Reception teachers are failing a third of five-year-olds by focussing on playing and not being able to teach reading, writing or maths properly, a major Ofsted report has found.
The school inspectorate found that newly qualified teachers had a “particularly weak” understanding of the three R’s which led to “poor teaching and a lack of understanding about progression”.
In its first ever study into the Reception curriculum, titled “Bold beginnings”, Ofsted found that nearly half of disadvantaged children fail to meet the expected standards of development by the time they enter Year One.
Some headteachers interviewed by Ofsted said that Reception teachers tend to downplay the importance of reading, writing and mathematics for the under-fives in favour of “play-based pedagogy” and “child-initiated learning”.
The report said that this approach to teaching four and five-year-olds “prevented effective progression" into Year One.
"For too many children, the Reception Year is far from successful,” the report said. “It is a false start and may predispose them to years of catching up rather than forging ahead.
“In 2016, around one third of children did not have the essential knowledge and understanding they needed to reach a good level of development by the age of five.”
The report said that the disadvantaged children are “far worse” off, since “only just over half had the knowledge and understanding needed to secure a positive start to Year One.”
Most school leaders felt that newly qualified teachers were ill prepared to teach mathematics, reading and writing to children in Reception, the report found.
New teachers’ “knowledge and understanding of language, reading, writing and mathematics were particularly weak and led to poor teaching and a lack of understanding about progression”.
The report said: “Put simply, by the end of Reception, the ability to read, write and use numbers is fundamental. They are the building blocks for all other learning.
“Without firm foundations in these areas, a child’s life chances can be severely restricted. The basics need to be taught – and learned – well, from the start.”
Gill Jones, Ofsted’s early education deputy director said that reception teachers should read stories, poems and rhymes out loud to children and encourage them to join in and learn them by heart.
“[This] will introduce them to new vocabulary, language structures and ideas,” she said. “This is the essential knowledge that children need to open up the rest of the curriculum.”
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association, agreed that children need more support in literacy and maths. She said she welcomed the report's recommendation that the Department for Education should intervene to raise their profile of early mathematics teaching.
However, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said it is “disappointing” that the report focuses on the “narrow” skills of literacy and mathematics.
“While both skills are of course vital for early development, research has shown that a focus on them over and above broader skills such as physical development, and personal, social and emotional development, is likely to be detrimental to children’s early learning experiences,” he said.
Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said: “Reading should be at the heart of the Reception Year. It is important that in the Reception classroom young children hear new vocabulary and have the opportunity to practise new words and phrases.
“The best schools know how to design their curriculum so that children’s learning and development sets them up well for the rest of their schooling.
“Reception should not just be a repeat of what children learned in their nursery or pre-school, or with their childminder. They deserve better than facing years of catching up.”