THE BLOG

Learning Through Play Is Vital to Help Children Prepare for Life Challenges

02/04/2014 10:54 BST | Updated 01/06/2014 10:59 BST

This week Sir Michael Wilshaw is set to reiterate the need for early years providers to improve how they are preparing children for the academic challenges of school. The Ofsted annual early years report is expected to set out how nurseries and childminders should use more structured interventions to help children prepare for the demands of full-time education.

Educational achievement is of course important, and helping young children to overcome disadvantage must be a key priority of early years provision. However, this isn't best achieved through an over focus on the delivery of structured, adult-initiated learning opportunities at a very young age. Letting children be playful matters just as much. Defining a child's readiness for school in terms of their academic ability risks overlooking the equally vital skill sets children need to thrive in the classroom and beyond.

We're seeing government and regulators place less and less emphasis on fostering children's emotional literacy and resilience, boosting social confidence and supporting their independence - all of which a play based-approach to learning delivers. These are vital to help children not only become school ready, but life ready, too.

In our school readiness report last year, the overwhelming majority of childcare professionals, teachers and parents considered cognitive and academic skills such as reading and writing as less important than being confident, independent and curious about the world.

It's not only childminders, nannies and nursery workers who agree. The Confederation of British Industries (CBI) has also identified a need for young people who are 'enthusiastic, confident, creative and resilient - not just exam robots'.

Yet this is the course currently being set in the pattern of 'schoolification' in the early years which compromises the quality of provision and contradicts all the evidence on how best to support a child's early development.

The Government is currently planning to trial more two year old nursery places in schools. Changes to childcare regulation will make it easier for schools to offer childcare from 8am - 6pm, so that children are in school for potentially 50 hours a week - more than most adults work in the same period.

Baseline tests will be introduced for reception children starting in September 2016 and, from then, the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) profile - which previously helped ensure equal consideration for a child's social, emotional and physical development - will no longer be compulsory.

We also face challenges in the changing inspection framework for early years providers. The pre-school or nursery provision of a school will now be inspected as part of its wider school inspections, with the risk that an inspector will be making judgements without a robust understanding of what good quality within the EYFS looks like.

So our concern is that current government thinking isn't focused on a child's holistic development. There needs to be a clear outline of the broader outcomes we want in to achieve for children in pre-school and in school, to ensure we are delivering the best support for children and young people, ensuring high quality childcare reaches those families who need it most.

We would like to see a more concerted attempt from government and policy makers to listen to the concerns of families, childcare professionals, teachers, employers and other experts across the country around the need for more focus on play when deciding the long term priorities for early years childcare and the first few years of school.