Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 160 - 177)



  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.

Valerie Davey

  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 way forward?
  (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 else.


  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 past.

Valerie Davey

  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.

Charlotte Atkins

  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 motivation—and Jean was talking about dispositions to learn—it 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 this achievement?
  (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.

Mr Marsden

  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.

Mr O'Brien

  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 it was.

  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 upwards.
  (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 trained.
  (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 improvement.

  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.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 13 June 2000