An Alternative Bold Beginning...
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.
The play sandwich can also make help you re-think your practice so that you don’t need to sweep play aside. Is your Headteacher now insisting on tables to write at? Then put a table in the continuous provision, dress it up for interests and across the year model writing at a table... In fact have more than one table if need be! The presence of a table doesn’t have to stop play. Make it work for you. Focus your mind on the play, not on the table.
A whole school approach to mathematics teaching? Then embrace the scheme if you have to but know in your heart and in your practice that the real mathematics happens in the play sandwich. If your school insists on a whole school programme then there’s probably little you can do to change that. So instead change what you can.
Look again at your timetable and practice. Demand for more reading? Not necessarily a bad thing but think how your role in play can engage children in language, story, rhyme and talk. Use the report as an opportunity to celebrate play. Turn it on it’s head. Tick the box of formal learning but do it so that you CAN then play. Do guided reading and yes make it as engaging as you can but know that the real joy in reading comes not through shlecking through RWI book bands but through playful sharing of real quality stories, storytelling and open-ended role play in an environment that celebrates the written word.
Yes, Ruth Miskin might benefit from the report outcomes and good luck to her but put your energy into the formal teaching you have to do then put even more into the massive layer of play that comes after so that children can be physical, talk, collaborate, explore and engage meaningfully with the 3Ms: Mark Making, Making Conversation and Mathematics.
Use the continuous provision to develop physical development, create a buzz about reading by being you - bring your magic to the classroom. Wrestle control of your timetable - take ownership of it. Plot each day so that children can engage in play. Ask yourself do I believe children have magic inside them or are they merely data-objects within a factory? If you believe the former then continue to embrace play. If you accept the latter then meekly roll over.
Use the report as a kickstart for real play. The beauty of the 3Ms approach is that it brings the results for the Adult World whilst allowing your children to engage in the work of play. It allows you space to formally teach because you have to but transforms play into your real learning tool too. That way your children get a great big wedge of beautiful play and your leadership gets to tick their boxes. And for you? Each and every day you get to take a huge bite of the play sandwich yourself - what could be better??
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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....