This post is also about EYFS reception year and this affects everyone in education. It’s all too easy to dismiss the start of school life for children as some kind of settling in period, perhaps a time to make friends and play while learning the basics needed to access year 1. Even Ofsted inspectors tend not to have experience of the EYFS stage and politicians decline to comment because that stage of school life and what goes on seems too other-worldly. Nobody wants to challenge the accepted dogma because it is so easy to accuse naysayers of being uncaring, cruel even. However, what goes on in the reception year sets the course for that child’s education pretty much forever. Take heed.
If you’re not aware of how the reception year is usually implemented, let me bring you up to speed: children are tracked for Early Learning Goals and teachers ideally do not teach, except for once or twice daily phonics sessions. Instead, the children are offered a number of group tables with different play-based activities designed to allow children to discover the basics that tie in with the literacy and numeracy ELGs as well as other areas of development. The characteristics of effective learning that must be developed according to the 2014 EYFS curriculum are:
- playing and exploring
- active learning
- creating and thinking critically
Yesterday I posted about how EYFS reception year essentially free-rides on the teaching that parents do at home, as well as some input on phonics teaching. Those that do not achieve are easily given the ‘Not ready’ status and you can see how, right from the start, the gap in achievement, particularly for the disadvantaged, opens up. The whole system relies on a majority of parents being proactive, but it falls down in disadvantaged areas if the majority of parents do not do the requisite parenting (not just teaching the basics, but also discipline, love, routine) needed for children to ‘learn from each other’ in the classroom or to access the discovery learning offered by the teacher. So what are they learning then?
- Limited vocabulary and poor enunciation
Reception year is noisy. Everyone accepts this and assumes that children prefer hullabaloo over calm, order and quiet. If a cohort of children comes into reception year without the basic vocabulary to string a sentence together, and another cohort come in with chronic glue ear that affects hearing, then you’ve got an almost comedic combination of children learning hardly any vocabulary as well as pronouncing it all wrong. Add to this the fact that everyone will be speaking at once, you’ve got to wonder how anyone improves their speech, language or spelling at all. I feel tired just sitting in a popular pub for an hour and I also struggle to hear what is said, yet these little people spend 30 hours a week in a similar social situation. Middle class parents just accept the situation and know that their child will at least be learning good conversational vocabulary and social skills at the dinner table, but some parents may be worried that school might set their child back and undo their good work.
2. How to shout. All the time.
Oh my goodness how pissed off was I when my children started school and then somehow learned to shout in my face the whole time? We’d be sat at the dinner table and I’d have to remind them that I was sat right next to them, not in the next village. This happened because of the reception year enforcing and embedding their shouting and ignoring skills.
3. Adults are not important
When the teacher is facilitating rather than teaching then the child is also learning that the adult is not important: not worth listening to or even looking at. It strikes me as odd whenever I visited reception year classes how little eye contact and sustained concentration children were able to give to adults, but it does make sense given that the children will be, allegedly, learning through discovery and therefore spending more time looking at shiny, bright things on a table, at the iPad or their friends, rather than at the teacher/adult. Just writing this makes me wonder whether the massive increase in ASD incidence and diagnoses in recent years is partially because those on the spectrum who need explicit teaching/modelling about how to interact with fellow human beings are instead having the opposite situation hard-wired during a crucial stage in development.
4. Desensitisation to anti-social behaviour
Up and down the land there are reception classes with a minority of violent, rude, selfish and disrespectful children in them. Many reception teachers would say otherwise, that their classes are wonderful havens of angelic singing and creativity, but it’s like even the teachers get desensitised to the noise and disruption that a certain cohort of children bring. Every time I pop my head into a reception class it’s like Armageddon; how can the teacher possibly know what every child is doing? Biting, scratching, shoving and kicking are the natural go-to options for many children who lack the vocabulary and social skills to negotiate their way into getting what they want and no amount of 15 minute assemblies about ‘remembering to be nice‘ can offset that. The teacher may indeed manage to turn around the behaviour of many children and the year will end on a high, but during that time many children will have had to put up with an awful lot of shit. Sometimes literally. Many children learn the lesson that some people just can’t help themselves and that we should just let them be. There are positives and negatives to this: an acceptance of different kinds of people is good and the world indeed be a boring place if we were all the same, but if this is mixed in with having to accept anti-social behaviour, then this must surely get a lot of children who make the effort to behave down.
5. How to follow their whims and not concentrate
The EYFS curriculum only requires that the children developed sustained concentration in the activities that they’re interested in and these activities must relevant, play-based and facilitate learning through discovery. I recommend you read page 42 to 44 of the handbook I linked to earlier because it is a real eye opener. Any parent will tell you that it is a load of hogwash because if you, as a parent, provide lots of lovely activities, the child gets picky and then is never happy, always roaming to the next option and certainly never concentrating on anything in particular. Why make a rod for your own back when you can give your child a wooden spoon and a couple of saucepans to play with for an hour? Boredom is great for helping children to develop an ability to think creatively! Further, can you see how progressive education is basically embedded through the reception year because children will then go on to expect the same from parents and future teachers? What of the child who never chooses to concentrate on something and work through a few problems because he’s so used to using an iPad at home? ‘Not ready’ is the easy answer that lets educators off the hook; there is no requirement to enforce good habits such as concentration during periods of hard work on something that a child would rather not do. In fact, just writing this makes me think that those children with ADHD might suffer disproportionately here. Again, middle class parents would make their children sit and read, so effectively inoculate their children against the most damaging effects of EYFS on children’s ability to concentrate.
Somebody in government needs to overturn the EYFS curriculum
Who’s with me?