Have you ever been to a dinner party or a bar and got chatting to someone about the joy of spreadsheets? Me neither. Secretly, I actually quite enjoy a spreadsheet especially when it comes to functions in cells but I wouldn't necessarily admit to it in a social situation. No one wants to be a spreadsheet pariah after all.
Yet the collection of data is pretty integral to UK education because the adult world wants to measure and have its say over the child, to grade them and let them and their parents know exactly what their shortcomings are from an early age. No matter how it gets dressed, Emerging, Meeting and Exceeding are all labels that will transform with each child through their school life until Sats and their landscape of pressure and stress.
We seem to have no problem with the forthcoming Baseline assessments being proposed by the DFE - testing 4 year olds appears to have a level of normality about it that is quite shocking... The 1975's 'Love It If We Made It' (video here -it's first lyric is the f-word so parental advisory!) has the lyric "Modernity has failed us" and one might argue indeed it has. But while we sift through the debris of child mental ill-health and disconnection from learning, we have to provide information and show progress. That doesn't look like it will go away any time soon, the outcome of Neo-Liberalism, of measure above soul, profit above people. And yes, children are people.
So how to do so. How to do so in a way that is meaningful? In a way that enables us as practitioners to give the pound of flesh whilst at the same time have a process that is useful and actually enables children? It all comes down to Next Steps. Something so simple yet effective nonetheless.
Reading in Early Years very quickly seems to become a race through book bands. In fact the pursuit of the next colour code often becomes an obsession for parents, school leadership and even teachers.
The more I think about Early Years, the more I realise just how arbitrary it all is and how so quickly Education becomes more about a system rather than an individual. The system-heads accuse the child developmentalists of lacking expectation or rigour but the reality is that the benchmarking folder and the book band box are symbols of one-size-fits-all, top-down view of children, through which children become a standardised commodity all ensconced in the vague notion of ‘social mobility’.
‘Readiness’ has become something that the adult world believes can be engineered. Cue phonics interventions, 1:1 seasons, parental anxiety, despair and in amongst it all, the child shrinking before us under the weight of frustration and pressure.
Yes, reading is a vital skill in our culture but when we have a system that acts like a train departing at a certain time whether the passengers are ready or not, then children will inevitably ‘fail’.
There’s so much more to reading than a book from the book band box. Reading requires a huge amount of skill, confidence, past experience and vocabulary. Above all, it needs joy. Without this critical component then we are not shaping real readers - instead we’re creating children who are performing for adults for the sake of the adult world system.
So how to create joy?
If the above picture doesn’t sum up your school’s leadership then thank all the dieties in the world, all the lucky stars in the universe above and all the rabbit’s feet you can lay your hands on... For many, it typifies the reality: a data-based machine that needs feeding with numbers to satisfy its hunger for ‘progress’ and ‘attainment’.
How we came to this is a long and drawn-out tale, but we have arrived at a point in education where the data-heads and the school business manager are the arbiters of pedagogy or non-pedagogy as it should be called. We seem to have a system that is slowly pushing GCSE readiness further and further downwards, that is disconnecting itself from children in the pursuit of measurable outcome.
Whenever a spreadsheet appears, a child become invisible...
Yes, progress is important. Yes, attainment is important. But neither should be at the expense of child development. As soon as we make data more important than the child then we open the door to teaching that is done to, rather than with, children.
Learning should be cooperative. It should have an equal balance of ‘power’. It should be engaging and purposeful - not purposeful for the adult but for the child.
Children aren’t stupid. As they get older, they know when they are being asked to do something so the adult can tick it off. They become detached from the classroom practice rather than becoming integral to it. And this happens because as soon as data and progress become the be-all-and-end-all, adults decide that the only way to do this is control.
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....