Ofsted’s second annual Early Years Report was published on 13 July 2015. Key themes covered included the overall improvement in the quality of provision across the sector, the lack of improvement in the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers and the movement from the concept of childcare towards early education. The report cited the importance of strong and visionary leaders in driving improvements and, of course, governors of maintained nurseries and schools with nursery settings have a role to play here.
The report was accompanied by a speech in which Sir Michael Wilshaw HMCI hailed that early years’ provision was better than ever; 85% of inspected registered providers are rated as good or outstanding, representing an 18% increase over the previous five years. Early years settings based in maintained schools constitute the second largest type of provider after those nurseries in the private, voluntary and independent sector, offering 260,000 places nationally, and saw that 86% of schools settings are rated as good or outstanding. However stand-alone maintained nursery schools, a smaller part of the sector, provide the most consistent quality with 97% of those inspected since November 2013 rated good or above. The criteria for inspection has been slightly different in the past, but these differences should be eliminated with the new Common Inspection Framework, under which all registered early years providers will be judged upon the same criteria.
The report also showed the number of children nationally that were reaching a ‘good level of development’, which is the standard by which attainment is measured from the Early Years Foundation Stage, has increased from 52% in 2013 to 60% in 2015.
Sir Michael attributed the improved outcomes to the greater acceptance of the role of early years’ practitioners as educators. He emphasised that teaching in the early years is indistinguishable from play, as children learn while they play. To further illustrate this point, Ofsted has this week published a report, Teaching and play in the early years – a balancing act?, which details approaches to early education in select settings that have been observed by Ofsted in the previous academic year.