Back to Listings

Ofsted reveals new focus on earliest years of education

By Rachel LawlerAmanda Spielman

Ofsted has revealed a new five-year strategy, with a focus on improving the earliest years of education to help support children’s recovery after the Covid-19 lockdowns.

The strategy comes after recent Ofsted reports have noted the “serious impact” of the pandemic on children’s learning, particularly communication and language skills as well as social and emotions development.

The strategy also highlights concerns around the number of childminders and qualified staff leaving the sector.

In the next five years, Ofsted says it will:

  • develop the evidence base around the early years learning and development curriculum through its research and insights programme
  • develop specialist training on early years education for its workforce to enhance its understanding of what high-quality early education looks like
  • raise awareness and promote a better understanding of education and care in children’s early years

Training and regulations
Ofsted says it will “help make sure every child’s earliest experience of education is as good as it can be”, using research and increased training for its workforce.

It also revealed plans to improve regulation of group-owned providers and work with the government to “simplify the regulatory regime for childminders”.

SEND inspection framework
Other measures introduced include plans to develop a new SEND inspection framework and working with the DfE to increase its powers to act when children are being educated or cared for in unregistered settings.

Ofsted also said that it aims to improve the diversity of its staff in the next five years.

Increased support
Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said: “We recognise the outstanding work early years providers have done to help children recover what they missed, and this strategy aims to increase our support for a workforce that is so deeply devoted to what it does.

“Whether it is through developing specialist training for our inspection workforce or through sharing our own insights, we will do everything in our power to help every child gain the best start in life.”

Welcome focus
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: “We know that the first five years of a child’s life are absolutely pivotal to their long-term learning and development. As such, we welcome Ofsted’s increased focus on supporting the early years sector in its new five-year strategy.  

“That said, even with these positive intentions, it’s difficult to see how much actual change Ofsted, as an independent inspection body, will be able to bring about. Even before the onset of Covid-19, early years providers were grappling with a raft of challenges, such as staffing shortages and immense financial pressures as a result of years of government underfunding - and there is no doubt that these challenges have been hugely exacerbated by the pandemic, with more and more settings being pushed to the brink of closure.

“As such, while Ofsted’s pledge to develop an evidence base on what good early years practice looks like, and to issue specialist training for early years inspectors, are broadly positive policies, these alone will do little to tackle many of the concerning trends that Ofsted has rightly identified, such as continued recruitment and retention challenges and sustained declines in provider numbers.

“Ultimately, what the early years sector needs is adequate investment to ensure that settings are able to deliver quality care and education to children and families, something that is all the more important given the impact of the pandemic on children’s early development. While we hope that the inspectorate will continue to highlight the vital importance of the early years sector, ultimately, tangible change is something that only the government, and not Ofsted, can deliver. "

Find out more
Read the new strategy here