Thank you to everyone who attended the Zoom OBC on Monday 6 June. It was a great turnout given so many of you were still recovering from eating a tonne of scones and cream over the Jubilee Bank Holiday.
The format was as usual. We began with an introduction from me, laying out the challenges which right now all wrap around the staffing crisis, plus a warning about the ratio debate and the foolish view of the Government that adding more children to the ratio will ease costs for parents! At the end of the conversation, we pushed for a better and more independent complaints process, something we feel would strengthen our trust in the Ofsted process.
The presentations were from HMI Wendy Ratcliff, Principal Officer for Early Education Policy and HMI Phil Minns, Specialist Adviser for Early Education and Primary. The presentations covered Ofsted’s strategy, education recovery and the curriculum for communication and language.
(Click here to access the full presentation)
The presentation started from the sobering fact that children aged 2 have spent almost 80% of their life in the pandemic and those aged 18 months have spent 100% of their life in it. Those born at the beginning of the first lockdown are just having their second birthdays. The research completed by Ofsted found that lockdowns, restrictions and reduced availability of parent and toddler groups had resulted in these children having a lack of interaction beyond their close family.
Feedback from providers suggested that:
Language and communication skills of children were not as strong
Children joining their settings were struggling with social skills and settle with unfamiliar people and were more wary.
Some were shyer and quieter, overwhelmed in larger groups and providers attributed this to children having limited social interaction at home.
Some babies have struggled to respond to basic facial expressions, which may be due to reduced contact and interaction with others during the pandemic.
Mask wearing adults impacted on children’s ability to see lip movements and mouth shapes.
Babies were particularly anxious and not used to seeing different faces.
Babies physical development was delayed as well as their ability to crawl and walk.
Despite these challenges, children were able to settle and quickly grew in confidence.
From the Autumn research, providers said that the challenges of the pandemic had affected staff well-being. Some felt that the increased emotional support that children needed, especially those settling into settings, had placed a strain on staff. Providers reported difficulties retaining high-quality staff with parallel difficulty of recruiting skilled practitioners. This has affected the quality of teaching and implementing catch-up strategies. Many providers have encouraged staff to complete online training and, in some cases, specialist training to support children’s speech and language development.
Between January and mid-February 2022, around 4% of early years inspections were deferred for COVID-related reasons. Some childminders have closed temporarily due to testing positive for COVID and some nurseries were closing or merging rooms or closing completely due to staff absence. Providers have found it difficult to recruit staff. There is a heavier reliance on bank staff to keep rooms open and staff have taken on cooking and cleaning duties. With regards to occupancy, numbers have reduced because children moved to school earlier or remained at home with parents working from home. Fewer parents were accessing funding and providers reported not seeing some children especially the funded 2-year-olds.
Some providers are worried about their long-term sustainability. Between September 2021 and February 2022 64 childminders completed the Ofsted post-resignation survey and 23% of them cited the pandemic as the reason for closing.
Ofsted found some interesting research in Further Education and Skills relating specifically to the Early Years sector. Further education and training providers found that learners missed out on the integration of theoretical and practical element of the training. This was noticed in practice where theoretical elements of the curriculum were not reinforced limiting the learners’ progress. Specifically, Early Years apprentices struggled to recall and apply underpinning theory and found it hard to remember aspects of the curriculum, including key information about the EYFS.
There is a real disparity in the vocabulary experienced by different children (correlated to social class). This disparity has been repeatedly found in research since the landmark study by Hart and Risley (1995). Their key finding of the relationship between socio-economic status and volume of caregiver speech has been reliably replicated in subsequent research. The gap between exposure to vocabulary between social classes is clear. The social class difference was in the amount of vocabulary used and the stark vocabulary deficit of the disadvantaged child. Adult vocabulary reflects what you know about the world and a good vocabulary allows you to communicate effectively. There’s no better index to accumulated knowledge and general competence than the size of a person’s vocabulary. Vocabulary size is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainment abilities — not just skills in reading, writing, listening and speaking but also general knowledge of science, history and the arts.
Language comprehension (necessary for both reading and writing) starts from birth. It only develops when adults talk with children about the world around them and the books (stories and non-fiction) they read with them, and enjoy rhymes, poems and songs together.
Skilled word reading, taught later, involves both the speedy working out of the pronunciation of unfamiliar printed words (decoding) and the speedy recognition of familiar printed words.
Writing involves transcription (spelling and handwriting) and composition (articulating ideas and structuring them in speech, before writing).
A clear curriculum enables adults to focus on what children need to learn next. A good understanding of the seven areas of learning equate to a good understanding of child development. Day-to-day observations and ongoing assessment allow practitioners to find out what it is that their children can already do, what they already know and what interests them. It also helps them to identify what children are finding tricky to learn, giving those adults the opportunity to provide some extra help or support. In this way, assessment is part of the day-to-day delivery (or implementation) of the curriculum.
Then using this knowledge, they can then decide what it is that they want their children to learn next. On inspection, Ofsted will explore the extent to which leaders identify what children cannot do, and then help them to do it.
Providers must have arrangements in place to support children with SEN or disabilities, however, in early years children do not usually have a formal diagnosis and therefore it is important that practitioners do not only offer support where there is a formal diagnosis of SEND. Early identification in early years is crucial, along with effective intervention, to help children receive the support that they need and reach their potential.
We can reduce the likelihood of a child falling behind if we use assessment well. The bullet points illustrate some suggestions.
* Knowing the children well and an effective key person system can support this in practice
* Listening when parents express concerns about their child’s development
* Using the ongoing daily observations of staff and planned ‘checkpoints’
* Responding quickly to a concern, early identification and intervention are key to helping children to reach their potential.
* Being ambitious for all children, recognising that some children do not benefit from the same advantages as others and being determined that they will do well.
In this way we help children to keep up and reduce the need for catch-up
Thinking about composites and components can help practitioners to identify where further support is needed, by both parents and other professionals.
Effective assessment can reduce the likelihood of a child falling behind. Early identification and intervention are key to helping children to reach their potential.
Settings should be ambitious for all children, recognising that some children do not benefit from the same advantages as others and being determined that they will do well.
We also had two presentations on food and nutrition, the first from Edwina Revel (Programme Director, Early Start Group Ltd, Early Start Nursery and Training Centre). Click here to access the full presentation.
One of the requirements of the EYFS is for the children to access healthier, balanced and nutritious food and drink. This means having a balanced and varied diet giving children the energy to learn, develop, play, grow, concentrate and be active. 1.5m children attend an Early Years setting and the assumption is we can help to address the poor nutrition and growing obesity nationally. In full day care children can receive up to 90% of their energy and nutrient requirements across the day.
The Department for Education recommend The Eat Better, Start Better practical guide which helps providers meet the requirement. The food and drink guidelines divide children’s energy and nutrient requirements across the meals and snacks you provide (see slide) in the following proportions (across a full day care setting).
As per the slide above you will notice some issues in terms of variety and balance. Good food means freshly prepared, sustainably sourced and seasonal available to all children, not just those who can afford it.
The second presentation on food and nutrition was shared by LEYF’s own Thomas Abrams (Heath and Food Lead). Click here to access the full presentation. Thomas asked one powerful question: Do we need Mandatory food standards in settings which are achievable, evidence based, monitored and enforced? What do you think?
The theme of the questions are the ones that always worry us, fairness of inspectors, understanding of the challenges of recruitment and the impact Covid has had on so many more children and the independence of the complaint’s procedure. This is the only weak point of a Zoom OBC because it is really good to hear from people in a room. The questions and answers are available to read in full here.
London Road Show
Due to high demand, we have arranged an additional session to take place on the morning of Friday 24 June. Please note that spaces are available on a first-come first-serve basis.
Link to register: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/350479572837
Don’t forget the Ofsted mythbusting page which is really helpful to address some of the confusions we may experience. In July 2021, Ofsted launched a brand new page on gov.uk: ‘Ofsted EIF inspections and the EYFS’ for both registered early years providers and for those delivering the EYFS in schools, answering the most frequently asked questions and dispel myths on inspection practice and the EYFS. They hope in time this will become the ‘one-stop-shop’ for all EY EIF inspection related queries to dispel unhelpful ‘inspection’ rumours within the sector quickly and efficiently. EY providers are encouraged to get in touch if they come across other frequent misunderstandings which would be helpful to address.
A full video of the OBC on 6 June 2022 will be uploaded onto the OBC website.