Ofsted backed on early-years reform
An education minister will tomorrow endorse the chief inspector of schools' vision for more teaching in early years, and set out how the Government is making it easier for schools to expand nurseries.
Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw sparked controversy last week with a call for more youngsters to start learning in school nurseries from the age of two, in an attempt to break a cycle of disadvantage which sees poorer children fall far behind their classmates by the time they are five.
Sir Michael dismissed the argument that young children should be given time to play before beginning to learn as a "middle-class prejudice" and said that parents should have a checklist of vital skills that their child should have mastered before arriving at primary school.
In a speech in London tomorrow, education minister Liz Truss will back the chief inspector's position and set out plans to improve and expand teaching in early years.
Restrictions have been removed so that any school can open a nursery and school nurseries can open for longer hours to fit in with parents' work schedules, she will say.
Red tape is being removed from high-quality private nurseries and childminders, so that they are for instance able to convert offices to nurseries without planning permission.
And the Teach First scheme to attract the brightest and best into teaching will have 50 places in nurseries this year.
Ms Truss is expected to say: "At the moment, poor children start school 18 months behind their richer peers in language and communication.
"Success is no gap at all. Other countries show us this is possible."
Ms Truss will say that the Department for Education wants a "school-led system that is self-improving" in early years, which she believes should be achievable without huge expense.
" Sir Michael Wilshaw - who spoke about this last week - is absolutely right," she will say.
"The early years are vitally important, and they're our best opportunity to eradicate the gap before it gets any bigger...
"That's why we have been simplifying the red-tape, making it easier for good providers to expand.
"Schools, nurseries, private providers, childminders - as long as you're providing good-quality childcare, that's all that matters - and there is a place for everybody."
Ms Truss will say that she agrees with Sir Michael that some of the best early education can be found in schools.
At the moment a third of all early-years places are in school nurseries, and in some London boroughs it's over 80%, she will say.
But she will add: "For too long, it's been far too difficult for schools to open new nursery provision and it's been hard for them to offer the flexibility modern families need.
"Some local authorities have said `we already have enough places in our borough' and have blocked schools that want to open a nursery.
"There have been difficult processes to negotiate. The vast majority of school nurseries offer a standard 9am-12pm or 12-3pm place for parents. Not easy for a parent who works two days a week or shifts.
"In fact I suspect it is one of the factors that some parents on low incomes struggle to take up these places when they are trying to combine it with work and other commitments.
"So we've made it clear that every school now can lower the age range to cater for three and four-year-olds without any permission required.
"They also have the power to open a nursery for the whole day from 8am-6pm."