Nurseries and pre-schools should not be afraid to allow children to take “safe” risks that will help keep them fit and physically active, a senior Ofsted official has warned.
Gill Jones, the watchdog’s deputy director of early education, said there is a “tension between physical activity and being safe”.
Inspectors are not routinely seeing children that are “getting out of breath”, she argued, adding that there is a clear discrepancy between the proportion of youngsters that are considered to be performing well in their physical development by age five, and childhood obesity levels.
She acknowledged that nurseries and pre-schools need to find a balance between keeping parents, who do not want to see their child upset, content, and encouraging children to take risks, according to Nursery World.
Ms Jones told the event that figures on the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) – which measures children’s progress in different areas up to age five – show that around 90% of youngsters score well against the early learning goal for physical development, Nursery World reported.
But she added: “Yet, you put that against the levels of childhood obesity, which is also measured at the age of five, and they don’t match at all.”
She went on to say that there are questions over whether this goal is right, if it is challenging enough and also whether it is “more about the natural development of children than it is about physical activity and strength”.
According to figures from the National Child Measurement Programme, in 2016/17 nearly a quarter of reception-age children in England were overweight or obese.
Ms Jones also said: “One of the questions I asked our inspectors at a recent training session was, ‘Put your hand up if you often see children in nurseries and pre-schools getting out of breath from being physically active’.
“Not one inspector put their hand up. It’s not something they see on inspection.
“That doesn’t mean to say you don’t do it, but I think it is interesting that they are not observing that on inspection routinely. It’s not something that strikes them – seeing children being physically active and getting out of breath.
“When I go and visit settings, which are lovely, sometimes I do wonder how much children are encouraged to be physically active, because they are so safe. I think there is a tension between physical activity and being safe.”
Ms Jones also told the event she understands that as a parent “the balancing of risk was a hard thing to do”.
She added: “You want to keep your child happy, but you know they need that challenge. As a practitioner, I think that judgment is even more difficult because you have parents who want you to keep their children happy, and perhaps who don’t like it if their child has cried, but then you have the threat of Ofsted coming in and what happens if a child has been unhappy. You have all those layers to cope with.
“What Ofsted is saying is, you need to encourage children to take some risks that are safe.’
“And of course you must be able to assure them of that. But my concern is that in doing so, and through the best of intentions, we are creating overly risk-free environments.
“Young children do need to have the opportunity to explore the world around them, to develop their physical skills or even sometimes just to run around until they are exhausted.”