I recommend this for all KS3 and KS2 teachers who wonder why so many children haven’t secured the basics in reading and writing, or who wonder why the proportion of SEN pupils seems to be so high. For the first time, a head teacher of a primary school talks some sense about getting the youngest children off to the best start. I was hooked when, a few minutes in, this amazing woman shared her thoughts on children playing all day long.
Video link of interview with Janet Hilary here
For those who don’t have the time to view the video, here is a brief summary in handy bullet point form:
- School is one-form entry and based in one of the most deprived areas of Britain.
- Originally 76% of pupils designated SEN, but HT has reduced this down to just 2 children in the whole school. The SENCO is now able to devote time to helping children by teaching them what they need, rather than spending time drowning in paperwork.
- All school leaders are classroom based, rather than in ‘ivory towers’.
- All teachers, including nursery teachers, are held to account in the same way that the year 6 teacher is usually held to account during pupil progress meetings.
- Rather than playing all day long, a good portion of the day is dedicated to formal, direct instruction…..even for nursery children. This strategy has produced excellent results, with pretty much all exceeding ELG at end of reception year (and the children still get plenty of time to play and be social).
- This structured learning consists of teachers explicitly, directly teaching children the basics right from the start. This includes the correct pencil hold (hallelujah!), correct systematic synthetic phonics teaching, correct letter formation and even elocution lessons. As a consequence, the triangulation of direct instruction of reading, writing and speaking, combined with their high expectations that all children speak in full sentences, has resulted in all children being able to read, write and speak English in excess of the government’s floor standards.
- One of the reasons for their success is that there is no expectation that children should discover the basics. The direct, formal instruction ensures that no child is left behind.
- All the children love the structured learning.
- Boys have flourished under this system and can write just as well as the girls.
- There is a calm, focused atmosphere of learning in the school.
It has given me immense joy to watch this video because pretty much everything I have thought about how EYFS education should be has actually been done in a primary school….and resulted in great success for all children, regardless of their background. Also, it is good to know that a HT is willing to go against the grain and use common sense. I have always thought that elocution lessons should be on the EYFS curriculum. So many children rock up to school unable to speak properly, partly because repeat ear infections (that antibiotics are now possibly ineffective against) can affect hearing and partly because of lack of conversation at home; it makes sense for them to be taught how to speak properly and to build up vocabulary from an early age.
It is also worth noting that at no point in the interview (or by writing a blog or a really bad poem) did the HT say that her staff were ‘natural teachers’ with children magically flocking around them. She had invested in good training to ensure that teachers were teaching the basics very well. Additionally, at no point during the interview did the HT say that all the children achieve well because the teachers make all lessons ‘fun’ and ‘engaging’.
If you are interested in how the youngest pupils in the country should learn to read and write, I heartily recommend you visit the Reading Reform Foundation website here. I especially recommend that secondary teachers get to grips with the EYFS curriculum and what goes on in primary schools, in order to understand why so many children in secondary school cannot access the more academic, essay-intensive subjects such as history because of gaps in basic understanding. Essentially, I believe that the current EYFS curriculum, with its reliance on discovery learning, group work and of allowing children to opt out (‘not ready’) actually entrenches disadvantage. The false belief that everything comes ‘naturally’ is the reason why so many teachers further down the line are met with the impossible task of teaching the curriculum of their year group whilst differentiating all the way down to reception year curriculum. By then, poor habits such as an erroneous pencil grip seem to be practically hard-coded!
Bring on the EYFS revolution!
Who’s with me?
Update December 2016: I’m now starting to think that an EYFS revolution should include some direct instruction of number bonds and other basic elements of mathematics knowledge that perhaps could be tested in the same way as is proposed for future times tables tests for older children (online/computer).