More than ever before, with the ripples of Ofsted's Bold Beginnings report still being felt in Early Years, the nature of effective learning, its definition and how to achieve it is being brought into sharp focus. On social media and in staff rooms alike there is a debate that seems to have taken a traditional vs progressive angle and has pitted the play purists against those who argue that children need to be made ready for the UK's National Curriculum. It feels as though play opportunities are being squeezed to accommodate the demands for children as young as four to comply to a 'system'.
The debate has also evolved into a discussion about whether formal or in-formal methods of teaching are the most effective, with the presence of tables and table-based writing/activity coming into question too. If you've read my previous blogs about the magic of children and the need to listen to their song then you'll know that I'm passionate about play and playfulness being used as the primary learning tool with young children. The rationale for play is simple: it embraces what comes natural for children; it plays an incredibly vital role in their physicality; it has a huge impact on language development and talk and ultimately it is what enables children to make an emotional connection to their environment, one another and ultimately to their learning.
The release of Ofsted’s EY report ‘Bold Beginnings’ http://bit.ly/2zRL1mo has certainly opened up a debate about early education and what is and what is not appropriate for 4-5 year olds. There are many things within its pages that point to the formalisation of Early Years. A personal reaction is one of dismay based on the knowledge that many Headteachers and school leaders upon reading it will have the impression that the formal methodology that was used as a sample will now be the type of practice that Ofsted will be looking for when inspecting. Hopefully this won’t be the case but the reality is that the report has the potential to put unnecessary pressure on EY teams in schools to overly-adopt the kinds of formalised practices featured in its pages.
The word ‘sample’ in the report subheading will probably be overlooked by Headteachers although the reality is exactly that - it is a sample. However it is a selective sample. If you look at the schools involved you might just spot some who are part of academies with a certain maths programme to sell. Knowing this alone should start the alarm bells ding-a-linging... I’m sure the authors of the report had good intentions and arguably there are elements within it that are perhaps in a tiny way head-noddingly agreeable? We know that Early Years can’t exist in a bubble after all and the voice to Early Years-ify KS1 is not currently being heard by the necessary ears and their political agenda. Saying that, I’m in no way advocating the KS1-ification of Reception! If your leadership is insightful and understands child development then they will possibly have an EYFS approach in year 1. But for those who don’t then life might well become that little bit harder!
Education in the current climate is obsessed with measurability, performance and outcomes so perhaps the report should come as no surprise. Having said that there is a pedagogical model that can meet the report’s recommendations IF that is what your school leadership insist on. In fact it’s a model that is brilliantly effective even if they don’t!! In addition, contrary to the report, this model actually gives space and time for real play! It’s the 3Ms and it uses the idea of the ‘play sandwich’ - essentially a huge slab of play between two slices of formal teaching across both morning and afternoon session. Using it can enable your children to truly engage in play whilst at the same time achieving the data/methodology outcomes for the Adult World.
Can I Go Play Now..? is committed to widening the understanding of the magic of children's play as an educational tool. Child-centred, play-based learning is where it's truly at....