My letter to Sir Michael Wilshaw in response to his letter to early years inspectors   22 comments

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22nd March 2014

Dear Sir Michael,

I wanted to write to you and congratulate you on the letter you sent out to the early years inspectors. You may.be surprised at such praise from me, because I am sure you must be aware that I do not hold you or Mr.Gove or Ms.Truss in very high regard.

However, for the very first time, I have seen just a hint of some level of understanding about what early years children do. In fact your list of activities that early years children might be engaged in, is fairly good – for someone who does not have an early years background.

I am referring to this list – which I am sure you will recognise from your letter to the inspectors

 learn new vocabulary and begin to use it in a meaningful way

 recognise and sing nursery rhymes and familiar songs

 enjoy listening to stories and looking at picture books

 build small towers while counting play bricks

 make shapes from modelling dough and begin to make marks on paper

 climb stairs and begin to play with a ball

 start to get dressed and undressed.

As I have said, you have shown a hint of some level of understanding – not much – but a hint.

To help your professional development, just a little pointer in the right direction – early years children are actually capable of a lot more – and from birth, not from 2 years of age.

The Development Matters guidance  document may be a good place to start to further your own knowledge. Such a useful document that I know many people still refer to,  unlike the Early Years Outcome document that really does not give much information – well it wouldn’t would it – given that it is just the first column from Development Matters. A bit like just having the first chapter of a Shakespeare masterpiece – waste of time and a huge lost opportunity.

However, my initial excitement that finally we might be getting somewhere, was short lived, as you go on (and on and on) about being ready for statutory schooling.

Being ready for statutory schooling should not be the focus – as statutory school starting age is the term AFTER they are 5 – not at 4 when most children enter school reception classes.

It would be worth reminding your inspectors that a lot of the older children in early years settings actually are still within the 30 – 50 month developmental ‘norms’ as described in Development Matters (and for that matter in Early Years Outcomes). Of course some children will be making progress as described within the 40 – 60 month descriptors, but it is unreasonable to think the children will be ready to start their statutory schooling, or all making progress in the same way, at the same time.

In fact, would it not be better to ask your school inspectors to expect this from children in reception classes? This way the pressure could be removed from children, from practitioners, from parents AND from inspectors.

Getting back to your letter, let’s look at your next bullet point list

help children to learn

teach children to listen to instructions and be attentive

teach children to socialise

 motivate children to try things for themselves

 support children to manage their personal needs

 challenge children to think and find out more

 encourage children to speculate and test ideas through trial and error

 provide good models of language

 develop children’s ability to express their ideas and use their imagination

 extend children’s vocabulary and teach them to use new words

teach children the early stages of mathematics and reading.

I was disappointed because although your list does include far more appropriate words like; challenge; develop; support; encourage – the word teach is the word that you have used most (and to help highlight this I have put it in red)

Of course all will depend on personal interpretation of what ‘teach’ means – and I am really worried that your understanding of the word teach, is very different to my understanding and that of many colleagues within the early years sector, because you continue in your letter to say;

Inspectors must expect adults to provide more than just supervision and care for children. They must also evaluate and report on whether:

 staff sufficiently focus on children’s learning

 staff spend enough time engaging in purposeful dialogue with children

 children have sufficient time to practise and reinforce what is being taught

 staff assess children’s skills, knowledge and abilities accurately and use this information to plan how to improve children’s progress

 staff have sufficient expertise to teach children basic skills in the three prime areas of learning as well as in literacy and mathematics

 the setting has a well-organised, regular and effective professional development programme that is improving the quality of teaching.

This list really does not show any understanding of how children learn through play – and often play that they self-select. Adult planned activities for early years children should be limited to setting up the environment and then observing what the children do within that environment as they develop the ‘Three Characteristics of Effective Learning’  – which to remind you are ; playing and exploring; active learning; creating and thinking critically.

Furthermore early years practitioners who ensure the overarching principles of the Early Years Foundation Stage are implemented in their settings, will provide children with the opportunities to develop the Three Characteristics of Effective Learning.

And as it appears you have forgotten about the overarching principles of EYFS 2012, I have taken the trouble to note them here;

Every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured.

Children learn to be strong and independent through positive relationships

Children learn and develop well in enabling environments, in which their experiences respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between practitioners and parents and / or carers; and

Children develop and learn in different ways and at different rates.

I am sure you will have noted that the  word ‘teach’ is not mentioned once, that nowhere does it say that children should be taught or expected to ‘catch up and / or all be ready for school (which would be impossible as in any year group there will be children who are a whole year older than the youngest in the group, and children who have had life experiences that mean that there is some temporary or long term delay in their development)

A lot of time and effort went into ensuring that EYFS 2012 was based on research, evidence from practice, and knowledge of early years experts, inspectors and practitioners. I know this because I was personally involved as a practitioner.

Many considered it to be an improvement on EYFS 2008 – and although not perfect and although needed further development, things were moving in the right direction.

So why do you think you need to interfere and set guidelines for the inspectors that are in conflict with the principles so clearly set out in EYFS 2012?

Stop interfering – children are unique human beings, they are not robots and cannot be programmed to develop quicker, just because you say they can; any more than you can demand that caterpillars turn to butterflies any quicker – and I have used this example on purpose because if the delicate balance of environment and development of a caterpillar is tampered with – the caterpillar does not turn into a butterfly – same with our children, tampering (interfering) hinders or prevents development.

I think you should be asking yourself WHY after years of constant changes at all levels in the education system, that we still have children leaving school who cannot read and write, why so many who do go on to get degrees, cannot get a job, why so many cannot maintain personal relationships.

Time you listened to those that actually understand how young children develop;

Time you understood that you cannot demand that children develop faster than they are developmentally able to

Time you trusted those dedicated professionals who work with young children, to do their job – which they will do.

Time you realised that you (and Governments past and present) are the issue not early years practitioners (or school teachers)

After all  – decades of Government policies and constant changes to those policies – have not made any difference

After all  – billions of £’s of tax payers money spent (without any agreement by those tax payers) on the implementation of those policies have not achieved the Government aims.

And finally – the children of this country (and their parents) are not pawns in a game that you can play a game of life with; they are not born with the sole purpose of providing a tax revenue;

They all have their own dreams, ambitions, and abilities – all of these should be respected; all of these should be equally valued;

And they all should be encouraged and supported to be able to support themselves financially, physically and emotionally – but to live their lives as they want to.

One size does not fit all – one lifestyle does not fit all – one benchmark of success does not fit all – we are all unique.

Penny Webb

Mother; Grandmother; registered childminder; and campaigner for the rights of children as set out in the United Nations ‘Rights of the Child.

22 responses to “My letter to Sir Michael Wilshaw in response to his letter to early years inspectors

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  1. I have taught early years and special needs for 20 years. You are so right. Well done.

  2. Brilliant piece of writing Penny. All your points are well made and one would hope taken on board everything you have to say. I agree some points are well thought out but there lacks a substantial understanding of our roles in the childcare sector. I still think nurturing and caring are forgotten at the expense of goals. Well done. Enjoyed reading it.

  3. Well written Penny. I find it a bit worrying that such a letter to inspectors was even written – as practitioners would expect to be inspected against the EYFS, not some letter they may not even be aware of

  4. Penny Webb, you have written an absolutely awesome letter. I think that all the points you used are the thoughts of us all, BUT I really don’t think many of us could have written them in such a way and so coherently as you have. You have made childminders proud and I think I honestly speak for us all, when I say” thank you from the bottom of our hearts, for taking the time and effort out I your very busy day to compose and send this on all of our behalfs”.
    Kindest regards
    Jodi Keating
    Childminder for 28yrs

  5. I agree with everything you have written Penny Webb You have covered everything we do thank you so much for working so hard and for writing this letter for us
    kind regards
    Ruth Kingshott
    childminder for 23 years

  6. Thank you so much Penny for standing up for all the hard working childminders out there. I have been childminding for 11 years now and love nothing more than to have a great time with all the children no matter what age or development they are at. As long as the children are thriving and happy and the parents continue to give me positive feedback I don’t need the EYFS drumming down my neck and someone them telling how to teach the children. Im a childminder not a teacher.

  7. Another fabby and well thought out piece Penny well done

  8. Fabulous letter. As a parent I am much more concerned with care and nurturing than I am about targets (sorry, ‘goals’). I particularly like that you have reminded Sir Michael that compulsory school age is term after 5th birthday.

    I am the parent of a 2010 summer born boy. I have not filled out an application for him to start school this September, I will be applying for a reception class place for when he is compulsory school age. It has been a difficult ‘David v Goliath’ type fight, and many other parents across England are having the same battles.

    I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that early years inspectors have already been briefed prior to Sir Michaels letter going out – my local pre-school was inspected recently. The inspector advised that they will be given a good rating, reason for not being awarded outstanding – not enough “rapid progress”. Scandalous.

  9. I have to echo Jodi’s comments’ Penny Webb, you have written an absolutely awesome letter. I think that all the points you used are the thoughts of us all, BUT I really don’t think many of us could have written them in such a way and so coherently as you have. You have made childminders proud and I think I honestly speak for us all, when I say” thank you from the bottom of our hearts, for taking the time and effort out I your very busy day to compose and send this on all of our behalfs”.
    Thank you Penny for all your hard work campaining for the rights of the child xx

  10. Brilliantly worded penny thank you for speaking on behalf not only of childminders but of the whole Early Years profession. I particularly welcome your address of the many points that refer to us as ‘teaching’ early years children in this letter. This goes against everything their own EYFS purports to advocate ie learning through play by facilitating growth for the unique child, providing an enabling environment and supporting positive relationships along with CoEL. None of these can be ‘taught’ and rightly so. All research and evidence in Early Years points to this kind of holistic approach as a blueprint for helping very young children achieve their full potential in later years. Why this govt and Ofsted insist on ignoring this evidence and contradicting their own policies is alarming to say the least. I worry for the emotional security of our youngest generation who appear to be guinea pigs for whatever knee jerk reaction the powers that be come up with when attempting to remedy our social and work ethic problems.

  11. Quite simply…….. Well said and thank you. Lucy Wilkins, Registered Childminder, 23 years.

  12. Fantastic letter Penny, as an Independent Childminder, Chair of a Childminding Association, Mother and Grandmother I thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting everything we all are so passionate about in your response, I wish I could write something so well and thought out. I only hope he personally reads it and takes note. I too thank you for all your hard work and campaigning on our behalf for the Rights of the Children. I wish you well on your forthcoming meetings and Thank You once more x

  13. Fantastic letter Penny, thank you for specking on are behalf you are one amazing lady xxx

  14. I have only been a childminder for just over a year but having come from a banking background where targets were the be-all and end-all it is a joy to work with children where each child is treated as an indvidual with their own likes and dislikes and different ways of learning and developing. Children cannot be compartmentalised and shouldnt be used to boost targets or make political points. Thanks again Penny for all your hard work.

  15. I’ve been putting off reading your reply Penny, I think I’ve been a bit disheartened, and the way you started is wasn’t encouraging to me when, having read his letter, I felt exactly the same as you clearly do, but I’m glad I finally did, because it really cheered me back up to see that I wasn’t the only one to spot those things. That was a long sentence, sorry. I love your letter. Thankyou for writing it. I am constantly impressed by your determination and courage to keep going in the face of all obstacles. I would maybe go slightly further, and point out several more points from when children leave us, but they aren’t our remit as early years practitioners. For example, there is no statutory schooling in this country. There is a legal requirement for education, not schooling, and he has already been told to leave home edders alone the last time he tried to interfere. Countries like finland, which focus their education system on the children, not the curriculum and results, have the consistently high results that we wish we had. Oh, and they don’t start formal til 7, until then they play, with highly educated childcare staff, with all teachers being required to have a masters degree. Teaching is a highly respected career. But I am unable to control my rants to the subject at hand, and you are great at it.

  16. Penny the ECA are writing an open letter to the papers I have a copy which I have signed but dont know how to forward it to you do you have an email address and then you can post it if you want to

    • Thank you Laura – I am already a signatory. This letter is not supposed to be in the public domain yet – but should be being passed privately to those who might be interested – so I thank you for not posting the letter here and for offering to email it to me.

      I have been a member of ECA almost from the beginning, and I am now very involved with Save Childhood Movement, Too Much Too Soon campaign.

      Thank you again for your professionalism in passing on information

  17. Thank you Penny as always to the point ! I agree with everything you wrote and I only hope this pomposity comes to an end very soon ! Thank you for being our voice !

  18. Thanks Penny well said xx

  19. Penny… a brilliant reply… you put into words what we all think. You’re an inspiration.

  20. Penny! Well done and many thanks for speaking out for childminders. Many a time we are made to feel like we are stupid and don’t have a clue what we are doing with and for the children. You have just silenced our critics and proved we are professionals in our own right. Thumps up!!

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