Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Early education is better than ever but attainment gap remains

Poorer children’s development is continuing to rise in line with their classmates, but the attainment gap not narrowed.

Early education is better than ever but the attainment gap remains wide.

Early education has never been stronger with 85 per cent of early years settings now judged good or outstanding, the Ofsted Early Years Annual Report 2015 revealed yesterday.

The report finds that rising standards are evenly spread across all types of early years settings. As of 31 March 2015:

  • 84 per cent of childminders were good or outstanding
  • 87 per cent of private, voluntary and independent nurseries were good or outstanding

Overall, 72 per cent of all early years settings were good while 13 per cent were outstanding.

In addition, the quality of early years provision in 86 per cent of primary schools inspected during the last two terms was good or outstanding.

Early education is helping to prepare young children to be ready when they begin school. Between 2013 and last year, there was a marked increase in children reaching a good level of development at the end of their Reception year, from 52 per cent to 60 per cent.

Yesterday’s report finds that although poorer children’s development is continuing to rise in line with their classmates, the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers has not narrowed.

The report points out that nearly half (42 per cent) of all two-year-olds (around 113,000) eligible for 15 hours of free early education have not taken up their place in any type of setting.

It also finds that fewer than 5,000 schools are taking two-year-olds and those that do are taking a disproportionate number of children from better-off families. Only nine per cent of two-year-olds in schools are on a funded place. There are 40 local authorities where there are no disadvantaged two-year-olds in any maintained school.

In a speech to launch the report, HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said that more needs to be done to encourage parents of the poorest two-year-old children to take up the offer of a funded place in a high-quality provider. He called on children’s centres and health visitors to promote take-up.

Sir Michael said there was a strong case for schools to take many more of the poorest children from the age of two. Schools have the in-built advantage of being able to offer continuity across the transition to Reception, have more access to specialist support, employ well qualified graduate teachers and are familiar with tracking children’s development.

HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said:

There can be no doubt that the quality of early years provision is better now than at any point in Ofsted’s history. But we know it is the poorest children who have the most to gain if they are being well taught before they reach statutory school age – and the most to lose if they are not.

So we need to incentivise schools to take more disadvantaged two-year-olds and to work with other early years providers in their local area. We also need to do much more to encourage the most disadvantaged parents to take up the funded places scheme for two-year-olds, which is currently not reaching anywhere near enough children.

Certainly local authorities can play a role here. Because of their responsibilities for children’s centres, they can do more to make sure children’s centres have the essential information they need to do this work.

But what is really needed is someone who meets the parents of every child who is eligible for funded early education from two. Someone who will speak to them, and make sure they know what their child needs, and what they are entitled to. Someone who will be accountable for making sure that no one slips through the net.

Fortunately, there is someone who can do this. That person is the health visitor. Health visitors already have a particular responsibility to help the poorest families and from September they will be moving under local authority control.

This is the ideal opportunity to make sure every parent whose child is eligible for a funded place knows about this and is being encouraged to start their child in early education, in a school wherever possible.

Ofsted has yesterday also published a good practice survey of perceptions of teaching through play. Ofsted has worked with the early years sector and found that professionals are increasingly willing to embrace the idea of teaching the very youngest children and are more willing to see themselves as teachers.

Nick Hudson, Ofsted Early Education Director, said:

I am really pleased that more early years settings are providing good or better early education. They are providing a safe environment in which young children can have fun but also learn and develop.

Parents know that children learn through play. The two are not exclusive. From our survey, Ofsted inspectors saw the most progress in those nurseries, childminders and other early years settings which had developed children’s skills across a rich range of experiences.

It is however troubling that the attainment gap remains stubbornly wide between the poorest young children and their classmates. If more poorer children receive high quality early education well before they start school, then it is likely that more will have reached a good level of development by the end of their first year in primary school.

Notes to editors

  1. The Ofsted ‘Early years report 2015’ and ‘Teaching and play in the early years – a balancing act?’ are online.
  2. The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children’s social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.
  3. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 03000 130 415 or via Ofsted’s enquiry line 0300 123 1231 between 8.30am to 6.00pm from Monday to Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057 359.


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