The report 'First Class' by the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) looks at the standards of work and the quality of provision in children's first primary school classes.
It reports that overall standards of work are satisfactory or better in nearly 80% of the reception classes visited.
The report found that the commitment of the head teacher to the education of the youngest children is a powerful influence on the quality of provision. Whether they have first-hand experience, or not, of teaching young children, effective head teachers deploy resources and use the expertise of their staff most successfully.
Standards are usually better in classes where a trained teacher is supported by a trained assistant.
The report explains that the majority of children begin school before they are five years old and most attend some sort of pre- school provision. The children's experience before admission to primary school was found to vary widely and this poses a considerable challenge for reception class teachers.
HMI found that primary schools value partnership with the children's parents but that schools vary in their success in working with parents to promote children's learning.
This report shows that most primary schools have improved the curriculum they offer to young children in reception classes. Overall the teaching of the youngest children has benefited from, but not been unduly dominated by, the clear targets provided by the National Curriculum for older children.
In reception classes HMI found that a high priority is given to helping children develop appropriate behaviour, positive relationships, and constructive attitudes towards school. Reception teachers also emphasise the teaching of literacy and numeracy.
While most of the schools provide a broadly satisfactory reception class curriculum fewer than half the teachers fully exploit the educational potential of play. In the poorest classes teachers under-direct play.