Examination of witnesses (Questions 160
WEDNESDAY 5 APRIL 2000
and MS SUSAN
160. So it is a bad thing?
(Ms Ensing) I would not personally advocate it, no.
(Ms Scott) I think we have been entirely consistent.
161. Can I come back to the inspection element,
therefore. At the present time we have got section 10 and section
122. Is this acceptable and what would you perhaps see as the
(Ms Hay) I think for many, Ofsted inspections are
very frightening. I think there are another whole group, what
would have been the nursery setting, for whom they have very little
relevance indeed for two reasons. One is that those settings have
an approach to a curriculum or a curriculum in place, which is
a very, very broad curriculum indeed and covers the whole programme
for all the children in the nursery which Ofsted only just touches
on, partly because of the age of the children they are looking
at and partly because of the issues they are mostly concerned
with, but also because of course that more and more in the private
sector three and four-year-olds are not there anyway, which is
another reason why I welcome your focus on nought to threes because
the benefits to the three and four-year-olds of being with younger
children, who are often their younger siblings, as well as the
benefit to the younger children of having the three and four-year-olds
there is huge, even within the context of the curriculum, let
alone those other issues for which parents might choose to have
their children in a group setting.
(Ms Scott) I am a section 10 and a section 122 inspector,
but I think I must defer to Jean with her experience.
(Ms Ensing) All too often now I am seeing that to
get through an Ofsted is like jumping through a hoop as far as
the settings are concerned. This week I have had it described
to me in a school as "playing the game", that for this
particular week, which they know is coming up, they will plan
in a certain way, they will do things in a certain way and they
will make sure, awe and wonder, that they do certain things because
that is what the buzz-words are about. However, in terms of their
actual practice, I think it has very little bearing, except that
people are going to do things they think the Ofsted inspectors
will want to see, but they get caught out because the last set
of Ofsted inspectors wanted to see some things, but the new set
coming in, who will be quite different, will want to see something
162. How do you improve standards if it is not
by the process of Ofsted?
(Ms Scott) I think it is improving. I do not think
any of us would argue against the value of external validation
and the need to have some sort of assessment and quality assurance.
I think children deserve it and parents are entitled to have that.
However, from where I sit anyway, and I think I am speaking for
all of us and a big association with very wide experience across
both forms of inspection, there are actually weaknesses for early
years in both forms of inspection. There are real difficulties
in section 122 to capture the complexities of any setting, even
if you are only looking at the provision for four-year-olds, which
I think is quite difficult. For one person in one day you have
no possibility of comparing notes and looking at continuity and
progression over time, and a lot of ideas are glossed together.
One very experienced section 122 inspector actually said to me
last week, "Well, we all know that if we are looking at personal
and social development, if they can say `please' and `thank you',
tick the box", and I do not know how many boxes there are
to tick, but there are a lot and you have a great deal of complex
evidence to collect and no time to do that. On the other hand,
section 10, the way the evidence is collected is actually quite
inimical to the way early years staff work. You do not have the
lessons, as such, and they are not taught in quite the same way
as the assessment might suggest, so I think most experienced early
years inspectors do interpret either form of inspection, and that
may be part of the way forward, to allow people to use their professional
judgment perhaps more than is currently possible and to be a bit
more flexible in the way it is interpreted and to allow the HMIs
who are working in Ofsted to have their voices heard because I
know that there has been a lot of discussion about this in the
163. What we have clearly are two forms, neither
of which, you are telling us, are entirely appropriate, so what
do we do? Should this Committee in fact, from the evidence we
are taking, refer it on to Ofsted? Do you think we can helpfully
make some comment in that area?
(Ms Scott) From where we sit, I think it would be
very helpful for the debate to continue. It has started in a very
helpful direction and I think we are entirely in agreement with
the idea that there should be some kind of combination and that
it should sit within the educational remit because we are talking
about educational provision for children, but it does require
a bit more thought. We are worried and certainly the Chief Inspector,
when we visited with him, made it clear that section 10 was going
to remain outwith the combined registration in section 122 and
it is complicated and it is difficult, but if we want to achieve
a level playing field, and I think we do, then over time we must
move towards a combined inspection system. I have got a very sophisticated
model that I could offer you, although there probably is not the
time to go into detail at the moment.
164. Could you perhaps send that as part of
your evidence for us please?
(Ms Scott) Yes.
(Ms Hay) From a provider's point of view, it feels
as though Ofsted currently focus entirely on process, of putting
the programme in place. What, from a provider's point of view,
is equally important is the quality of the adult interaction with
children and the environment in which those adults and those children
can learn and those things currently are ignored.
165. What do you think the key curriculum issues
are that we should address?
(Ms Scott) There are matters of principle, are there
not, really? The more I think about it, the more I realise that
it is not just a matter of practice, but we need to commit ourselves
to principles and it would be very much around respecting what
children already bring and relating to their family and cultural
circumstances and acknowledging that as part of the planning for
what goes on and making sure that children's motivationand
Jean was talking about dispositions to learnit is very
important. They are there from birth and it is very important
that it is that which we build on rather than trying to bring
in too much adult direction initially. It is a kind of bridge
between what happens at home and what happens developmentally
and what else maybe we as a society want to pass on to our children,
so it is not that we are against formal teaching, but there is
a point at which that comes in more suitably and children need
a breadth of experience and the opportunities come from wherever
their starting point might be. It applies particularly to children
with special educational needs actually or those who have got
other difficulties at home and early years education well implemented
has a very important contribution to make to the wider society
and to the future benefit of children, so it is very important
to us, but, by the same token, difficult to make a prescription.
(Ms Hay) I just would like to say that for me it is
about what children want to be as opposed to what they want to
do. It is about being curious, being explorative, being able to
concentrate, being able to focus as distinct from necessarily
what is produced on a piece of paper.
166. So that makes it much more difficult to
measure achievement, does it not?
(Ms Hay) Yes.
167. We are in a great time of measurement and
evidence, so how do you measure these principles? How do you measure
(Ms Ensing) With great difficulty. One of the reasons
that we welcome the Foundation Stage is because we think that
the areas of learning, they have been around for years and they
are setting the right sort of parameters for what we want children
to experience, but the most important point is how we implement
this Foundation Stage, the sort of training that we offer to people,
not just a one-off, not a day or a couple of twilights, but continuous
training, continuous development to help people do it well.
(Ms Scott) I would just alert you to what you have
a chance to discuss further this afternoon. The Early Child Education
Forum came together as a body to devise and produce, not a curriculum
document, but a framework for learning for children from birth
to eight called Quality and Diversity and it has been subscribed
to by people who are working across the whole early years field
and you may be interested to hear a bit more about that. Certainly
I know of four authorities where they are planning to use it as
a quality assurance framework within their partnership and looking
at how that might work in practice. That is an important piece
of work that is beginning now.
(Ms Hay) I have to say that we use it in our settings
and, coming back to the conversation we had about Ofsted inspections,
we find ourselves translating what we do day by day in terms of
quality and diversity into Ofsted-type language for the Ofsted
inspector and actually that is a reduction process as far as we
are concerned, so if you wish to see quality and diversity in
practice, then it is there happening.
168. I want to pursue, if I may, some questions
to you about the section of your evidence which I thought was
particularly interesting about play and creative development.
You say in your evidence that "play is a powerful vehicle
for all aspects of human development" and that "it should
not be under-valued or trivialised". I wonder if I could
ask you then, given that we are looking both at parents and also
at practitioners and the people who are both, how you actually
ensure that children's play settings are purposeful, if I can
use that term. Perhaps you can try and define very briefly what
is sort of purposeful play.
(Ms Scott) Not just playing about.
(Ms Hay) The process we go through, to come back to
the bit that I criticised just now, is one of planning. Everything
which goes on in a nursery setting within the quality and diversity
framework, which is the one I can talk about, is planned. Every
single activity is planned.
169. Can you give us some examples of that?
(Ms Hay) You might have Play-doh on a table where
you might have a group of children ranging from just sitting through
to three-year-olds and the adult who is leading the activity will
have planned the activity and suggest what she wants each of those
ages of child to get out of that activity. It might be just texture
and feel for the youngest child, it might be modelling something
really quite sophisticated for the older child, but that will
be part of the planning process where the cognitive outcomes will
have been plotted, quite apart from the resource issue that she
needs or he needs to put in place for that activity, so that relates
to the environment and those resources being accessible to both
the children and to the adults for the fulfilment of that activity.
(Ms Ensing) I think purposeful play is creative, but
you have to have an element where the child can be creative in
its response. The three of us are practitioners and we are in
nursery settings all the time, but if a child is applying their
imagination to what they are doing, then there seems to be a deeper
level of learning. There is more conversation in the child talking
about something when they are being creative. If they make something
with Duplo, a construction, if they have made something with dough,
if they are engaged in role-play, any aspect of learning, if it
has got a creative element, then it seems to be more productive.
170. Let's take up that issue of imagination,
if we can, in respect of parents because one of the things, I
think, which is going to be central to this inquiry is the extent
to which parents can be supported and the socio-economic differences
which at the moment mean that certain kids get a head start with
parents and others do not. How do you support and encourage parents
in that respect and, particularly, I would like to ask you this
question about how do you support them with the inquisitive child,
the child who asks all the time, "What time is it now?"
or "What station are we going to?", that sort of almost
obsessiveness which you can get in certain young children? How
do you support them in that sort of way?
(Ms Scott) One of the very important things, I think,
and current developments may help us, is to move towards a changing
culture and a change of understanding and a valuing of these questions,
so that they are not just a nuisance, but they are actually emerging
miracles, unfolding, marvellous things which are happening, and
I do think that for parents from our culture it can sometimes
feel quite embarrassing, quite difficult and sometimes quite boring
and there are all sorts of pressures on parents. I think part
of our job is to help them to see that what they are living with
is the future and that it is very important. The other part of
the structure, play and purposeful play, is the observation that
the adult and the more experienced person, and it could be the
child actually, has so that it is taken forward and that comes
from knowledge and understanding and insight.
(Ms Ensing) And shared with the parents.
171. We are told all the time, headlines in
papers, about the negative, detrimental influence of television
and possibly also computer games and computers, presentations
of all sorts, in terms of encouraging younger children to learn.
When I was a child all I had was Muffin the Mule and The
Woodentops, but today the range of things potentially to engage
children is much, much greater. Is that a threat to this learning
process, this interrogative process with parents or can it be
utilised and, if so, what are good practices of ICT in this area?
(Ms Ensing) It depends how you are using it, does
it not? If it is a way of the child and you doing things or the
child and you watching things and talking about it, I think it
can be productive. If you are using video as a childminder, then
it can be just very passive.
(Ms Scott) I have seen some of the very best early
literacy development in children of two or three with a keyboard
and it has huge potential and the key is, as Jean says, how the
adult interacts with the child.
172. So it needs to be supported and supervised?
(Ms Scott) Yes, it needs to be supported.
173. In a sense my line of interest ties together
a number of things which have gone before. I was on Friday at
a nursery in my constituency which has received a glowing Ofsted
report and is altogether one of the best examples I have ever
seen. One of the big questions which was raised with me both by
parents and by the staff is the sense that they feel that a lot
of the recipe for their success has been the good melding of experience
and training of their staff and a lot of gifted amateurs as well
as parental involvement in a very good setting. I would be very
interested to explore with you the future of the role of the gifted
amateur which many perceive to be an absolutely critical component
of a success, and with a success, you know it when you see it.
(Ms Scott) Can we just check what sort of nursery
174. It was a nursery which actually sits in
a primary school, but it is privately funded and with now some
places being publicly financed, so it was eligible for four-year-olds
(Ms Scott) There is a big conception in this field,
as of course you are very well aware, that nursery education and
the definition of that is broader now. Gifted amateurs, we always
rely on people with skills and interest and some of the most effective
practitioners or people who relate to children have not had training,
but you cannot develop a policy on that basis, can you? If anybody
can do it, there will be some people who do not have those gifts,
so at the level
175. That is also true of those who have been
(Ms Scott) That is also true of those who have been
trained. It is not a guarantee, but at least there are systems
by which any weaknesses can be addressed through support, through
training and also ultimately through people leaving the profession
if they are showing that they are not capable of doing it. it
is a very, very responsible job. Some of our members would come
into that category of gifted amateurs, who are very dedicated
to the welfare of children and to their education and who have
got a big contribution to make, but it needs to be seen as part
of a team, so there is a process of continuing development. Jean
has made the point and I think for all of us the initial training
and the initial qualifications are important, but unless it is
coupled with the opportunity, and I do not know whether you would
call it training, but professional development in talking through
what you see each day actually or continuously with the children
with whom you are involved, then it is going to weaken the provision.
It does help enormously for people to be able to talk through
the issues. I know that as a Committee you are interested in Reggio
Emilia and I have got the date of the Bristol opening, and we
can talk about that if you wish, but they are a model and an example
of where people go in often at 19 with some training, but out
of their 36-hour week, they have six hours of time for liaison
with parents, planning, discussing and training and they are in
contact with fine artists and they are in contact with people
called Pedagogistas who are highly qualified, more highly qualified
than any of the teachers actually, so they are being led to continuous
Mr O'Brien: I would not dispute anything that
you say other than that the concern is that there is a little
bit of a confidence issue now with those who would regard themselves
as having come in, and I fully accept that all success is built
upon leadership and teams and the way that a school does review
each day and learn by its own experience is clearly important,
but certainly it was my strong feeling that those who would not
be able, in a tick-box mentality, to point to particular qualifications
are feeling somewhat threatened and perhaps less appreciated,
and that could of course have a knock-on effect not only to the
overall provision, but to the sense of confidence and vision that
many of these settings have.
176. Unfortunately time is pressing, so I will
ask one last question because I think, from what I have heard
this morning, part of what you are saying to us is that we really
need to educate parents about the expectation. With some of the
things we have seen on our visit yesterday, there is an expectation
of parents being built up in terms of becoming literate, numerate
and tested very early on, but I do not think the message we received
in evidence yesterday was that forcing children to write and to
get those skills can actually damage children, although a part
of the evidence I was reading suggested that it was more damaging
to boys rather than girls. How do we address the education of
parents and get their expectations right, if you like, rather
than based on misconceptions about children and children's development?
(Ms Ensing) I think it is educating society actually
and valuing being a parent in having time. We do not value it
in terms of confining them, for example. We give them a very,
very short amount of time and if people want to go back to work,
then their children can be in care very, very quickly. I was talking
to private providers only two weeks ago where the youngest child
was three weeks old. I wonder about the pressures on people and
what society thinks can be provided, so I think it is bigger than
educating parents, much bigger.
(Ms Hay) I think it just connects with the point you
have made about the status given to people who work with very
young children and importance attached and the value of their
work. It does not mean to say that they necessarily have to have
qualifications, but it is the value given to the work which is
done which would in turn enhance the parents' role as well.
177. Why is it, coming back to my original question,
that you would not hire a plumber without qualifications, but
you would hire someone to look after your child without qualifications?
(Ms Hay) I think it is a question of whether you hire
somebody without qualifications to do part of the job. It is a
question of balance, and this is supporting Wendy's point about
the team of people who are involved in the education and learning
and care and upbringing of your child, including yourself as a
parent. There is a place for the gifted amateur, the intuitive
carer, but only if they are not being required to do something
which is beyond their knowledge and understanding and insight
in terms of observation, planning and so on and so forth for the
learning of that child.
Chairman: Well, thank you very much for that.
I hope that our dialogue will continue. We have learnt a great
deal and thank you very much for your evidence.