Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 15

Memorandum from Dr Andrew Lockett, Early Years Inspector (EY 38)


1.  THE APPROPRIATE CONTENT OF EARLY YEARS EDUCATION, TAKING INTO ACCOUNT THE RECENTLY PUBLISHED QCA EARLY LEARNING GOALS

  1.1  Young children are as entitled as any age group to a broad and balanced curriculum. It is important that young children's learning experiences are not compartmentalised into "subjects" or "areas of learning". It is critical that educators understand the content and processes involved in each area of learning, but that this does not inhibit them from presenting children's experiences in a cohesive and coherent way.

  1.2  Personal, Social and Emotional Area of Learning—Appropriate emphasis given by the Early Learning Goals to children's personal, social and emotional development. This area of learning underpins all others and children's well-being, their positive attitudes and dispositions to learn and their social skills significantly contribute to their success as learners in all other areas of learning.

  1.3  Language and Literacy Area of Learning—It is important to stress that Early Years educators want children to achieve high standards of literacy. However, there are concerns expressed by Early Years and language specialists about the downward pressure of the National Literacy Strategy on young children's language and literacy development. This downward pressure and the narrowing of educational opportunities is leading to an impoverished educational experience which will work against curriculum initiatives to develop life long learners.

  1.4  Our concerns relate to the current emphasis on accurate decoding of print and correct letter formation which can too easily result in static, de-contextualised experiences which alienate some children from the richness and potential of writing and story. There are particular concerns that this will further alienate boys who are frequently not as developmentally ready to tackle such skills as girls.

  1.5  Representation of children's experiences through drawing, modelling, painting, dancing and making music are all powerful ways of developing language and expressing ideas. The development of physical skills are equally critical in giving children the awareness of space and in developing control of their gross and fine motor skills. All of which are crucial to the successful writer. Inappropriate formal strategies for language and literacy may seriously inhibit children at a time when they are most susceptible to inappropriate content and methods.

  1.6  The current emphasis on literacy is having a negative effect on some young children's earliest experiences, particularly in the maintained sector and most particularly for children in their reception year. Young children need to learn to be literate and numerate. This is most effectively achieved in the early years through being creative, being physical and having their natural interest and curiosity about the world stimulated and extended.

  1.7  Mathematical Area of Learning—Mathematical development is most effectively achieved through exploration of number and mathematical concepts in real life situations, which are meaningful to young children. This can be achieved through a variety of practical experiences involving matching, sorting, weighing and measuring as well as counting and early mathematics in a range of playful and spontaneous contexts. The proliferation of work-sheets in many early years settings reveals the pressure to produce "evidence" of learning, but in fact is frequently evidence of how to complete a work-sheet, rather than an accurate reflection of mathematical knowledge and understanding.

  1.8  Knowledge and Understanding of the World Area of Learning—this area of learning is at the heart of so much of what makes young children's spontaneous learning so rich and varied. Children arrive in Early Years settings as competent and capable learners and much of their success comes from an innate drive to make sense of the world into which they are born. The challenge for educators is to provide opportunities to stimulate and sustain this natural curiosity and desire to learn, both through provision indoors, but also a rich outdoor provision. The child's own world of family and community and the natural world around them provides endless opportunities for children to explore, investigate, question and hypothesise.

  1.9  Creative Development Area of Learning—young children are naturally creative and inventive thinkers, so the opportunities for creativity need to reflect as wide a range of ways of enabling children to express themselves as possible. Play is one of the most creative mediums there is, where children can be other people, invent situations, role-play different characters, create other worlds. Through representing their ideas children also demonstrate their developing concepts and understandings. Through creative expression children can continue to explore their developing understanding of a range of experiences and events. Creative development can be a documentation of developing thought, creativity and understanding.

  1.10  Physical Development Area of Learning—there are currently serious concerns about the physical development of young children. Children have a far more sedentary life-style than ever before. High quality Early Years education offers opportunities for children to be active throughout the day as part of the ongoing educational experiences children need both indoors and out. This opportunity can be severely restricted in reception classes where children often only have access to a shared playground with older children and to the hall with space and apparatus frequently being inappropriate for the younger children. Young children need daily physical exercise to develop healthy and strong bodies. However, such opportunities also contribute to children's mathematical understanding through developing an understanding of space, shape and number. Such opportunities contribute to literacy development through the use of language, as well as the fine and gross motor co-ordination so necessary for writing.

2.  THE WAY IN WHICH EARLY YEARS EDUCATION SHOULD BE TAUGHT

  2.1  The "way" in which the Early Years curriculum is presented and taught is actually more important than "what" should be taught. Children at this stage are acquiring a wide range of skills and understandings, and it is through the process of the experiences they encounter that they will develop these skills and understandings, and develop positive attitudes to be learners for life. The impact of teaching in the Early Years is so strong that children are vulnerable to direction from adults, as they are so anxious to please. It is therefore vital that adults working with such young children are able to evaluate and analyse what they are doing and why.

  2.2  In the Early Years children are already successful and motivated learners having learned skills, strategies and understandings from birth to age five at a rate that will never again be repeated in their lives. The challenge for the adults in Early Years settings is to maintain and sustain this innate drive to learn, and not inhibit it in any way.

  2.3  Teaching is a complex process of observing, responding to and planning for children's individual learning. It is more than making children sit still and telling them. Teaching will involve the planned provision and array of resources to provoke different encounters and learning opportunities. Teaching will involve observing children's play and judging the right moment to intervene to extend and enhance children's learning. Teaching will involve setting challenges or problems to solve. The list of "teaching" skills is long and the skill required is to know which strategy to adopt and at what time. This requires rigorous and substantial training, and experience gained over time.

  2.4  For children to learn effectively the adult must take account of the young children's own drive and motivation, their own needs and interests. Children need a wide range of opportunities to initiate learning for themselves as well as respond to experiences and activities initiated by adults. Children need opportunities to work and play alone and in small and larger groups, to co-operate and collaborate with their peers. They need times to be independent and to be in an environment that encourages them to be responsible for their own learning. They need opportunities to solve real problems and make purposeful decisions, communicating with others and learning to listen and respond appropriately. Children need opportunities to take risks and make mistakes. This is at the heart of successful learning. It is important that their self-esteem and self-confidence is encouraged and not dented, where adults treat them with respect as capable learners. It is the task of adults to create a learning environment, which gives children the security to be wrong—and to see this as a natural part of the learning process. It is crucially important that their parents and/or carers are seen as involved in their education, and where their achievements are celebrated and built upon.

3.  THE KIND OF STAFF THAT ARE NEEDED TO TEACH EYS AND THE QUALIFICATIONS THEY SHOULD HAVE

  3.1  The move towards establishing qualified, graduate teacher involvement in every setting is an important step which we fully endorse. Every setting needs to be managed by a qualified professional who understands the complexities of learning, and therefore understands the individual learning needs of very young children. A qualified professional who has a knowledge and understanding of the areas of learning and how these are promoted through the play experiences of an Early Years curriculum. The second adult in the professional partnership within the setting should also be qualified in child development. At present there is a large array of qualifications for workers in the Early Years, which need to be streamlined.

  3.2  The ratios in all Early Years settings within the Foundation Stage should be at the very least 1:15, with encouragement to increase this ratio to 1:10 for the younger children—at least one teacher and one nursery nurse per class of 30. There should always be two staff in any setting as a minimum requirement.

  3.3  It is important that every Early Years professional should be involved in continuing professional development. It is appropriate that each Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership should be responsible for planning and ensuring delivery of such a programme.

4.  THE WAY QUALITY OF TEACHING AND LEARNING IN THE EARLY YEARS IS ASSESSED

  4.1  The quality of teaching and learning in the Early Years is a complex process. It therefore requires that those who make judgements should be appropriately experienced and trained. If the inspectors lack relevant experience and adequate qualifications, the inspections that result are too superficial and lack depth of insight that produces a useful outcome for the setting to use for action planning and development. As the interactive nature of teaching and learning is such a complex social process, the inspection needs to take place over time and involve at least more than one inspector to ensure that judgements are fair and unbiased.

  4.2  There are current discrepancies between Section 10 and Section 122 (formally 5) inspections which are not helpful. Both systems have their strengths, and gains could be made in combining the two sets of procedures. Section 10 inspections involve a number of Inspectors over a number of days. This gives varied perspectives and the opportunity for Inspectors to corroborate each other's judgements and findings. The quality of teaching, and leadership and management are examined rigorously with an expectation that the educational establishment delivers value for money. With section 122 inspections, evidence is usefully gathered through ongoing notebooks, which build up a picture of the setting over time, but as the inspections lasts only a day the evidence base tends to be thin and lack the rigour of the Section 10 inspection.

  4.3  The introduction by OFSTED of a requirement on settings to engage in self-evaluation is a very valuable step in the right direction. Every Early Years setting needs to establish a process of self-review and development, in order to develop and improve on previous best performance.

5.  AT WHAT AGE FORMAL SCHOOLING SHOULD START

  5.1  "Formal" is sometimes confused with the term "statutory". It is not the age at which children start statutory schooling that is the main issue under debate, but the appropriateness and quality of the learning experiences.

  5.2  "Formal" is sometimes used to describe experiences, which involve didactic teaching methods, when children are generally passive as learners and there is a reliance on paper and pencil recording. Taking this definition of "formal", we believe that formal schooling should start no earlier than year 1. Children under the age of six need more concrete, practical, context-rich experiences which build as much on their own needs and interests as they do on what adults introduce. The Foundation Stage principles and aims as outlined in the new Early Learning Goals by QCA are appropriate for children up to the age of six. The rigour in Early Education comes from the quality of the teaching; from teachers who know about the needs of young children, who observe carefully and respond to their individual learning needs, thereby enhancing and extending their knowledge, understanding and skills.

  5.3  The implementation of the literacy hour has done much to undermine early learning. It is not the content of the strategy so much as the way it is implemented. It is the inappropriateness of the Literacy Hour, which forces young children to sit for too long and learn in de-contextualised and often meaningless ways. Of greatest concern at present are the experiences of reception and year 1 children in mixed age classes. With the downward pressure of KS1 Statutory tests, an overcrowded National Curriculum and the requirements of the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies, reception children receive either the same or a diluted version of the year 1 curriculum. This not only means that they may be put off that particular area or aspect of learning for life, but more importantly their confidence is being undermined in that they have failed where they would have succeeded if more appropriate, formal instruction happened later in their school career.

Dr Andrew Lockett

Early Years Inspector—School Effectiveness Service

January 2000


 
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