In September 2019, Ofsted changed the way they inspect early years. Within the sector, this has made for interesting discussions and a little bit of uneasiness, as change often does. The legal framework we follow is the Early Years Foundations Stage document and this has not yet changed. It lays the foundation for what must happen within nurseries. Split into the Learning & Development and Safeguarding & Welfare requirements, it also forms the basis of the educational curriculum delivered to children.
The message from Ofsted is that they are now even more focussed on what it is like for a child in nursery and although they will still consider how well children are cared for and the leadership & management of the nursery, they will also have a sharper focus on the quality of education children receive whilst in setting (the aim of the curriculum) and the implementation of this (how it is delivered by staff).
We have welcomed and fully embraced the spotlight and focus being firmly back on the children and find Ofsted’s view of inspections as ‘evolution not revolution’ very refreshing. It has enabled us to explore further our values as a nursery (our long term intent for children) and informed our development, helping us to look at what we do now and where we can further improve.
We fully recognise the importance of the adult role in early years. These years lay the foundation for all that is to come, with the brain at its most receptive to learning between birth and 3 years. Children develop very quickly during their time with us and it is essential that practitioners do all they can to understand and support each individual child’s developmental pathway.
The “word gap” is a phrase used to describe a real and complex problem about the dramatic difference in the number of words children from different social economic groups hear and understand. This is worrying as young children need good language skills to be able to learn to read and do well in school as well as to make friends and manage their own behaviour. Reducing the number of children who start school with delayed language is something we can positively impact by an ambitious and creative curriculum.
We do not believe in sitting children down with worksheets to get them ready for Reception. This is not school readiness and is not our ethos. We follow a curriculum based on a good balance of child-initiated and adult-led learning. Our planning is divided between the “WHAT”, this is what we would like a child to learn and the “HOW”, which is where we offer activities designed to create awe and wonder and ignite a child’s curiosity to learn.
Our planning for children’s learning is simple and it is designed this way to reduce paperwork and time spent away from being and playing with children. On a whiteboard in each room, individual children have specific and targeted “next steps” in development, designed to challenge, interest and motivate them in their learning. These learning intentions are decided upon using what we already know a child can do and achieve (taken from our observations and summative assessment from six tracking cycles per year).
Where a child needs more help in a specific area, for example, language development, staff will consider a more targeted approach, such as using our WellComm speech and language toolkit. When looking at children’s development individually, we also look at groups of children together to see if a specific focus emerges for the whole setting or different groups. It is then we adopt different strategies to close gaps in all areas of learning such as delivering stay & play sessions, adapting the environment or whole group training for staff.
In addition to our specific next steps from tracking, we respond to children spontaneously, following their lead and supporting their interests. Children are far more motivated to learn when the activities provided for them include something they love or are excited by. To support this, we use a great format called a “PLOD” (Possible Lines of Development) which allows us to respond to a child’s interest in a manner that covers the breadth of the curriculum.
We provide children with various resources to allow for open-ended and structured play. This is freely accessible in the form of our “Continuous Provision” and is continually enhanced by the adult for a specific purpose such as supporting a theme or interest. A skilful practitioner will know when to engage in a child’s play and when to give children the space to create, test theories and ideas or overcome their own challenges. Children have a balance of independent and exploratory play, group session times led by an adult and activities on a one to one basis with their key person or co-key person.
Learning through play can be a scary concept for some. It may appear that children are not being challenged or that they are merely passing the time. Early childhood theorists such as Froebel, Montessori and Steiner through to 20th century pioneers like Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner have helped us to understand more about the importance of play as integral to the development of children. Our routines are designed to deliver a balance of “discovery” time and adult initiated activities as well as recognising and valuing educational opportunities through key times like story-telling and routine lunch time, where children will talk about what they are eating and where it comes from.
We continue to deliver our curriculum based around play all the way through to when children are starting to prepare for a transition into school. We work closely with local primary schools and encourage a shared understanding that ‘school readiness’ is about growing confident, independent and emotionally prepared children, ready to take on the next chapter in their learning. We do this by planning focused activities such sharing stories about starting schools, inviting teachers in to setting and helping children to begin identifying the letters in their name. We also focus on physical development, supporting children to be independent in dressing by introducing ‘P.E’ times, where children learn to change clothes and of course support children with independent toilet training. We create role play areas where children can play around with school objects and items and wear school uniforms, they can play together and with adults, taking on the pretend role of teacher or listening for the register.
The important thing in all of our curriculum planning and delivery though is the impact. Seeing children grow in confidence and skills, watching them demonstrate all the characteristics of effective learning and having schools tell us that our children arrive at school prepared and ready, sees us well on the way to achieving our ultimate and long term vision, for every child who comes to our nursery, to reach their full potential.