On 30th November 2017, OFSTED published “Bold beginnings: The Reception curriculum in a sample of good and outstanding primary schools”. In response to the concern of the early sectors in response to this report, “Keeping Early Years Unique” coordinated this open letter. To date it has over 1850 signatories including, amongst others:
- Reception teachers
- Nursery teachers
- School leaders including headteachers
- School support staff
- Parents and carers
- Leading early years organisations
- Union leaders
- Early Years practitioners
- Consultants and trainers
(A shortened version of this letter was published on 16th January 2018 in the Guardian and was also sent to Amanda Spielman, OFSTED Chief Inspector and Damian Hinds MP, Education Secretary on the same day)
A Collective Open Letter in Response to #BoldBeginnings Report coordinated by "Keeping Early Years Unique"
"We are writing to express our concern over the possibility of the government introducing developmentally inappropriate practice into reception classes in England. We are alarmed by the recommendations made by Ofsted’s ‘Bold Beginnings’ report and have been moved to write this letter calling for the report to be withdrawn.
The report claims to describe practices in successful reception classes around the country. It also refers to the increased demands placed on Year One children and implies that, to meet these demands, reception classes should be taught in a similar way to Year One. Finally, ‘Bold Beginnings’ asserts that successful schools have already: heightened their expectations in reception classes; written their own reception curriculums; and introduced teaching practices like those adopted for six and seven-year olds. In this letter, we will explain why these claims are so alarming to early years practitioners and why the ‘Bold Beginnings’ report could cause huge detriment to our youngest schoolchildren.
Our main concern is that the research underpinning the report is flawed and biased. The report is based on visits to less than 0.25% of schools. It is quite apparent that Ofsted visited only those schools where the approach to teaching was congruent with the recommendations the report would later make - i.e. where teaching in reception classes was similar to teaching in Year One. What this essentially means is: a narrowing of the reception curriculum to focus on literacy and maths; more adult-led, ‘formal’ teaching; and less recognition of the potential benefits of learning through child-initiated play.
Indeed, there is not one mention of ‘play’ in the report’s recommendations, whereas there are 15 separate references to phonics, reading, writing and maths. There are also some worryingly specific and absurd recommendations - for example that schools should ensure reception children are taught ‘how to sit correctly at a table’.
Conversely, there are thousands of reception classes across England that achieve excellent outcomes through a broad and balanced curriculum in which play is the central feature. In such classes, the teachers create enabling environments where young children can engage in purposeful play in order to develop emotionally, physically and cognitively. These teachers spend appropriate amounts of time teaching literacy and numeracy skills both to groups and individual children - but more importantly they are highly skilled in observing, assessing and interacting with the children as they play. Young children have hugely varied life experiences before they come into school and excellent reception teachers have the knowledge, skills and ability to adopt the approach that is just right for a particular child.
It is a potential disaster for early years education that these child-led, play-based, individualised approaches have not been fully recognised or valued in the ‘Bold Beginnings’ report. At best the report pays lip service to them.
Ofsted has done a lot of important work over recent years to clarify their role, encouraging schools to do what they think is best for their children and iterating that ‘Ofsted has no preferred method’ of teaching. It is therefore deeply concerning that they have not included a variety of effective teaching methods in this ‘Bold Beginnings’ report. In many schools, the senior leadership teams do not have a background in early childhood development, so they look to Ofsted for advice and guidance. We have already learned of numerous examples of apprehensive leadership teams forcing changes onto reception teachers for fear of getting things ‘wrong’. These teachers have contacted us because they know they are being asked to work in developmentally inappropriate ways and they are, quite rightly, worried about the negative impact this will have on the children in their classes.
We have one of the youngest school starting ages in the world. In most countries children do not start school until the age of six. These countries have comparable or better educational outcomes than us. In England we have seen a leap in the demands of the National Curriculum for Key Stage 1. However, these demands do not change the basic developmental needs of young children. We feel strongly that we must protect the children in this critical foundation stage from the ‘top down’ pressure that is a main theme of the ‘Bold Beginnings’ report.
We expect Ofsted and the Department for Education to take our concerns seriously. We urge reception teachers to remain steadfast and to continue to base their practice on their professional knowledge of how young children learn best. We ask senior leadership teams to have confidence in their teachers and to give them the freedom and support they need. We call on families to advocate for every child’s right to learn through play, with practical, developmentally-appropriate experiences.
The ‘Bold Beginnings’ report is based on flawed methodology, and yet it will now be used as a basis for future educational policy. We are therefore asking for the report be withdrawn. We also want the government to review their plans regarding changes to the reception year, to ensure it remains enshrined in best practice as recognised in thorough research. The proposed changes in the ‘Bold Beginnings’ report will be harmful to children in the long term and must therefore be challenged. Education is our collective responsibility and we must ensure that it is fit for purpose. "
signed by over 1850 signatories
If you share our concerns about the Bold Beginnings report and its potential implications for early years education in England please follow the link below. (Names will be updated regularly)