be a perfect way to monitor this. However school at this young age is not the answer and I doubt the state could accommodate it resources wise i.e. financially or resource wise. Nursery would be an option but at this young age I think a child minder would be best. Children are learning to communicate at this young age amongst 100 other things and need more support and individual care than any nursery can claim to offer. On one occasion my son was sent home in some elses trousers aged 2 1/2 no one could tell me why or where his other trousers are? My friend sent her son to another nursery with cough mix they gave it him twice and overdosed him but only phoned her to complain that she should not have asked for it to be given and they only given prescribed medicine! At this age children need to socialize more gradually they need to learn about themselves and others slowly at the same time as learning so yes insist on extra care a few hours a week but don't insist on nursery.

magnumicelolly Fri 15-Nov-13 12:14:43

Crafty kids, I think that depends on the individual nursery and childminder. You get some great childminders and some ropey ones. You also get some great nurseries and some less good ones.

UriGeller Fri 15-Nov-13 12:51:25

I'd like to know what "prepared for school" actually means.

I can see that for certain children from certain families might benefit from an environment outside the home where they can get some basic learning (to speak coherently, to use cutlery, to toilet themselves, to take turns, control their tempers and be pleasant to others), this is "prepared for society" but for the most part very small children need a start where they are able to develop a sense of security and attachment to their family, while having their boundaries and horizons gently widened before being thrust into a conformist setting like mainstream school.

Early years schooling just seems to me like a different way of saying "round up the kids and stick em in a holding pen so the parents can work"

Mythoughtis Fri 15-Nov-13 15:35:16

I understand Sally's thoughts, but I work in mental health services and have seen an increase in stress and anxiety across the board from young children through to adulthood, which can develop into long term and prolonged illness. I am greatly concerned by our growing culture of insisting young people, and their parents (in this instance as young as two) to feel pressure to be formally educated, achieve and make high expectations, which will have repercussions for the future of our young children's health. I am in no way saying that we must not encourage our children to learn and be educated I just feel that we need to, generally as a society, put more emphasis on play and encourage more fun for everyone, and therefore building self esteem and confidence and a more robust future for us all.

PACEYchildcare Fri 15-Nov-13 16:23:28

PACEY has read this debate with interest. Like many Mumsnet users, we believe that childcare has an important role to play in helping children to become ready not only for school, but life in general. We know that a play-based approach to learning is the most effective way to support a child's holistic development, and providing them with the social and communication skills they need to thrive. We've just explored this very subject in our recent School Ready research report, which you can read here:

We also know that parents are concerned about 'schoolification' of the early years. We strongly oppose current moves towards increased formalisation of early years settings, such as the introduction to introduce base-line testing at aged five.

It's also crucial that parents have a real choice about childcare. Whilst nurseries attached to schools can provide excellent care, so too can other forms of early education delivered by nannies and childminders. We want to see national Government and Local Authorities encouraging a diverse childcare sector, supporting high quality childcare professionals in both domestic and non domestic settings, providing the whole range of care that parents want for their children.

MrsDeVere Fri 15-Nov-13 16:32:21

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Swanhilda Fri 15-Nov-13 18:30:41

In an ideal world children would benefit from perfect nurseries with loads of staff and excellent facilities. But those nurseries already are in short supply for 3 year olds. Even Reception classes have their limitations in terms of staff ratios and what is physically possible to achieve with 30 children in a small space. Why is that going to be any different earlier? Where is all this money going to come from.

It might start well, but very quickly people will get used to the idea of mediocre state nurseries for 2 year olds. Just like we accept that our 4-5 year olds might not entirely enjoy being in Reception - yet we put up with it because it becomes the norm.

Institutions stop working for the individual quite quickly and take on a life of their own - bureaucracy takes over, targets, health and safety, form filling, just getting through the day etc. Parents are in a unique position of actually being interested in their own children most of the time, why not give them more support to engage with them. Childcare is a different issue to child enrichment.

I remember visiting my child's nursery and the minute I entered the room, I was surrounded by children, longing for adult interaction. It was wonderful Montessori nursery with highly trained committed staff, and the children loved it and only for a few hours a day, but essentially children long for 1:1. They are programmed to need a lot of adult input, not just to socialise with their peers. How are nurseries going to come up with all these highly trained, interested 1:1 or 1:3 even? Who is going to have time to read stories, sit and play with the children on a regular basis. The children will be trained to work in large groups, which suits school environments, not necessarily to suit their development.

ladyliberty Sat 16-Nov-13 09:57:23

2 years old is very little - it seems a shame if they can't be allowed to develop at their own pace by pottering and playing with plenty of 1 on 1 attention.

RobinaPhillips Sat 16-Nov-13 12:21:57

How about remembering the Sure Start mantra "every child matters" and making funding available for all 2 year olds to get specifically tailored 'education'.

This might be time with Grandma, in a preschool, school nursery, SENCO, e.t.c.

Then concentrate on a play based policy to support all providers to, as so elequently put above, make them child ready.

KatherinaMinola Sat 16-Nov-13 23:10:30

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?

It's called Sure Start, Italian - you know, the infrastructure that the current government's dismantling.

juule Mon 18-Nov-13 12:53:10

An article in the New Scientist:Too much, too young: Should schooling start at age 7?

"A long-running debate on this question has been reignited by a letter, signed by about 130 early childhood education experts."

juule Mon 18-Nov-13 12:55:03

What does "school ready" mean?

confusedabouted Tue 19-Nov-13 17:23:20

I can see how it would benefit kids from deprived areas/families but otherwise i think its better for them at home.

BlackberrySeason Wed 20-Nov-13 06:17:43

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Lovemykid Mon 02-Dec-13 10:31:01

I agree with Swanhilda. I feel that if the nursery is good then that is a viable option, but it is hard to find one that is suitable for your kid's needs and is affordable. If the situation enables a parent to take care of the kid and do the learning through playing with them, then it is a good alternative. To be honest, every child and home situation is unique, so there is no definite answer for this.

For me, I stay at home with my kid and try to let him have a childhood while also teaching him myself. I use websites like that have good educational videos. I tried youtube for a while but it is so hard to find appropriate videos. Miniteve is free too and is developed by educational experts. I also try to teach my kid by doing outdoor activities to mix things up.

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