Ofsted’s latest focus

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A recent report by Ofsted (The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills,) was recently brought to my attention. This report is titled: ‘Unknown children – destined for disadvantage?’ (Published July 2016.)

After going through several Ofsted Inspections in a variety of settings, I am aware that Ofsted have varying ‘focuses’ to base their inspections on, not the whole inspection, but some aspect(s) that they like to focus on such, such as multicultural experiences, writing in boys, inclusion, and so forth.

Reading through this report, something just didn’t sit right with me, especially the term ‘disadvantaged.’ In this time of statistics, tick boxes and figures I thought to myself what if families didn’t fit into this box or category? What if there are exceptions to the rule? Take my own family for example:

  • We live in a council house – I’m not ashamed of this, our rented house was sold unexpectedly and we had to ensure that with a young toddler and baby on the way that we had a stable home, we couldn’t afford to buy or rent another house at that time. With only 1 adult in the household working, it was very difficult to find the money.
  • Our household not only has 1 adult currently working full time, it is seen as a ‘low income.’
  • My partner has moderate learning difficulties and very severe Dyslexia, making opportunities for higher paid roles extremely difficult.
  • I have a level 6 qualification, degree and postgraduate certificate but I have been unable to work full time since my eldest child was 2 years old, and since I’ve had my 2nd child.
  • I provide my children with the best possible experiences at home I can, such as craft activities, I read with the everyday and interact with them and ensure that they are well-cared for. I am fully involved in the process for assessments for my eldest child, I identified her additional needs at 18-months-old and sought advice and support, (even though not always believed!) I will be proactive and fully involved in the education of my youngest child also, attributing this to 13 year’s education experience.
  • We are parents, both offer our children different areas of knowledge, for example, their father is very practical and teaches the children how to construct, build and fix things, whereas I can’t even put a flat pack together!

Would Ofsted therefore class my children as ‘disadvantaged?’

I was relieved to read that as part of the Key findings: “While all of the local authorities, pre-school providers and schools visited could define disadvantage in terms of a family’s finances, the most effective went beyond this basic definition.” 

I am therefore relieved to know that not every setting based the definition of ‘disadvantaged’ purely upon a family’s income. But is this immediately what comes to everyone’s mind when the term is discussed?

Another interesting Key Finding was:

“There is a lack of understanding of what success looks like in tackling disadvantage.” 

How can ‘disadvantage’ therefore be tackled if the family’s sole earner is working to their best ability? Working sometimes a 60-day week but is still paid minimum wage due to their own experiences of education? I have tried to teach my partner to help him access courses to enable him to overcome issues with getting further up the career ladder, we are extremely busy people and we have a child who has additional needs who needs constant supervision at home. I have tried to help him gain access to college courses or courses run by local libraries but these are always run in hours of the working week and he has to be at work to earn the money! It is truly a viscous cycle!

2 Year funding: 

In the report there is a wide variety of what various Early Years Settings class as ‘disadvantaged children,’ such as:

  • Children who are eligible for 2-year Government funding.
  • Children who live in households that receive tax credits, income support, other benefits.
  • Children in receipt of free school meals (which I do find confusing as currently all children receive free school meals until the end of year 2!
  • ‘Poor’ education and health experiences.
  • Children who have witnessed domestic violence, or live in households where one or both parents have been identified as ‘addicts,’ either drug or alcohol related.

The follow statement unnerved me a great deal:

“These settings did not consider children who have special educational needs and/or disabilities, children who speak English as an additional language or summer-born children as also being disadvantaged.” 

Why should children with additional needs (as i like to refer to,) or who are ‘summer – borns’ be classified as ‘disadvantaged? When there are always, always exceptions to these circumstances?

The following key point I did find alarming:

“One pre-school setting attached to a children’s centre had an agreed policy about the circumstances in which a child and their family would be regarded as ‘at a disadvantage’. This included children who were:

 showing poor speech and language for their age and stage of development

 being looked after by someone other than their parents, such as grandparents

 those whose family was known to be involved in crime

 those who had young or teenage parents

 those who had older siblings with a wide age gap between them.” 

Again, there are always exceptions to these, such as I wouldn’t see children who have an older sibling with an wide age gap as ‘disadvantaged,’ as there are indeed many families where this is a huge advantage. I also wouldn’t also assume that young or teenage parents’` children are ‘disadvantaged’ as I know some fantastic younger parents.

In terms of the Government ‘2 year old funding,’ our youngest child is due to start at a early year’s setting in April 2017, at the moment, and looking at our household income, it seems that she will be eligible for 2 year funding, however, would Ofsted then class her as a disadvantaged child? When I gain employment and we are no longer eligible for the funding will my child then become ‘advantaged?’ If  we won the lottery bought a house, had 2 adults with a full time income, more money in household, would this mean that my family would automatically not be seen as ‘disadvantaged’ anymore?

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The county where we live sees ‘vulnerable learners’ are those summer born, developmental delay, come from split or large families, GRT (Gypsy, Roma, Travellers,) but again, I would always argue that there are always exceptions to these ‘rules.’

I get extremely confused by definitions and labels, I was told by the Strategic Commissioner for Early Help & Partnerships at Worcestershire County Council, on behalf of Cllr Bayliss (The Cabinet member responsible for Children and Families,) that we had “received our package of support,” in terms of Early Help Family Support, time and time again I have been told that they are now focusing on ‘targeted families,’ but what are targeted families? If my family is seen as ‘disadvantaged’ is this the same as a targeted family?!? The mind boggles!

 

 

My message in reflection is clear:

Dear Ofsted,

Please think carefully about the definitions that are used in your reports, please don’t tar everyone with the same brush, there are many diversions and exceptions to the rule of what you class as ‘disadvantaged.’ For example, please do not assume that because a family have a low income that the children will be less cared for or interacted with that those families that earn a moderate or high wage. Please don’t make this about money or class.

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All quotes used in this post have been taken from:

‘Unknown children – destined for disadvantage?’ (Published July 2016.)

Age group: 0–5 Published: July 2016 Reference no: 160044

which can be found online at:

www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ofsted

 

Thanks for reading 🙂

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