Nick Hudson asks a really important question in his blog ……   4 comments

……. which I hope many people – especially those who work with early years children, or who are experts in the early years field – will take the time to answer.

Indeed – Gill Jones has suggested that it would be good if all those involved with the Ofsted Big Conversation would take the time to look at Nick’s blog and think about the question individually and in regional groups.

If you have not seen Nick’s blog here  is  the link      Nick Hudson blog on TES . The blog has the title ‘Teaching the Under Fives’

To aid the purpose of this blog I have copied and pasted to two paragraphs of Nick’s blog that I want to focus on because I want to be sure that readers can read Nick’s words – not my version of them.

However, within the copied text there are some words in blue – these are my words – not Nick’s and are my comment on what Nick is saying.

The first one has the sub heading What Works’ – as follows

What works

We are not interested in prescribing how or what providers should teach. That is already set out clearly in the Early Years Foundation Stage.

Totally agree – it is clearly set out – but it would appear that some inspectors either have not read it or not understand it.  I know that Ofsted have taken the training of early years inspectors back in house and hopefully over a period of time things will improve – but for now there are a lot of settings that are getting lower grades because the inspector who inspects them has a personal opinion on what should be taught and how. Unfortunately, when those settings complain, their complaint is unlikely to be upheld, because the complaints system is not working at the moment.


We are interested in seeing if providers themselves are focused on helping children to learn and develop to be ready for school. Our current evaluation schedule for inspecting early years provision makes this clear. Teaching, as our evaluation schedule says, is a broad term which covers the many different ways by which early years staff help young children to learn.

I agree with Nick – there are many ways through which early years staff can help young children learn. There are also many things that can not be ‘taught’ but which are just taken on board through the provision of appropriate environments and modelling by adults through everyday routines.

As to if providers are focussed on helping children to learn and develop – and to be ready for school – most are BUT the providers who get drawn into the pre planning and the tick box assessment are the least focussed on helping the children because they are focussed on filling in forms and getting children to take part in all the lovely experiences planned for them – rather than going with the child and letting the child lead their own learning. The biggest problem at the moment is that many inspectors have personal opinions about just what  is helping children to learn and what is not – and their opinion often differs from that of the qualified / experience practitioners who look after the children.

We want to see adults assess what children know, understand and can do, as well as take into account their interests and how well they learn. Early years staff will then be able to plan the child’s next steps and monitor their progress.

Yet again I agree with Nick – as  of course – this is how it should be – and actually how it has always been – long before the days of EYFS, planning, formal assessment and next steps. In years gone by this was done mainly in practitioners heads and by talking to the parents. I have been in childcare for over 30 years – and I can say ‘hand on heart’ that things have got worse not better – children are stressed, they are pushed into doing things they are not ready for and often have no interest in, practitioners spend hours of their own time on paperwork and preparing activities, parents are made to feel their child is failing and that they as parents should provide more and more formal activities filling every minute of a child’s day – and often evenings as well.

My experience is that inspectors want to see written assessment forms and pre planning, they want  details about where the child is at any moment in time – and should a practitioner have not recorded something, or  in the way the inspector wants it recoded –  because there were more important things to do – like following a child’s interest, having a cuddle, fetching other resources from  storage or helping to child to create a den, or any other supportive action – the provider is mark down and deemed to be lacking.

Why is planning and documentation so important? What does it achieve?  Is there ANY evidence to prove that recording planning and assessment in writing does improve outcomes? Has anyone studied two groups of children – one where the practitioners recorded things in writing, and another group where they did not? 

I have to ask because from my own personal research into this based on the outcomes of children that I cared for in the past (now adults and some still in contact) and the children I have cared for more recently and currently care for  – I can say with confidence that written planning and assessment  has made not made any difference to the children – the outcomes are still excellent. HOWEVER – it has made a huge difference to my work / life balance; to my stress level;  and to my costs in providing ink , paper , new printers, folders, plastic wallets and so on; and to my time commitment.


As for written next steps / stages – what a waste of time . Children don’t follow nice pre planned journeys – they dip in and out of things, they change direction often, they connect one interest with another. Children don’t need adults to plan next steps – they need interested adults who know them well and who are proactive in THINKING on the spot and going with the lead of the child – and who have the children’s interests – and stage of development IN MIND when setting up the environment.

Practitioners should of course document the experiences offered and the children’s participation – but not against targets or goals.

Of course – there are some good and excellent inspectors out there – that understand this  BUT when looking at the good practice clips provided by Ofsted you see inspectors looking at written planning, and next steps and assessment – so it is not a surprise that both practitioners and inspectors think this is required.  However – where is the evidence that this sort of documentation does improve outcomes?

So when inspectors go into early years provisions they should see how well early years staff are helping children to learn, teaching children to socialise, and challenging children to think and find out more. They want to see really good professional practice.

Yet again I agree – the things Nick mentions above are all very important  BUT inspectors are ‘hung up’ on the developmental stages  – even though guidance documents are not statutory. In my opinion inspectors are looking at the wrong things – because all children learn in different ways at different times; many children show no interest in some areas of development for months but suddenly leap forward in those areas; some children have so much stress in their lives – and for a huge number of reasons that they ‘stand still’ developmentally – or even take a step backwards. In my opinion inspectors should not be expecting all children to be make good or better progress like little robots – they should not be bothered if little Johnny is not interested in creative work or mark making AT THE MOMENT; they should not be worried if little Suzie prefers to play alone AT THE MOMENT; they should not be worried about assessment charts and if development has been ticked off in nice neat little boxes.

We (and in particular Ofsted) need to think about what is ‘really good professional practice’ because at the moment it seems to mean a practitioner who spends hours recording useless pieces of information, who is often stressed and does not actually have enough time to properly observe the children, or to be proactive in supporting individual children, and therefore cannot support the children to develop  to their full  PERSONAL POTENTIAL.



Our discussion on teaching is emphatically not a ‘misguided drive to over-formalise’ childcare. Rather, it is recognition of the fact that the best early education is creative and engages young minds to fulfil their natural curiosity. Ofsted inspectors want to see really good professional practice and children being challenged to think.

More agreement from me – It is a shame that some inspectors do not recognise this when they see if – and a few do not even look for it because they either spend too long looking at documentation and not observing: or they do not move from where their laptop is.

To me, really good professional  practice is mainly about the direct work with the children, not if there is planning or if that planning is followed

I would expect that early years providers would be proactive in telling our inspectors about the great things they are doing.

Some practitioners find this really hard to do – but most  have things like photographs that tell their story about what they do day in and day out. Inspectors who understand how hard it is for practitioners to explain in detail to them, and how hard it is to continue to do ‘the day job’ AND  discuss in detail about things (other than what they are doing at the moment) – especially if you work alone or in a very small group, will take this into consideration – but not all do.

 And it has to said – even when you have a practitioner such as myself who can and does tell the inspector about the great things they have been doing – it does not always work, as some inspectors don’t record what they are told, some don’t even have an understanding or knowledge about the things they are being told.

So what are the best ways to help young children learn? I want to hear from you. I want Ofsted to be a facilitator that spreads best practice as well as the organisation which inspects and regulates the early years sector.

I would like to thank Nick for this opportunity to tell him what the best ways to help young children learn are. I think we have to believe Nick, when he says he wants Ofsted to be a facilitator that spreads best practice – and we have to have faith that he will start by ensuring that  ALL early Years inspectors are able to recognise best practice when they see it.

However, I still have major  concerns about anyone setting their own goal posts and  being a facilitator and an inspector, and in my opinion this will not work. It is my understanding that this was the very reason why Ofsted was created in the first place.

So for Nick – and all the readers of this blog – here are my thoughts 

As a starting point – take a look at the Save Childhood Early Years manifesto – I had some input into this document and so it does reflect my view BUT is also filled with relevant research and the views of others who are experts in the early years field and others who like me,  have years of experience in working with young children

Save Childhood Movement Manifesto Putting_children_first


 My main points for consideration

  • The Government and all those involved in assessing the practice of early years settings,  MUST TRUST that settings know what they are doing and will do a good job.

(The only thing that the current framework for inspection is doing is making settings tick boxes and live in fear of not ticking the right or enough boxes. This does not improve outcomes this just improves the data on number of boxes ticked. And if you want proof of this just look at the young people in this country, who despite years of government demands and constantly changing goal posts, are still not achieving the personal potential.)

  • Children are not robots – they can not be programme to learn at set times or in set ways.

(This is why pre planning does not work. Further it does not matter if a child is not interested in a particular part of the curriculum while in the Early Years – provided the child has had opportunities to take part. A child who is not interested at 3 or 4 or 5, may just not be ready for that experience, may  be very interested and focussed on another experience, may be too stressed by other life events to even consider new things at that moment in time BUT who may well show interest and even excel in at some point further on in their education. One size does not fit all and the skills that the government think are important are actually not that important – in society we need all sorts of skills and all should be valued. In short everyone adults and children – should be encouraged but they should be valued for who they are and the skills they have. Those that feel ‘good’ about themselves will achieve more. those who feel they have failed will give up trying and will not feel ‘good’ about themselves.)

  • We do not need detailed assessment about those children who are developing well within the ‘norms’ – a few photographs / notes, and discussion with parents will ensure enough information  is recorded and shared.

(Even those who are doing  ‘ok’ do not need detailed assessment  – because with the right environments and the right support based on the practitioners knowledge / experience – and passion/ commitment  to do the best they can for each child – the children will achieve their personal potential)

  • It is when we have a concern about a children that we need to ensure we have enough time and opportunity to observe and record about those concerns, and to work in partnership with parents and other professionals to ensure we provide the right support.

(This all takes a lot of time and because practitioners are so busy filling in forms and doing formal assessment where it is not need , sometimes those who need focussed support get missed or there is not enough time to support them fully.)

  • In general we do not need any formal assessment of children in the Early Years Foundation stage.

( Children need to be children first, they need to have time to establish the basics of social and emotional development first, and to have developed all those essential physical skills first. We just need to know if further support is needed for a particular child in the main development areas – and early years practitioners need other professionals to listen when they pass on concerns – and act on them. All too often children get caught in long waiting lists even to see a specialist / consultant or early years practitioners concerns are brushed aside)

  • In general reception teachers agree with early years practitioners about what ‘School Ready’ looks like

(It is the government – and Ofsted through their inspection framework who disagree, and who try to push children in to doing things they are not ready to do, cause huge amounts of damage to self esteem and willingness to try, by doing so. Would it not be a better idea to ask those who work with early years children – the reception teachers and the early years practitioners – to draw up the list of what ‘school ready’ looks like – in fact would it not be better to have a ‘reception ready list’? After nearly all children are four when they start reception – some of them only four and a week or so, they are a whole school year ahead of being at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage – in fact some of them will leave reception and still be four.)

To answer Nick’s direct question, the best ways to help young children learn are;

To provide – Play, play and more play – child led play with a caring, knowledgeable adult, watching, listening, supporting if needed – but most of the time very much in the background.

To provide – Natural resources, inside and outside – including sand / water  – and all the alternatives, available all the time

To facilitate – Spontaneous singing, stories and indeed all activities – with one child, or a small group of children following their lead and their interests

To offer – Time to think, time to stand and stare,  a basic routine structure but within that flexibility and spontaneity

To provide – opportunity to be early years children able to explore, be creative, to make connections, to learn by their own trail and error investigations.

To ensure children can – – To touch, to see, to hear, to smell

To provide an environment that supports asking question – Why? Where,? What? Who?

To only sit or stand or be still when they decide themselves that they should be.




I do agree with much of what Nick Hudson says  BUT my personal experience of inspection and my involvement with the Ofsted Big Conversation tell me that the Early Years inspections are far from fair, consistent or right.

I hope that Nick and others read this  blog  and bear in mind what I and others have to say.

Our children depend on us – they are too young to fail, or to be made to feel that they have failed. Too Much, Too Soon  is not the right  way to do things.

Oh – and do I think we need inspection – YES – I do because not everyone in childcare actually cares about the children – most do but a few don’t – so some sort of baseline assessment is needed, to safeguard children.

What we don’t need is interference in what we teach or in how we do it, and we don’t need to assess children in the Early Years Foundation Stage.

I would be interested in your thoughts – so please leave your comments – you don’t have to agree with me – let’s open up the debate and give Nick Hudson plenty of suggestions and ideas


This is a golden opportunity to add our views and therefore help Nick Hudson and Gill Jones ‘get it right’


Fingers crossed everyone that our views are listened to.

4 responses to “Nick Hudson asks a really important question in his blog ……

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  1. I do totally agree with you Penny and it is refreshing to read your blogs . I have been childminding for 11 years , so before the EYFS. The children I had pre EYFS, when I didn’t need to tick boxes, write observations and next steps for,thrived in my setting and went to school at the same various stages of development as those since the EYFS. Of course I always planned in my head for the babies and children I have each day so that I could provide activities and resources that the children present would enjoy and learn from but these plans were in my head and not written.

  2. Couldn’t put it better myself – fully agree with you Penny – and I hope that Ofsted representatives will read your blog and comments.

  3. Dear Penny, I am in full agreement with the above post (in fact I agree with all of your posts!) How can we change the future of early years? I have been in childcare for about 6 or 7 years and am now changing career due to the things you mention in your post above. The sad thing is that the practitioners who genuinely care for children and put the childrens needs and interests before anything else are leaving the profession and its the paperwork people who are getting employed over hands on practitioner’s! I am accused by my family of wanting to change the world and it’s been a very hard thing for me to leave early years in the hands of paperwork pushers and the no common sense brigade (I am not talking about just my particular setting). So Penny have I missed opportunities to change the future of early years? Have I given up too easily? Or is changing early years too big of a task for one practitioner like me? Please let me know if there is anything I could do! Please dont hesitate to use my email address if you wanted to get in touch 🙂 Also thank you so much for all the effort, time and hard work you put in for practitioners and children! You are an inspiration to me and to many more! Danni Dawson xxx

    • Dear Danni

      Thank you so much for taking the time to post your thoughts – so many say they will, but forget or run out of time: others would like to but fear having those in power find out that the have spoken up.

      No I don’t think you have given up too easily because I sense you have not given up (hence invite for me to email you) and that you will continue to do so – just not as a hands on childcare practitioner. There are plenty of ways that you can still have a say – and I will email you later about this.

      In my darkest moments of despair even I think – why bother – as in terms of numbers of people reading my stuff, signing petitions speaking up – numbers are very low and it is hardly worth the time and effort that I put into my hands on practice and my campaigning ….

      …. and yet how can I personally stop?

      I feel as I started this, I must continue – even though my family, close friends and even those other professionals that I engage with – all say slow down, let someone else take the lead …. but my personal ethos and passion for the children and desire to ‘make a difference’ wont let me.

      So thank you so much for posting your comments Danni – and the lovely things that you say about me – it is these sorts of comments that keep me going.

      As a close friend said to me Penny – if you got paid for all your hours of campaigning and volunteering – you would be a rich woman – and then she smiled as she knows me well – or at least you could afford to pay someone to run your setting while you attend more meetings and do more campaigning!

      And she is right – that is what I would do

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