MumsnetGuestBlogs (MNHQ) Thu 14-Nov-13 15:57:35

Ofsted chair: Children should begin early education at two to be 'school-ready' at five

Last week, Ofsted chief Sally Morgan sparked controversy when she suggested that children should begin their education at two years of age. In this guest blog, she expands on her suggestion – and explains why she thinks that a ‘wraparound’ educational model could help counteract educational disadvantage.

Sally Morgan

Chair of Ofsted

Posted on: Thu 14-Nov-13 15:57:35

(70 comments )

Lead photo

Early education: should children start sooner?

The importance of the quality of the provision small children have in early years settings is well documented, but as I found last week in the reactions to a speech I made, the whole topic is quite contentious! "Early years" provision includes nurseries, childminders, nannies, play groups and, of course, these are often part-time and mixed with time at home with parents or grandparents.

Despite the impression given by some of the media headlines, I do not believe children should start formal schooling at the age of two. Around the country, however, I have seen inspiring examples where infant and primary schools are also delivering high quality nursery provision for their local children. Indeed the 3-18 model is working successfully in many academies up and down the UK. I have had the good fortune to see some of these first-hand, and to talk to headteachers who know it has an impact.

In short, I would like to see more of this type of provision. We must ensure children dealt the toughest hand in life have access to highest quality pre-school education. Of course this should be led by play and discovery, but it also helps to prepare them for school. We should not be scared of that. The debate that has been played out in recent days sometimes seems to miss that point. Good nurseries are both caring and stimulating - places where young children develop social skills in readiness for schools. This includes things many of us take for granted, but not experienced by all young children: sitting and listening to an adult reading a book and looking together at the pictures, colouring and painting, sitting round a table having a meal, building with bricks. There is a false division between playing in a sandpit and emptying sand from a big pot into two smaller ones and seeing what happens; when does play become early education?

Nurseries attached to schools are uniquely placed to help young children master the skills and learning habits that will lead to success in primary school and beyond.


Here is where I get annoyed with the arguments from those who call for us to copy the Scandinavian style of children not starting school until they are seven. In the strictest sense of formal education, that might be true - but in these countries younger children will go to kindergarten. It seems to me that we are often fighting over terminology and semantics.

The beauty of the 3-18 model - and my argument is that this could easily extend to two year olds - is that it offers children the best chance of being "school ready" by the age of five. Nurseries attached to schools are uniquely placed to help young children master the skills and learning habits that will hopefully lead to success in primary school and beyond.

I know from the teachers I meet and the visits I make to schools, that a depressingly high number of children start reception class with the bare minimum of social and communication skills. This can be for a whole host of reasons. Clearly we have a duty to tackle the inequalities and disadvantage that some families face. But regardless of the root causes and how they can be addressed, we must surely take any steps we can to improve the life chances of these children. And this is not about absolving parents of responsibility, or somehow saying they should not play a part in their childs development, it is simply about offering more support where it is needed and can make the most difference.

It is good to see that politicians of all parties are talking about the importance of good early years provision for the most disadvantaged children. While I am not advocating that funding should be restricted to only one model it is surely sensible to encourage good schools to embrace nursery provision as part of their basic offer to parents and children.

Finally, lets not forget the importance of what is at stake here. The figures are stark; at present, by the age of five, there is a 19 month gap in attainment levels between the poorest children and their affluent peers. This is a disgrace and we need bold, brave measures to bring it to an end.

By Sally Morgan

Twitter: @Ofstednews

DeepThought Thu 14-Nov-13 16:07:39

Oh yes agree but please don't imply that you can only get the very best care education and experiences at school nurseries. A proficient childminder can offer all this.

DeepThought Thu 14-Nov-13 16:08:28

Oh yes agree but please don't imply that you can only get the very best care, education and experiences at school nurseries. A proficient childminder can offer all this.

nannynick Thu 14-Nov-13 17:02:35

Learning Through Play (was that the Preschool Playgroups Association byline many years ago?) is what young children do. They do it at home, in group care, and even out and about at the playground, park, on a train ride.

""Early years" provision includes nurseries, childminders, nannies, play groups and, of course, these are often part-time and mixed with time at home with parents or grandparents." Yet it still seems to come across that it's better to send a child to a nursery attached to a school.... why? Education can take place in various places, some nurseries have introduced Forest School where education takes place outdoors.

As a nanny children I care for have often attended a pre-school/nursery for a couple of sessions a week. The combination of different early years settings I feel enables children to experience different things - they socialise with peer group at pre-school, they go out and about with me experiencing the world around them.

Not all children are lucky enough to have parents who can afford to have a nanny plus pay for pre-school/nursery, many children may not go to pre-school at all. So expanding free provision of education to 2 year olds sounds good in principle but nothing is ever free, it comes at a cost and I hope that cost isn't the demise of community pre-schools by making parents feel they should be using the nursery at their local school.

NorthernShores Thu 14-Nov-13 17:02:51

Really? We qualified for the 2 year funding as my husband was made redundant. However we have a rich family life and I'm really not sure starting her early would benefit her, so we are going to wait until next Sept when she is 2 yr 9 months... that seems early enough. And even then she will just do 3 mornings until the following year.

We will continue to do playgroups. I can't really see the benefit to a pre-very verbal child from a "good" supportive family.

I thought most of the benefits only showed up in those whose home lives were difficult?

NorthernShores Thu 14-Nov-13 17:04:13

And gosh yes - I love our local community run pre-school. I really wouldn't want to send my child into the institution of school even earlier.

MrsDeVere Thu 14-Nov-13 17:10:03

As an Early Years Professional I can only think of one response to putting children into formal settings at two years old.

Over.My.Dead.Body.

How about this? Instead of getting children 'school ready' we make schools 'child ready' and stop trying to shove tiny children into a model that does not work?

Free play, free flow nurseries...fine.
Early years settings being used to get toddlers ready for school...no way.
I visit many nursery settings in my work and the ones attached to school are always run more along the school model. The ideology cannot help but seep in.
I understand that your idea is not for children to start formal education but I think you are being naive if you think this will not happen.
This is one of the reasons my children didn't attend school nurseries.

If our children started formal schooling two years later we wouldn't have half the issues we do now.

We are expecting children who are barely four to sit at desks, listen to adults talking for prolonged periods, go without adequate rests, be inside far too long and THEN we complain that they are not 'school ready'.

I also think the advantages for disadvantaged children is overstated. How much difference do you really think it will make to a 14 year old kid in a tower block that he in school at 2 instead of 4?

There is a huge push to get kids into two year funded places at the moment. Its seen as a panacea for all social ills. It can disadvantage children who are discharged from over stretched community services because they are now in education.

And don't get me started on the problems it is throwing up for parents of children with disabilities.

gruffalosmile Thu 14-Nov-13 17:30:09

I completely agree with posters above, I am the playleader at a small community run preschool, and I think we may have many advantages in being NOT like school. Young children need to learn more than just how to behave at school. They need time to be free, to dig up worms, to splash in puddles, to run about outside, to sit and play with playdoh for hours on end, to cuddle their caregivers, to mess about with cooking and sit with an adult to read books and talk about what is on their minds. The children who have the biggest problems with "school readiness" are those whose parents don't have the skills or the interest to do these things with them at home - OR the ones whose parents are over keen and pushing them to read and write before their little hands can even hold a pencil properly. In neither of these cases would going to a school-like setting earlier help with that! A part time, independent preschool (or nursery, or childminder, or playgroup, or time with Grandma or whatever) can provide the time and space these children need just to BE CHILDREN. We see the reception children at the primary school next door sitting at desks, counting, writing on whiteboards - they get hardly any time to play outside. I think it's terribly sad! They have a lovely sandpit and are supposed to have forest school but more often than not they are inside, doing structured activities. I don't think making our setting part of a school would do anything other than make us more like school. Early years is a distinct and valuable stage, let's value it and keep it special.

BlackberrySeason Thu 14-Nov-13 17:30:29

I strongly disagree with this. My son has had hearing problems and is speech delayed. His highly qualified and early years experienced SALT has advised that we keep him at home until 3. This is because in her view for him to be at home having one on one time with me is far better for his language development than being in groups at preschool.

Children learn through play and iirc there is no research to confirm that children under 3 get any benefit from group Childcare other than those who are from homes where they may not be getting the quality interactions they need for optimum development.

KatherinaMinola Thu 14-Nov-13 18:49:15

How about this? Instead of getting children 'school ready' we make schools 'child ready' and stop trying to shove tiny children into a model that does not work?

This.

merrymouse Thu 14-Nov-13 19:03:18

I think the problem with this blog is the phrase 'school ready'. The school is there to educate children, the children aren't there for the benefit of the school. Early education should support children, and schools should adapt to the child, not vice versa.

Many schools are chaotic and noisy with too little space for lunch and play and some 4 year olds just can't cope with this no matter how much they are told to stand in line. What they need is calm predictability and the chance to enjoy learning (see any major early years educational philosophy of the last 100 years).

I don't disagree with children being in group settings and agree that Scandinavian countries often have children in group settings from a young age.

gorionine Thu 14-Nov-13 19:08:54

N.E.V.E.R!

How about this? Instead of getting children 'school ready' we make schools 'child ready' and stop trying to shove tiny children into a model that does not work?

Ditto!

MaryPoppinsBag Thu 14-Nov-13 19:10:25

Sending children to school nurseries younger than 3 is a crazy idea. They need smaller settings with staff who have time for cuddles. Like pre school and childminders. Staff who don't have their eye on the year 1 phonics test!
And they only need a couple of sessions and even then they don't really need to go.

I'm a CM and the 2 year old I look after just wouldn't cope with a school based setting. She is staying with me until she is due to start school nursery in September. I cannot imagine her going to school now she is not emotionally or physically ready.

I provide a lot of things schools do anyway, maybe not on such a grand scale - I don't have the money for resources that school have. But my 'setting' (hate that word) provides learning opportunities in a more natural home environment. Schools are massive places and quite scary.

How do you tackle the toilet training / sleep requirements of two year olds?

We need to stop putting so much pressure on our children, as a mother of an 8 year old and 4 year old I am sick of it! My 4 year old has an Individual Action Plan first term in FS2 because he didn't want to sit at a desk and write his name. 2 weeks later he can do. They are also worried about his social skills, I think he struggles with the large class size and is just quiet/ shy. He is an articulate, clever and rather funny boy, but school obviously don't get this out of him.

Why not tackle the issue of class size instead? Give children and staff a chance.

Mine and my son's birthdays are days apart. Yet when I was his age I hadn't even started school, I started in January. By January he will have been in school for 16 months. That's why he is not ready! (I'm 34).

Leave children to be children!

Tackle the issues behind the problem. The answer is not to take them off the parents and send them to school.

SatinSandals Thu 14-Nov-13 19:13:10

One size doesn't fit all. If the child comes from a very disadvantaged background it is great to pick them up at 2 years to supply what the parent isn't supplying BUT it isn't necessary for all children.

BlackberrySeason Thu 14-Nov-13 19:23:08

Interesting and largely unanimous opinions so far on this thread!

I just can't understand why anyone who has ever seen a 2 year old would think this would work.

MrsDeVere Thu 14-Nov-13 19:25:39

I am sure that I am not the only person who is irked by the continuous references to 'the disadvantaged' (I don't mean your's Satin).

I am sure to those of us who are confident that our children would never be placed in that category, it all seems reasonable.

But to those of us who know damn well our kids would tick most of the boxes on the list, its beginning to really piss us off.

I know full well that poverty is a disadvantage in many ways but poverty does NOT = uninterested parent.

Equally affluence does NOT equal = happy, engaged parents.

For those children truly at risk due to consistent and prolonged stimulation, this is only a sticking plaster and I can pretty much guarantee it will lead to a false sense of security and an excuse of statutory agencies to step back.

A blanket policy of 2 year old schooling to pick up the very small minority of children who are genuinely damaged by the lack of parental engagement is madness.

It seems to me that this whole policy is based on the fact that many four year olds are behaving like FOUR YEAR OLDS when they get to school.

Is it really seeking to change the natural development of young children? confused

MrsDeVere Thu 14-Nov-13 19:27:25

consistent and prolonged LACK of stimulation blush

merrymouse Thu 14-Nov-13 19:30:44

Dd attended a nursery attached to a school when she was 3. She was only there for a term before we moved house. However, she was very shy, spent all her time with one of the volunteers and the best you could have said was the experience was neither here nor there. It didn't prepare her for anything.

DS (who has some SEN) attended a very structured montessori nursery (ie they were all trained to put things away and follow certain routines) and floundered badly in reception, partly because of SEN to be fair, but also because he found it too chaotic.

What is nursery supposed to be? If it is a day centre for children from families who need support that is one thing (and what has happened to sure start funding?) If its funded childcare that is another. However preparing children to be 'school ready' should not be an issue.

SatinSandals Thu 14-Nov-13 19:32:43

By disadvantaged I don't mean by money-I mean by attitude. Those without money can still talk to their child, visit the library regularly etc etc. I mean those who offer no stimulation. In those cases it is better to get them early, teach them to share, converse, dress themselves etc-the type of thing that most of us take for granted.

BlackberrySeason Thu 14-Nov-13 19:36:11

I understand what you mean Mrsdevere. My DF was from a very cash-strapped background but his dm and DF were amazing. He did not lack input at all. That's why I spoke of lack of quality interactions as I think this is not directly correlated with income/social background.

gorionine Thu 14-Nov-13 19:36:57

A blanket policy of 2 year old schooling to pick up the very small minority of children who are genuinely damaged by the lack of parental engagement is madness.
Totally agree, it equates to take children that are perfectly happy and cared for in a loving home because some might not be. Money has never, as far as I know, bought neither happiness nor love and is not per se a sufficient enough reason to decide to uproot a 2yo from their familiy for 6 hours a day!

merrymouse Thu 14-Nov-13 19:37:34

And honestly, at dd's nursery there were 24 children 1 teacher and perhaps 3 untrained volunteers. How on earth they were supposed to improve delayed social and communication skills in a couple of hours a day is anyone's guess.

BlackberrySeason Thu 14-Nov-13 19:38:49

Also, 'early education'??!! 2 year olds don't need education!! angry

SatinSandals Thu 14-Nov-13 19:54:06

You just need early intervention for those who don't get stimulus at home.

Catchhimatwhat Thu 14-Nov-13 20:15:52

Personally, I just think it is amazing how they will get all these well qualified young people, with degrees in child development and education, bags of patience and kindness, all happy to work for minimum wage, in a room full of snotty tantrumming toddlers, with pooey nappies.

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