Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings report sparked great debate this week as educators, once again, appeared to be tackling the question: should reception classes be taught a narrower curriculum of more formal literacy and maths (and therefore less learning-through-play)? Based on research internationally and what we know about the psychological importance of play, the idea initially sounds worrying.
So what does the report say?
It was identified (in the few schools investigated) that the transition to year 1 was difficult because the Early Learning goals were not aligned with the year 1 national curriculum (NC).
The successful schools featured gave ‘sufficient time for’ direct teaching of reading, writing and mathematics each day, and it is this that forms the basis of the recommendations.
The report observes that achievements up to age 5 are important – although it appears to condone the attitude that children cannot ‘catch up later’. This contradicts other findings from the Nordic countries that children are better equipped for learning if they start at age 7 after several years of learning negotiation, communication and risk-taking through play, particularly outdoors.
In defense of the report, it identifies:
– The ELGs do not prepare children for the Year 1 demands
– The efforts to meet the EYFSP statements are often pointless activities which detract from real learning
– Language and literacy are the cornerstones of learning
– Story time in the successful schools are a valuable part of the daily routine
– There was a good mix of whole-class teaching, partner work, group teaching and play
– Play is an important part of the curriculum
– Teachers need specific CPD for these reception-level classes and NQTs are not sufficiently trained for it in their ITT courses
– The obsession with gathering evidence (p28) distract staff from their core purpose of teaching
– Moderators often have a motive contrary to checking the accuracy of teachers’ assessments
An interesting study on page 13 of the report shows how restricting free access to snacks encouraged the use of language and questions and gave the opportunity to engage in conversation about the numbers of plates or describing the vegetables.
So why the uproar?
The concern arising from this report is that it makes clear recommendations based on their findings, starting with the CORE purpose of the reception year being the teaching of reading, including systematic synthetic phonics.
The threat of the loss of time for play has caused particular backlash and many educationalists are calling for it to be withdrawn. However the report does clearly state that play is an important part of the curriculum. The ambiguity comes in the point that: “except for literacy and mathematics, the schools were not clear about the time they devoted in a typical week to the different areas of learning,” which could be interpreted as saying that the lack of declared time for play implies that there was not structured dedicated time.
The report also, rather frustratingly, advises that educators ‘use the EYFSP as a guide to end-of-Reception expectations rather than to define what should be taught’. This echoes of the old notion that SATs could be simply a measure of teaching that would be naturally happening, and not seen as a benchmark to be taught to.
Right for all?
While reception leaders involved shared the view that the Reception year should “develop children’s confidence, concentration and ability to listen and follow instructions” and “generate a love of learning and an enjoyment of school.” it is important that we question whether more desk time and formal academic learning can give that opportunity for all. By reducing the time available for play, we risk not meeting the needs of the children who thrive on other forms of interaction to understand concepts.
Is reception important?
Another report “Students’ educational and Developmental Outcomes at age 16″ (2014) showed that the quality of the reception year can be the difference between 7 Bs at GCSE and 7Cs.
Perhaps the more concerning missed opportunity for this report is further investigation of the school starting age in the UK.
What’s your take on the report?
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Author: Katie Newell
Katie Newell BA(Hons) PGCE is an ex-primary school teacher, Head of Maths, Head of Year five and languages specialist. Katie qualified in Psychology at Liverpool then specialised in Primary Languages for her PGCE at Reading. Before teaching, Katie was a financial commentator and is now the Content Manager for Eteach.com and Fejobs.com. Katie feels passionately that teachers are the unsung heroes of society; that opening minds to creative timetabling could revolutionise keeping women in teaching, and that a total change to pupil feedback is the key to solving the work life balance issue for the best job in the world.