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Good practice in the Early Years Foundation Stage

The care and education of young children in England has improved since the introduction of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), a recent report by Ofsted has claimed.

Called The Impact of the Early Years Foundation Stage: A Good Start, the study looked at the provision for young children within a host of settings and discovered a range of incidences of good practice. "In the best provision, childcare providers have established routines, high expectations of children's behaviour and a good understanding of learning needs. They are also committed to their own development and make the most of the external support available," Her Majesty's Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert said.

Although 68 per cent of early years providers were considered to be outstanding as of August 2010, Ms Gilbert said examples of good practice should be used to further improve provision and keep building on this success for the future.  Between September 2008 and September 2010, some 71 per cent of the non-domestic premises where childcare professionals worked were categorised as being good or outstanding overall. However, inequalities were seen between the care offered by child minders and other professionals and in the meeting of some aspects of the EYFS framework. Self-evaluation and action-planning, for example, were criticised by Ofsted for too often being seen as a box-ticking activity rather than an exercise which could bring about genuine improvements. 

The provision in schools of early years teaching was generally considered to be more well rounded, particularly with concern to language, communication and literacy, and more focused on outcomes for children.
Ofsted identified two key reasons behind this. "First, the childcare providers were often relying on daily routines rather than specifically planning activities to promote children's learning and development," the report said.

"Second was the schools' greater success with developing early reading and writing skills. Across all types of provider visited, including some of the good or outstanding ones, inspectors found that children's use of language for thinking was not as well developed as their use of language for communication," it was added.

In circumstances where provision of language, communication and literacy was deemed to be good, this was said to be because concerted efforts had been made to plan activities which promoted this type of learning. Ofsted said this understanding of how to bring out the best in children related back to specific training in this area, for example phonics.

Examples of good practice identified by the watchdog within this area generally involved children being offered the opportunity to communicate with adults for extended periods of time, within settings which engaged them. A scenario in one school, described as "wonderful" by Ofsted, involved the teacher creating a fake police report of stolen flowers, following which the children had to find clues and establish who the imaginary thief was. The children completed activities such as searching for clues, speaking to the teacher on the phone, searching outside for clues and then drawing maps and wanted posters.

"They were developing their use of language for communication and thinking and their ability to ascribe meaning to marks, because the teacher was highly skilled at judging how and when to step in to push their learning forward through their self initiated activities," the report noted.

Behind the scenes, good practice involved the careful planning of activities with an idea of what they were intended to achieve and the strengths and weaknesses of the children taking part.

The "structured use of letters and sounds" was identified as one method of teaching which could bring about significant improvements.

Good planning was also identified as a key driver for success within the provision of personal, social and emotional education. One example of good practice identified centred around taking a three tier approach to the topic, involving whole class based activities such as an emotion board and breaking off into two groups depending on the child's individual needs.

Despite EYFS provision generally being praised, Ofsted did identify drivers for improvement; the two most of important of these being continuous professional development and the external assessment and challenging of practices.

Those providers were defined as improving generally received training or support from local authorities or professional associations in relation to the EYFS.

Although there are always areas for improvement, Ms Gilbert suggested all-round good provision of early years teaching is not an impossible feat, stating: "Our evidence shows that all kinds of provider, from schools to childminders, can deliver the Early Years Foundation Stage well and that children are enjoying their time, whatever type of provision they attend."