Nurseries Are Failing The Children, Says Ofsted

Young children are failing to get a good education in half the nursery and primary classes for three to five year olds, school inspectors warn in a report today. They are making insufficient progress in language and literacy, the most able are not being challenged and boys are already falling behind girls, says Ofsted.

Girls are achieving rapidly by engaging in creative activities but in too many classes boys are allowed to play with equipment or chase each other in “raiding” games.

The inspectors describe one nursery class where a girl giving out roles in the home corner typecast the boy. “I’m going to be dad and read the paper, you [to a girl] can be nanny and make the dinner and you [to a boy] can be the dog.” The boy was content with his role which went unchallenged by the teachers. “It was physical and demanded little engagement or talk because he lay on the floor, sniffed around the home corner and barked.”

The results of the first major survey of the foundation stage – for three- to five-year-olds -call into question the new curriculum imposed on nursery classes by the Government in 2003. Children are expected to meet around 117 “early learning goals” in six subject areas, including mathematical and physical development and communication, language and literacy.

Teachers must record the children’s progress with cameras and tape recorders and write reports the size of novels amounting to around 105,300 words for each five-year-old entering Key Stage One, the next stage of their primary education. But the Ofsted report says only a third of Year One teachers receiving the children took account of the reports of what they had achieved, with some saying they liked to “start from scratch”.

For the survey Ofsted visited schools and private and state nurseries selected to represent the full range of education for the age group. In one third of schools and nurseries standards in communication, language and literacy were lower than expected and speaking and listening skills were weak.

Only half were judged to be good or better and the quality of the curriculum was most successful in special schools and nurseries or units dealing exclusively with the age group.

“In half the primary schools visited the curriculum was effective but the remainder had significant weaknesses,” said the inspectors. Too often the needs of able children were not met because they were not always challenging enough or sufficiently matched to the needs of those learning English as an additional language.

One of the most worrying aspects of the report was the widening gap between girls and boys. “Girls achieved better than boys across all the areas of learning,” it said. The inspectors noted that in many classes “boys did not speak with as much confidence or show an awareness of the listener”. Whereas girls were able to play for sustained periods in a nursery shop, boys played on a bus constructed with large bricks.

“Girls applied themselves to table top activities more readily than boys and were willing to sit for longer periods of time without becoming restless. Boys enjoyed the practical elements of the curriculum, such as reversing wheeled toys into bays and in orientating jigsaw pieces,” said the report.

Miriam Rosen, Ofsted’s director for education, said children’s low achievement in early reading, writing and calculation in some settings must be tackled so they are able to achieve the best possible outcomes to set them on the right path for their future.”

Beverly Hughes, the minister for children, said she would next week be publishing a new early years foundation stage, based on the present early learning goals, for introduction in 2008.

“It will play a key role in improving the life chances of all children, regardless of their family circumstances, by raising both quality and consistency of standards across early settings,” she said.