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"Early education better than ever" - Ofsted

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills, Sir Michael Wilshaw (pictured right), said today (Monday 13 July) that early education was in a better position than it had ever been, but  that the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers remained.

He made the announcement during a speech in Westminster this morning which marked the launch of the Ofsted Early Years Annual Report 2015.

While the report found that standards had risen across the whole range of early years settings - Government figures show childcare providers rising to the challenge of more free places - it also found that nearly half (42 per cent) of all 2-year-olds eligible for 15 hours of free early education had not taken up their free place.

Sir Michael said that health visitors were well placed to ensure that all parents knew about the free childcare to which they were entitled.

He added: “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.”

Penny Tassoni, President of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, said:

“It is fantastic to see Ofsted applauding the hard work and dedication shown by childcare professionals across the sector, which has resulted in a steady rise in the number of ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ settings. This is despite a decrease in local authority support for training and professional development, and an increase in demand on childcare professionals.

“We agree with Ofsted that high quality education and childcare has the potential to make a real difference, particularly for more disadvantaged children and their families, but only if the financial support is sufficient to allow providers to offer the level of high quality care that all children deserve.

“Local authorities have a key role to play here in ensuring that practitioners in their area are supported both professionally and financially, and that there is a good take up of the free childcare places on offer.

“However, we don't agree that the best place for 2-year-olds from disadvantaged families is in schools. We believe that high adult to child ratios, offered in home based and group settings, have the potential to offer the high quality care that children and families need.

“In such an environment the close relationship between both carer and child, and carer and parent, can prove tremendously advantageous in breaking down the anxieties about putting younger children into childcare that some families from disadvantaged backgrounds can experience.

“Rather than focussing on this school-led approach, a better way forward is to ensure that all settings are supported to deliver high-quality care and interactions, and have the funding and support to enable them to do this.

“Sir Michael said that schools have the in-built advantage of being able to offer continuity across the transition to Reception. However, our Starting School Together programme shows that it doesn’t have to be just schools providing this transition.

“We are working with four schools in a pilot programme to demonstrate that effective partnerships with childcare providers to help families in the transition into schools is key, especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds”

Read a summary of the report and Sir Michael Wilshaw’s speech here. The full report is available to download here. You can see Tweets from the @PACEYchildcare team during the report launch here.

Teaching and play - a balancing act?

Ofsted also released a good practice guide today, exploring teaching and play in the early years. The document, which features good practice examples from providers, including three PACEY childminders. Read more about the report and watch the associated good practice videos.