Ofsted and the EYFS reforms
At the Childcare & Education Expo that took place in Coventry, it was great to hear from a variety of early years experts sharing their tips and advice on some relevant sector topics.
In our last instalment, we heard what Kim Esnard – director of The Early Years Collective – had to say in her talk, ‘Transitioning into Triumph – the EYFS of Wellbeing for Practitioners’, and this article explores the EYFS reforms and Ofsted.
This session was delivered by Phil Minns, HMI and specialist adviser for early years and primary education at Ofsted, and we’ve summed up some of the key points and takeaways from the day…
The drivers behind the EYFS reforms
Kicking off the Ofsted conversation, Phil set the scene with a background to the intentions behind the reforms – recapping on the reasons they were implemented in the first place.
One of the main points Phil mentioned was data and workload for early years professionals, and how the reforms aimed to reduce this – allowing for more focus to be dedicated to the children and their development, instead of detracting from it.
He commented on how the early years inspection handbook was trying to remove some of the unintended consequences of the inspection process and draw attention back to the most important thing – learning.
In this same section, Phil spoke about ‘curriculum narrowing’ and how the new framework was also trying to address, and prevent, this from happening.
He gave the example of GCSE French and how there can be eight subjects within the syllabus but only three come up in the exam. So sometimes the curriculum is narrowed to only cover a handful of topics that are expected to come up.
The result may be that the child obtains the GCSE but if it came to A-Level, or actually visiting the country, they wouldn’t have the knowledge they’re supposed to have. Phil explained that this is effectively, “hitting the target, but missing the point”.
He explained that this was exactly the same in the early years setting, but that sometimes it’s trickier to spot because it’s more complex.
For instance, if practitioners are striving to achieve Good Learning Development (GLD), this could cause them to focus on specific areas of learning they think that child needs but, ironically, this can miss the point entirely and some of the areas that child really needs for the future – such as communication skills – can be missed.
Phil elaborated and said this is what happens when there’s a sole focus on assessment – which negatively impacts both the child’s learning and the practitioner’s workload.
Thinking about what children really need
In this part of the talk, Phil emphasised the importance of early years professionals not thinking about what Ofsted needs or wants – it should always be about the children. He stressed that this is what Ofsted is actually interested in.
And while assessment is important to understand what children know, need to do, and what they should go on to next, it should never be viewed or treated as a tick-box exercise – otherwise children will miss out.
He went on to talk about industry research that has proven that ‘to do well’, children need to have exposure and development opportunities in everything. Therefore, practitioners need to ensure they focus on the breadth of the curriculum for all children – particularly those who are in danger of being left behind.
While there are seven areas of learning in the foundation stage, Phil reiterated that the focus shouldn’t simply be on one of them, while neglecting others – they’re all linked and dependent on one another.
Maximising the time spent with children
Elaborating on the point above, Phil then spoke about how assessment should not entail too much time away from the children – as removing this high-quality interaction with adults will severely impact upon the child’s learning experience.
He also went on to talk about a sticking point with assessment through observation – as humans, we only evaluate what we can see. And with this alone, practitioners aren’t able to get a true picture of what a child is thinking or what they understand. He further built upon this point by reiterating that, likewise, if staff only listen, not all children will tell them what they know.
By focusing too much on the Early Learning Goals (ELGs), Phil explained that an awful lot of crucial information is lost. He also stressed that the ELGSs aren’t the curriculum – the education programme is – and that they shouldn’t be looked at in isolation.
Practitioners should instead prioritise knowing their children, putting activities in place that help them to learn new things, and also interact with them – it’s a balance which when achieved, helps to create an enriching learning experience. This is the education programme or curriculum.
What should the curriculum contain?
Opening up the debate on curriculum, Phil explained that people across the sector were worried that Ofsted was going to say what it should contain, but he affirmed this wasn’t the case at all.
He added that a curriculum is simply a way of setting out the aims of an education programme. He added that intent, implementation, and impact are the three key areas of a curriculum, and that it’s about setting out what practitioners – in line with the EYFS – want children to learn and achieve.
While the EYFS is the statutory requirement that provides the bare bones of the curriculum, it’s up to practitioners to flesh that out and turn it into something they understand how to deliver.
To help support early years professionals in this, Phil explained that it’s beneficial to think of a curriculum like a row of bicycles lined up against a wall.
He said: “Down one end you’d have bicycles for a two-year-old – probably a balance bike with nice chunky wheels and a low centre of gravity – and at the other end you’d put a bike that’s appropriate for a sixteen-year-old, which might be a BMX bike or road bike that you have to be kitted out in Lycra to get onto. In between those two bikes, are all the bikes that children are going to need to travel up.”
This analogy went on to illustrate the importance of observation and assessments in helping children’s progression. For example, practitioners dedicating the right time and sequential support to help children achieve riding the final bicycle – i.e. adding stabilisers, gradually increasing the gears, and offering a bit more support to those who need it, to prevent anyone falling off, or rather, getting left behind.
The importance of parental engagement
Linked to this, another section in Phil’s talk covered the value of practitioner-parent engagement and collaboration.
He shared how sometimes for children, education can feel like they’re sat on a station platform and the train is rushing past, with no opportunity to board. It’s all happening so fast and sometimes they don’t have the comprehension or understanding to figure out what’s going on. Yet while it’s crucial to ensure that children understand what’s happening as early as possible, the only way to do that is for the key people within the child’s life to know and understand what they can do, what they like don’t like, and what they need to do next.
Speaking to and listening to parents plays a huge role in this. Phil described how parents have said that staff don’t always listen to them or ask more questions about their child’s likes and dislikes – and this valuable dialogue is needed for holistic child development.
Ultimately, when it comes to assessments and child development, practitioners shouldn’t be afraid to stick to their professional guns and be confident in their knowledge of what’s important. Any evaluation should only be done if it’s useful and relevant – never done for data’s sake – and it certainly shouldn’t take staff away from the important work they do directly with children.
We hope this has helped to reaffirm what the EYFS reforms are really about. Stay tuned for the next instalment – keep checking back on our blog…