Using policy-informed evidence in early childhood education: Bold beginnings, bias and circular discourses

7th Feb 2019, 3:45pm - 5:00pm

Faculty of Education

Using policy-informed evidence in early childhood education: Bold beginnings, bias and circular discourses Prof Elizabeth Wood, University of Sheffield

In this seminar, Elizabeth will critically examine the 2016 Oftsed document ‘Bold Beginnings’ which looks at the Reception curriculum from the perspective of ‘school readiness’, specifically the extent to which the Reception year was preparing four- and five-year-olds for their years of schooling and life ahead. Although based on a purposive and relatively small sample, Bold Beginnings makes assertive recommendations for preschool and Primary schools, Initial Teacher Education, the DfE and OFSTED’s new (2019) inspection framework.

Drawing on critical discourse analysis, she will argue that the basis for this survey is methodologically flawed. Furthermore, the underpinning ‘research’ on which it draws includes government statistics for EYFS outcomes, HMCI commentary, government ‘standards’, and selected reports that match or reinforce the OFSTED perspective. Thus Bold Beginnings creates a circular policy logic in which it names the crisis (school readiness) presents the solutions. Bold Beginnings is, however, biased in its methods, in its selection of ‘evidence’, and in its recommendations, which calls into question the broad generalisations made from the ‘findings’.

This is one of many documents where OFSTED has extended its remit to providing specific guidance on what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘effective’ practice, and therefore what OFSTED expect to see during inspections. The circular policy logic in similar documents serves to legitimize direct intervention of OFSTED in matters of curriculum and pedagogy, thereby reinforcing the standards and performance agenda at the expense of a broad and balanced education for young children.

The seminar will address the following questions:

  • What is the crisis/problem that OFSTED is addressing in Bold Beginnings?
  • What are the proposed reasons for this crisis?
  • What are the proposed solutions, and on what evidence are these based?
  • What is absent and what/who has been silenced?
  • What are the power effects of Bold Beginnings, and the wider trend towards policy-based evidence?
  • How can the ECE community act back, and act against this circular policy logic?

Dr Elizabeth Wood is Professor of Education at the University of Sheffield. Her research interests include play in early childhood, specifically children’s social relationships, how they exercise choice and agency, the meaning of freedom, and the relationship between play and learning. Her recent research looks at how children blend traditional and digital forms of play, and the potential that this offers for developing curriculum and pedagogy. She is also working with Dr Liz Chesworth on a project looking at children’s interests in a multi-diverse setting, and with Dr Louise Kay and colleagues in Australian Catholic University on educational leadership in early childhood. Elizabeth is also interested in policy analysis and critique, the il(logic) of policy discourses, and their power effects.


  • Refreshments – 3.45pm
  • Seminar – 4.00pm
  • Q&A – 4.40pm

This is one of a series of public lectures planned for 2019. Further information is available here