Two-year-olds should start school, says Ofsted chief

Child writing Poorer children can be around 18 months behind their classmates by the age of five.

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Two-year-olds from disadvantaged families should be enrolled in school nurseries to improve their chances, the chairwoman of Ofsted has suggested.

Many children from poor backgrounds have a "dire" start to their education, according to Baroness Sally Morgan.

They can be up to a year and a half behind their better-off classmates by the age of five, she said.

The Pre-School Learning Alliance described Lady Morgan's suggestion as "beyond belief".

"Who would disagree with Sally Morgan that children from disadvantaged backgrounds need considerably more support. However, to suggest that placing two and three-year-olds in schools is the answer is beyond belief.

"Social inequality needs to addressed in many ways and taking very young children away from their parents and placing them in formal schooling is not the answer," said Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch.

Mr Leitch added that international research put the UK's specialist early years network of childminders and nurseries among the world's best.

"I am struggling to understand why anyone would promote pushing our youngest, most vulnerable children into schools rather than using the existing network of specialist local provision offered by childminders and group settings," he said.

The government said it was making it easier for schools to take children from the age of two.

'Brave move'

Speaking at an event organised by an academy chain, Lady Morgan argued that poor parenting, poor diet and poor housing meant disadvantaged children were often not ready to start formal schooling at five.

She called for a "big brave move" in early years education, with more nurseries attached to schools and a particular focus on the poorest children.

She said more schools should become "all through", taking pupils from age three or younger to age 18.

Her comments echo a recent Ofsted report which suggested that poor five-year-olds are 19 months behind their more affluent peers.

"What a dire start to their educational life," said Lady Morgan.

"Those children had low level social skills especially reading and communication.

"They're not ready to learn at school. Weak parenting, low educational attainment of parents, poor diet, poor housing and so on.

"The gap between affluent and disadvantaged is greatest in that group.

"No-one has yet got a grip on this problem", she said.

'Positive impact'

"I think there needs to be a big brave move on the under-fives agenda to target funding heavily on the children who will benefit most and increasingly, I think, to look to strong providers to go further down the system. We've increasingly got five-to-18 schools, why not three-to-18?"

A Department for Education spokeswoman responded: "We know that teacher-led early years education has a positive impact on children, especially on those from low income backgrounds.

"That is why we are making it easier for schools to take children from the age of two by removing the requirement on them to register separately with Ofsted when doing so, and introducing 15 hours of free early education for 240,000 of the poorest two-year-olds."

The spokeswoman said government reforms would ensure all children, regardless of background, get a good start in life with all three- and four-year-olds entitled to 15 hours a week of free early education.

Educational Psychologist Dr Jo van Herwegen of Kingston University said formal learning risked damaging children's development if started too early.

"It's really all about what you define as being 'school' education and the government needs to understand that children learn through play at this young age.

"Formal learning is extremely difficult as children's working memory and language abilities are still developing,

"Forcing children to learn in formal settings and sit tests regularly can risk creating performance anxiety and an aversion to learning later on in life".

Wendy Ellyat of the Save Childhood Movement said the key was to "prioritise child-flourishing and well-being over educational attainment", whether children were with childminders or in schools or nurseries.

"We also need to look at how best to support parents as the most important thing for such young children is to have stable, loving and supportive home lives."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Ummmm. Isn't this a tax payer funded nursery for children whose parents are on benefits?

    Whilst it's important to provide a good education for everyone, perhaps the government should do something about the high childcare costs, and make them more affordable so that the parents can go out and find a job, thus helping increase living standards??

    Just a thought. Or have I missed the point?

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    @128 Peter_Sym. At 2 years old a child is barely out of nappies has a very limited vocabulary and in some cases have only just started walking. Sending them to a school at this age is completely inappropriate. Teachers have been trained to teach children not babysit or change nappies!! Nurseries/play group are the places for toddlers not formal school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Discourage our children from having children until they are mature enough to be supportive parents.

    Stop making having a family a financial choice.

    36 year old in my area just had 5th child, oldest one just hit 18?!?

    This idea just fans the attitude that our education system is nothing more than free childcare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Perhaps if we took away unlimited (sorry, limited to £26k) benefits just for having more and more kids, this problem would disappear in a few years? Just a thought.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Just about every primary school in France has a free nursery school attached to it. Why can't we do the same?

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Why even wait that long? Obviously babies that don't start talking after 12 months are just lazy, get them off to boarding school already!

    /sarcasm off

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    For any organisation to come up with this clap trap does pose the question, should they exist at all?

    What next?.. babies forcibly removed at birth?.. far too Brave-New-World.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    being 2 is only 1 day older than being 1

    so this is a creche

    more absolution from responsibility for the sponge generation

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    124. shanie2
    This is rediculous. Its bad enough expecting 4-5 year olds to sit still and listen the teacher for any length of time. What 2 year old is going to do that.
    One being read 'The Gruffalo' ("Barnie Beagle and the cat" was a remarkable way of transfixing small kids at my mums play school too)

    No-one is suggesting teaching 2 year olds to read & add up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    I'm a teacher and I'm sick of this. Why are we constantly expected to pick up the pieces for bad parents? Why not send all your kids to come and live with me full time because I'm just an unskilled dogsbody anyway according to Gove. There you go - problem solved society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Well it just goes to show that school is just seen as free child care nowadays. How ridiculous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Here we go again. Look, "disadvantaged" children do badly at school because their parents don't care. No other reason. They don't get fed properly, they get left in front of the TV for the first 5 years of their lives, their parents teach them nothing and don't speak to them. Outside of taking them into care, how can they be protected from parents who just don't care about them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    This is rediculous. Its bad enough expecting 4-5 year olds to sit still and listen the teacher for any length of time. What 2 year old is going to do that. Ofsted should concentrate on supporting the improvement of educational standards for children already in the education system. Allow parents to take care of their toddlers. Who do they think they are state 'nannies who think they know best'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    @113. shabutie

    Sadly, I have to agree with you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    What an utter stupid idea from Baroness Morgan.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Improving standards has led to the UK falling in the global education tables. We have two groups leading this charge to the bottom. Academics and politicians. They cannot deny this as they are the only groups that have any say. "Teaching" 2 year olds will only accelerate the race downwards. What they need is love, affection and less sausage factory or made to feel they have an inadequate family.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    This proves beyond a doubt that both Gove and Ofsted are unfit for purpose and must be replaced! They know nothing about children, education or real life. We don't want machines, we want fully rounded children, who have been nurtured by their families and friends first. Playschools!
    Time to act and get these inept people kicked out of office, before they have any more chance to destroy children!

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    This is rubbish -the government are idiots. But we know that already.Perhaps the Baroness might like to consider what it is about our society, which makes people disadvantaged in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    #116 I don't know why you're getting down marked. I totally agree. 2 isn't a bad age to start playing with other kids. Its about the age they start developing social skills. The play group my mum used to run certainly gave mums 2 or 3 hours peace 2 or 3 times a week & the kids seemed to enjoy it. I used to help out during uni holidays if I had nothing better to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    To all those on the point of funding this initiative, we could always outsource it to India.....


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