Bold beginnings – The Reception curriculum in a sample of good and outstanding primary schools – Ofsted November 2017
Put simply, the ability to read, write and use numbers is fundamental. They are the building blocks for all new learning. Without firm foundations in these areas, a child’s life chances can be severely restricted. The basics need to be taught – and learned – well, from the start.
Where to begin?
Children in the Reception year are at an extraordinarily exciting – but vulnerable point in their learning journeys. It may be the first time they have been taught in a large group – behavioural expectations may be quite different from nursery settings – they are just getting used to forming and managing varying relationships – with peers and adults – and let us not forget – many of these children will only just be 4 yrs old.
Physical Development is a Prime Area of the EYFSC – Reception children remain under the aegis of this framework – so why is it not given prominence in this document?
Why is there no mention of the critical importance of physical skills – in informing, supporting and underpinning – all development domains?
How can children sit still if their overall strength and balance is poor?
How can they be expected to hold a pencil – if the muscles that support the shoulder joint are weak?
Where is any recognition here of the fundamental role that physical confidence and competence play in ensuring effective communication?
Have children’s bodies been completely neutralised?
Reading this report – do they even have bodies?
Where is the joy, the vision, the imagination?
In short – what have we done?
CREC’s Response to the Ofsted paper Bold Beginnings
CREC have serious misgivings about the content of Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings paper (published 29/11/17). We note that this paper ignores and contradicts other recent Ofsted papers which highlight the benefits of a play-based pedagogy and a broad curriculum in the EYFS. We also have concerns that some contentious statements made in the paper, with the intention of influencing policy and practice, may be based on evidence from a very small sample and are unsupported by a robust and rigorous evidence base.
To be clear, the current EYFS supports a play-based pedagogic approach and advocates the centrality of the Characteristics of Effective Learning (CoEL) which are fundamental to the development of every child as a lifelong learner. Research has shown that it is these skills that make a difference to children’s long term outcomes and to their ability to become happy, resourceful and resilient adults. The Characteristics of Effective Learning and the Prime and Specific Areas of Learning and Development are all interconnected. The Characteristics focus on how children learn rather than what they learn. This distinction is important as it highlights the process of learning for young children.
However, increasingly as children move towards Year 1, other more formal and outcome based pedagogic approaches are becoming evident, as pressures mount to ensure children are school ready and to secure more congruence between Year 1 and Reception year practice. This shift in practice away from that recommended in the EYFS, and promoted in this Ofsted paper, can include the introduction of a systematic programme for phonics teaching and the delivery of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies in the Reception year. However, recent evidence on the value of play based, more relational approaches for children from 3-6 years in securing long term outcomes in all areas of learning may be challenging this current direction of travel.
Emerging developmental evidence reveals that an ‘earlier is better’, more formal, didactic approach may be misguided and will not make a difference in the long term. In contrast to the focus on early, didactic instruction, current research into early emotional and cognitive development suggests that long-term well-being and success at school may be more dependent on children developing executive functioning and self-regulation abilities, and exercising autonomy in their learning. The evidence sharply indicates that play and participatory approaches should be seen as key vehicles for learning throughout the early years.
We agree with Ofsted that Reception Year is a crucial year in a child’s development and that is why it is imperative that its curriculum and approach is developed, delivered and reviewed based on ongoing research and consideration of what is in the long term interests of the child. It is important to review and reflect upon how we deliver the best outcomes for children, and how we can close the gaps caused by disadvantage, but to do this we need to draw upon the strong evidence base that already exists when considering further development.