February 2018

The know zone

  • Bold beginnings?
    At last year's ASCL Annual Conference, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector (HMCI), Amanda Spielman, announced that Ofsted would be undertaking a large-scale review of the curriculum. The review's first report focused on the Reception Year and was published in November. Julie McCulloch looks at what it had to say. More
  • Securing your future
    Managing Director of Lighthouse Financial Advice Ltd Lee Barnard, shares tips and information on future proofing your pensions. More
  • You want more?
    Supervising the lunch queue? Shifts as a security guard and car park attendant? It shouldn't happen to a chartered accountant... unless they are a business leader in an academy, of course. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting. More
  • Careers guidance
    The government wants every school and college in England to have a dedicated careers leader and it has published a careers strategy to highlight this. Here, ASCL members share their views on these plans and on what more can be done to improve careers guidance. More
  • Managing expectations
    Stephen Rollett says preparing for inspection doesn't have to be a difficult process. Here, he shares his top tips to help you through the visit and beyond. More
  • Uncharted waters
    As the government publishes its long-awaited action plan and consultation on T levels, Kevin Gilmartin examines the big issues that the government needs to get right. More
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At last year’s ASCL Annual Conference, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), Amanda Spielman, announced that Ofsted would be undertaking a large-scale review of the curriculum. The review’s first report focused on the Reception Year and was published in November. Julie McCulloch looks at what it had to say.

Bold beginnings?

Ofsted is no stranger to controversy. It will have needed to don the more heavy-duty of its hard hats, though, before hitting the ‘publish’ button on its latest thematic report – Bold Beginnings: The Reception curriculum in a sample of good and outstanding primary schools (https://tinyurl.com/yab2a3zh). Focused on the Reception Year, the report aimed to “shine a spotlight … on the extent to which a school’s curriculum for four and five year-olds prepares them for the rest of their education and beyond”.

The report pulled no punches. Starting from the premise that “for too many children … their Reception Year is a missed opportunity that can leave them exposed to all the painful and unnecessary consequences of falling behind their peers”, the report refused to shy away from some of the most hotly contested issues in early education.

Key findings

Focusing on what successful primary schools did well in Reception, the report’s findings included the following:

  • Headteachers recognised that a successful Reception Year was fundamental to their school’s success, and had significantly increased their expectations for how reading, writing and mathematics are taught since the implementation of the 2014 National Curriculum.
  • There is no clear curriculum in Reception. Most leaders and staff in the schools visited acknowledged that there was little guidance about what four and five year-olds should be taught, beyond the content of the Early Learning Goals (ELGs).
  • Many of the schools visited found the processes of the early years foundation stage profile (EYFSP) burdensome.
  • Headteachers prioritised language and literacy as the cornerstones of learning, putting reading at the heart of the curriculum.
  • Most of the schools had designed their own mathematics curriculum, based on the Year 1 National Curriculum programme of study.
  • Schools planned a judicious balance of direct whole-class teaching, small-group teaching, partner work and play. They were clear about, and valued the contribution to, children’s learning from each.
  • Most leaders felt that newly qualified teachers were not well prepared to teach mathematics, reading and writing in Reception. They often had little experience of teaching Reception during their initial teacher training. Recommendations The report’s recommendations for schools were that they should:
  • make sure that the teaching of reading, including systematic synthetic phonics, is the core purpose of the Reception Year
  • attach greater importance to the teaching of numbers in building children’s fluency in counting
  • ensure that when children are learning to write, resources are suitable for their stage of development and that they are taught correct pencil grip and how to sit correctly at a table
  • devote sufficient time each day to the direct teaching of reading, writing and mathematics, including frequent opportunities for children to practise and consolidate their skills
  • use the EYFSP as a guide to end-of-Reception expectations rather than to define what should be taught
  • It also included a number of recommendations for providers of initial teacher education, for the DfE and for Ofsted itself.


Responses to the report were, predictably, mixed. Many people welcomed Ofsted’s recognition of the crucial importance of early years education in children’s life chances, and particularly in closing the gap. Few would argue with the need to ensure that children develop strong language and literacy skills – alongside a love of reading, writing and speaking. And many people share Ofsted’s concerns about the impact of the EYFSP, particularly on teacher workload, and about the lack of alignment between the EYFS and the primary curriculum.

Some early years practitioners, however, were dismayed by what they perceived as the report’s attempt to fit the curriculum to the children, rather than vice versa. Pointing out the lack of focus on the EYFS’s prime areas of development (personal, social and emotional development; physical development; communication and language), critics questioned the emphasis on literacy and maths, and particularly the assertion that the teaching of reading should be ‘the’ core purpose of the Reception Year.

Whatever your position, this report represents a strong statement from Ofsted about what it believes effective practice in Reception looks like. I would encourage school leaders to share and discuss it with their Reception teachers, and to consider its recommendations. Ofsted has indeed made a ‘bold beginning’ to its curriculum review. We look forward to seeing where it goes next.

Julie McCulloch
ASCL Interim Director of Policy