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Ofsted calls for more reading, writing and maths in Reception

In a new report on the Reception Year, Bold Beginnings, Ofsted claims that a third of children are leaving Reception without the essential knowledge and understanding needed to reach a good level of development. The inspectorate calls for Reception teachers to devote more time to the direct teaching of reading, writing and mathematics, and for the Government to review the EYFS statutory framework, as well as the EYFSP.

The survey of Reception Year was commissioned by Ofsted's recently appointed Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman. As part of this work, Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) visited 41 primary schools across England judged good or outstanding. They also surveyed headteachers throughout the country, receiving 208 responses from 76 schools. In addition, more than 150 inspection reports of primary schools were analysed where early years provision was judged as requiring improvement or inadequate. This information was compared with the information and observations undertaken in the visits to good and outstanding schools.

Key findings

  • The headteachers recognised that a successful Reception Year was fundamental to their school’s success.
  • In the schools visited, leaders and staff had significantly increased their expectations for how reading, writing and mathematics are taught since the implementation of the 2014 national curriculum. They were clear that "Reception children need more than a repeat of their pre-school experiences in Nursery or earlier."
  • There is no clear curriculum in Reception.
  • Many of the schools visited found the processes of the EYFSP burdensome.
  • The headteachers prioritised language and literacy as the cornerstones of learning.
  • Reading was at the heart of the curriculum.
  • In schools visited where writing was of a high standard, the children were able to write simple sentences and more by the end of Reception.
  • Most of the schools had designed their own mathematics curriculum, based on the Year 1 national curriculum programme of study. However, leaders were much clearer about their expectations for children’s literacy than for mathematics.
  • All the schools visited planned a judicious balance of direct whole-class teaching, small-group teaching, partner work and play.
  • Play was an important part of the curriculum in all of the schools visited. The headteachers knew which aspects of learning needed to be taught directly and which could be learned through play. However, except for literacy and mathematics, the schools were not clear about the time they devoted in a typical week to the different areas of learning.
  • Headteachers took the continuing professional development (CPD) of staff seriously.
  • Most leaders felt that newly qualified teachers (NQTs) were not well prepared to teach mathematics, reading and writing in Reception. They often had little experience of teaching Reception during their initial teacher training.


All primary schools should:

  • make sure that the teaching of reading, including systematic synthetic phonics, is the core purpose of the Reception Year
  • attach greater importance to the teaching of numbers in building children’s fluency in counting, recognising small numbers of items, comparing numbers and solving problems
  • ensure that when children are learning to write, resources are suitable for their stage of development and that they are taught correct pencil grip and how to sit correctly at a table
  • devote sufficient time each day to the direct teaching of reading, writing and mathematics, including frequent opportunities for children to practise and consolidate their skills
  • use the EYFSP as a guide to end-of-Reception expectations rather than to define what should be taught.

Initial teacher education providers should:

  • make sure that all primary trainees have sufficient knowledge of Reception, so that they understand progression from the early years foundation stage onwards
  • devote a greater proportion of their training programme to the teaching of reading, including systematic, synthetic phonics as the route to decoding words, and the composition of numbers, so that all newly qualified teachers are competent and confident to teach early literacy and mathematics.

The Department for Education should:

  • review the scope and breadth of the statutory EYFS framework to ensure that schools better understand the nature and purpose of the Reception Year and what should be taught
  • review the content of the EYFSP so that there is greater alignment between the ELGs at the end of the Reception Year and the national curriculum for Year 1
  • streamline the EYFSP and associated moderation processes so that they reduce teachers’ workload around assessment and become more useful for benchmarking the knowledge and understanding children need for the rest of their formal education
  • raise the profile of early mathematics teaching, similar to the investment made in early reading and the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics, by supporting the development of appropriate schemes and resources.

Ofsted should:

  • review and update the guidance for inspectors about evaluating the quality of early years provision in Reception
  • sharpen the focus placed on the teaching of reading and numbers during the inspection of schools, including schools inspected under section 8 of the Act4 and initial teacher education providers
  • use the findings of this survey to help shape the new education inspection framework for September 2019
  • report regularly on reading in primary schools, aggregated from routine inspections, to identify good practice and highlight the importance of this subject as the gatekeeper to a broad and balanced curriculum.

Responding to the report, Liz Bayram, Chief Executive of PACEY, said:

“As Ofsted’s own judgements demonstrate, quality has never been higher in registered childcare, and the majority of young children are experiencing good or outstanding early education.  In making its assessment that “a third of all children are being failed by their reception year”, Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings fails to recognise children who enter reception have many different starting points. Some have only just turned four, others are almost five. Most will have accessed some early education in a registered childcare setting, but not all. Some will have additional needs. None of this variation is recognised in the current EYFS Profile (EYFSP).

“Some of Ofsted’s recommendations, such as a review of the EYFS learning goals, are already underway. Others, for example streamlining the EYFSP and associated moderation processes, need careful consideration, particularly given the evidence that alternative approaches such as baseline assessment do not help to identify a child’s starting point, and  have no value in helping a reception teacher to identify the needs of individual children.

“PACEY will consider Ofsted’s recommendations carefully, but we are mindful that preparing children for school should not be overly focussed on literacy and numeracy. In England, formal schooling, and the teaching of literacy and numeracy, starts significantly sooner than in many other high performing countries, notably South Korea and Finland. However, there is a wealth of evidence arising from a range of disciplines across the globe that an extended period of playful learning is highly beneficial for the development of children under the age of seven.

"Whilst the experiences of the 41 schools studied in this report are interesting, they represent less than one per cent of the 16,000 schools with a reception class in England. Any changes to the EYFS curriculum, including what is delivered in reception year, must be based on robust evidence of what benefits a child’s whole development, not just their educational attainment.”