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NAHT rejects Bold Beginnings approach to early years learning

Early Years 2.jpg

Delegates at NAHT's Annual Conference 2018 voted overwhelmingly to support a motion from NAHT's Staffordshire branch, which read:

Ofsted's recent Bold Beginnings report on teaching in the reception year has provided some deeply flawed analysis based on limited evidence. Conference is asked to reject an interpretation of early years education that:

  • fails to acknowledge the wealth of evidence and research that the role of play is crucial in children's learning as part of the curriculum;
  • requires four-year-old children to sit and undertake formal work too early;
  • fails to recognise the professional judgement of teachers who are best placed to assess a pupil's readiness for formal writing or desk-based learning;
  • and fails to meet the needs of pupils with SEND who will be left behind by an inappropriate early years curriculum.


Conference is asked to urge national executive to continue to reject the Bold Beginnings report that once again imposes a particular ideology on teachers and school leaders, regardless of evidence and to the detriment of young learners.

The proposer of the motion highlighted the report has already been referred to in some schools by inspectors who have used it to suggest that a more formal approach to teaching and learning should be being taken in the early years.  

Staffordshire branch explained that Bold Beginnings only promotes the value of play for the personal, social, emotional development (PSED) early learning goal's and if its approach is adopted, there is a risk that opportunities for other areas of learning to be developed through play will be lost.

"To the untrained eye, a treasure hunt outdoors to find words and letters for phonics practice looks like 'just running about'…to the untrained eye, what is vital pre-handwriting work just looks like 'dancing with a ribbon' and to the untrained eye, vital storytelling skills to enable reading and writing such as done through using small world equipment just looks like 'messing about with the play people'.

The best early years practice in the country already includes stretching those children who are ready for formal learning but their vital learning also includes activities such as ribbon patterns or large shoulder painting work to build up shoulder muscles. Children are then ready to build up wrist muscles which they can do through pegboards and bead threading. These are all precursors to handwriting.

The Bold Beginnings report makes no reference to the characteristics of effective learning in the sense that these could be achieved through exploratory play-based learning. Play is reduced to PSED which is no different to other year groups and this document could be easily misinterpreted to relegate the role of play in the early years just to the 15 minutes of 'playtime' which all year groups have. There is a real danger that this report leads to some Ofsted inspectors criticising anything which does not resemble learning sitting at a desk. If this happens, it must be challenged.

NAHT believes that we have to get this right for our youngest pupils and not undo years of research and good work improving early years practice.

First published 29 May 2018