Huddersfield-based early years charity National Day Nurseries Association has hit out at Ofsted after it criticised youngsters’ start in life.

Head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw suggested that families should be issued with a “checklist” of minimum requirements to make sure youngsters start school at age five ready to learn – and claimed that some youngsters still lack these vital skills when they start school.

But NDNA Chief Executive Purnima Tanuku said: “NDNA strongly disputes the idea, which is not backed by Ofsted’s own figures that nurseries are letting down children, including those from a disadvantaged background.”

In a speech to mark the launch of Ofsted’s first annual report on early years education, Sir Michael also said families, especially those from the poorest neighbourhoods, are being let down by a “confusing” system which is leaving the most disadvantaged youngsters without a decent start in life.

He called for more youngsters to start school at age two, suggesting that schools are best placed to help break “the cycle of disadvantage” and ensure that poorer children are not falling behind their classmates by the time they are five.

He also criticised those who say pre-school children should be allowed to play and not be taught, arguing that this is “a middle-class prejudice” that is failing poor youngsters.

The chief inspector listed “10 ticks” that any parent could understand: ensuring children are able to sit and listen, are aware of other children, understand the words “no” and “stop”, are toilet trained, recognise their own name, can speak to an adult to ask for help, can take off their coat and put on their shoes, can talk in sentences and can open and enjoy a book.

Ofsted’s report says some youngsters still lack these skills when they join reception class.

But Ms Tanuku said: “We have to question how Ofsted can draw the conclusion disadvantaged two-year-olds are being failed by nurseries when the scheme to give free places to these children has only just started. The two-year-olds who have taken up free entitlement, most of whom would not have had any early education without it, have not reached reception age so their ‘school readiness’ cannot be judged.

“Ofsted’s figures show the majority of nursery provision is rated good or outstanding and high quality nurseries are specifically designed to cater for the needs of very young children with experienced expert staff trained in early years development.

“A disadvantaged two-year-old in a good quality nursery will be given an invaluable start by the early years professionals who understand their needs. Nurseries can also support the whole family ensuring a child’s development is continued when they leave nursery for the day.”

“Rather than push toward schools setting up their own nurseries, we should be looking at making full use of the capacity already available in private, voluntary and independent nurseries.

The most recent figures from Ofsted (October 2013) show around a fifth of nursery provision required improvement, roughly the same amount as schools.

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