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International experts highlight the importance of a child’s early years

Ofsted has today published a report exploring early years provision in an international context.

International research shows that children who spend longer in early years provision have better educational outcomes later on. It also shows that high-quality early years provision particularly benefits children from low-income backgrounds.

While the importance of the early years is widely accepted, the report reflects on some of the differences in early years systems around the world. The report also highlights some of the challenges that many countries are facing, including recruitment and retention, and reflects on where England’s early years sector sits in an international context.

Many countries have introduced measures to increase participation in early years provision, but workforce issues are often a challenge. Most countries are also beginning to recognise that educational aspects of early years provision need more attention.

The report draws on evidence from international research literature, as well as a survey and roundtable discussion with representatives of inspectorates and early years academics from various European countries.

It highlights:

  • Many countries have implemented strategies to improve participation in early years provision, ensuring all children have access to high-quality early years education. Many also target specific groups, such as children from low-income backgrounds.

  • Recruiting and retaining a highly skilled workforce remains a challenge for most countries, and mandatory professional development is not common in the early years, particularly for adults working with children younger than age 3.

  • Across many countries, as children approach school age, early years provision focuses more on education, rather than childcare. In England, the early years curriculum framework begins at birth and a well-considered curriculum is considered crucial to ensuring that all children make good progress.

  • In most countries, it is considered important for early years education to focus on communication and language, social and emotional development, and physical development, as they provide the foundations for wider learning and later educational success.

  • In many countries, inspections are not routine or education-focussed. However, in England, inspection and regulation ensures all types of provision are subject to the same high expectations.

Across Europe, mandatory professional development is less common for early years staff than for primary or secondary teachers. However, in England, professional development is expected of all early years staff to ensure they are able to deliver a high quality education. Curriculum expectations vary internationally, but all early years providers in England must follow the early years foundation stage, which includes 7 broad areas of learning.

Amanda Spielman, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said:

This report identifies some differences in early years systems across the world. But it also finds a shared sense of purpose, and a common aim among practitioners to ensure that children from all walks of life have access to high-quality early education. I welcome this opportunity to learn from international early years experts. The findings in this report will inform our own inspection practice so we can play our part in giving children the best start in life.

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