It’s as if the parents don’t exist

This blog details the consequences of the peculiar inadequacies of data and assessment in EYFS. I believe this affects a child’s academic career all the way through to secondary school, particularly if that child is disadvantaged. There are two key issues that leaders need to consider:

  1. There is no acknowledgement in the statistics generated within schools of parental involvement in children’s academic progress. This leads to some wrong assumptions about children’s ability, thus entrenching disadvantage
  2. Some of the early learning goals could come under the banner of ‘parenting’, yet weirdly if a child doesn’t meet these Early Learning Goals (there are 17 of them), it is assumed that it is because the child is ‘naturally’ delayed rather than lacking parental guidance. Here again, disadvantaged children are disadvantaged further because, as many EYFS reception year policies and ideologies dictate, the process is child-led, meaning that the adults aren’t necessarily proactive about providing the intensive ‘middle class’ education that many advantaged children receive at home

In short, it’s as if the parents don’t ‘exist’ once a child starts school. When you think about the fact that reporting, assessment and general teaching does seek to involve the parent in The Conversation, it is rather paradoxical that when data is generated, the statistics of parental involvement doesn’t exist. And while there is plenty of data showing us that disadvantaged children start school not having received an adequate ‘bank’ of general knowledge and vocabulary such that they find it harder to assimilate new information at school (yet most primary schools choose not to provide a knowledge-based curriculum that would mitigate against this), there is not much in the way of statistical analysis showing how much a child’s academic progress is influenced by the education provided by parents at home during the child’s school life. Although most of us primary teachers know and moan about the fact that sheer lack of parenting, whether it be not regularly hearing a child read or never ensuring their child goes to bed on time, leads to lack of progress at school, we have no way of proving it and, technically, no justification for acting upon it either. This is a situation that could be easily remedied, but first we need to acknowledge it and then we need to get to grips with quantifying it.

I had a little meeting recently with a colleague who gave me some information about how EYFS school reception year progress is reported at progress meetings, moderation meetings and to parents. All teachers should be aware that the reception year teacher’s lot is one of constant assessments, record keeping and updating: all adults in a reception year room will have an iPad permanently in their hands and they will be in ‘waiting’ mode constantly, ready to note down a child’s conversation about how the water fills a jug in the outdoor play area so that they can add that to evidence for the ‘shape, space and measure ELG’ under the ‘uses everyday language to talk about capacity’, for example. The mind boggles at the sheer burden of evidence gathering, especially when you consider that EYFS teachers are supposed to surreptitiously engineer situations such that children discover through guided or independent play; how is it possible to efficiently keep tabs on ‘accidental’ learning for 30 children? Anyway, at regular intervals, the teacher will record the child’s progress against each ELG as either ’emerging’, ‘expected’ or ‘exceeding’ so at least that part is pretty simple (if the huge amount of evidence required to justify is discounted!).  My colleague showed me her spreadsheet and I had a good look at the data, compared it to previous cohorts and we had a conversation about the various outliers on the normal distribution.

Firstly, we talked about the children who were ‘exceeding’ for almost all the ELGs. These were described as ‘more able’. This is where I immediately had concerns, “How do you know that the child is ‘more able’? It could be that they are being provided with additional ‘tuition’ at home?” I asked. Even though it was tentatively acknowledged that, yes, these children were clearly being taught at home if not explicitly then definitely through extra reading, intellectual conversation at the dining table etc, the data didn’t acknowledge that. Instead, they just showed up as ‘more able’, ergo ‘more innately intelligent’.  The outcome? An expectation that these children would ‘exceed’ for all the ELGs, such that the teacher was obliged to provide more intensive learning experiences so that the child ‘exceeded’ for everything, including writing, reading and early maths. So, the child who has everything at home, is given everything at school.

Then, we talked about the children who were ’emerging’ for almost all the ELGs. Here too, it was sort of acknowledged that sheer lack of parenting was the reason that many of the children couldn’t speak, let alone have a decent conversation or begin to put something akin to a conversation down on paper, but it’s almost as if the situation is just accepted. My colleague thought that parents would be aware of the importance of hearing their child read regularly, but I argued otherwise. Why? If you think about it, parents don’t have a frame of reference like us primary teachers and leaders. Even if they do read to and hear their child read regularly, they cannot compare the trajectory of their child to another child in the class (or know how little that other child is reading at home), so have no real understanding of how ‘practice makes perfect’. For the parent of a disadvantaged child, she will be told about her child’s progress but have no idea that her child is really quite behind, and if the SENCO gets involved will then internalise that the child has special educational needs and that the school will be providing what is needed to help that child (remain low achieving and forever hugely dependent on an adult) perhaps allowing this parent to abdicate their responsibility even further. The parent might be minded to do more at home, but will never be given the following information: your child is behind because he is not reading enough at home, he is not getting enough sleep and here is the data to prove it. Just writing this is quite difficult and it goes to show how we educators need to be bold (and diplomatic) about having difficult conversations with parents before it is too late. However, because of the developmentalist beliefs of primary educators, the parent is likely to be placated with a ‘not ready’ catch all reason for why their child is behind.

It occurred to me that the spreadsheet lacked a column.

Is there some way of adding into the data a ‘rating’ for parental involvement such that we can analyse to what extent children’s progress in EYFS is actually down to parental ‘teaching’? You could say that we have no right to ask or pry, but we do have one proxy for ‘parenting’: reading records. We know, instinctively, that parenting (or lack, thereof) makes a massive difference to a child’s academic progress in the early years, but parents do not. Here is what I would do:

  1. Keep an overall record of the number of times children have read to their parents at home and then run a regression analysis against outcomes for the ELGs.
  2. Convert this data into some easy-to-understand information and give this information to parents. ‘Children who only read to their parents once a week tend to be a year behind their peers’ cuts the mustard way more than ‘It really helps if you take the time to hear your child read’.

I do believe all kinds of parents can be our allies if only they were given real information about how their role is so vital. In order for this to happen, educators need to collectively admit that what they do is never going to totally replace the influence of a parent. We could also do with codifying the exact experience of the advantaged child and seek to provide this in the classroom. What does the advantaged child (usually) experience?

  1. Intellectual conversation that is infused with extensive, subject-specific vocabulary, idioms and phrases as well as providing general knowledge about the world, our culture and history
  2. Wonderful music
  3. Hearing interesting and varied stories, nursery rhymes and songs
  4. The undivided attention of an adult who hears them read daily and who teaches them, explicitly, how to count, form letters and to read by sounding out
  5. Understanding that certain behaviours affect others, making them angry, upset and leading to consequences; that it is better to be well-behaved in order to be happy
  6. Being taught good manners and social etiquette
  7. Being taught to focus and persevere through daily practice of musical instruments, reading, handwriting
  8. Early understanding of how ‘society’ works by taking on chores, contributing to the efficient running of a household and feeling good about working hard to help others
  9. Adequate sleep and nutrition

My next blog post will focus on the specifics of going beyond the somewhat woolly ELGs and what I would do, given some sway, to tweak the EYFS reception year experience such that disadvantaged children are given a leg up!






5 thoughts on “It’s as if the parents don’t exist

  1. This is a really important post.

    I’ve been raising awareness about concerns re the Early Years ethos for many years when we went from a slim curriculum booklet to support adult knowledge for early years provision, to the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage (2000) to the Early Years Foundation Stage Profiles -underpinned by the obsessive ‘unique child’ observation and assessment regime with predominating ‘child-led’ activities and assessment opportunities – and the ‘make it up as you go along according to the child and assess everything’ curriculum based on the child’s interests. Horrendous. Ted Wragg wrote about this many years ago and it should have been consigned to history many years ago.

    Whilst I thought this as an individual (then working in a Reception class), when I travelled around the country doing teacher-training for phonics, many early years folk told me how hard they worked to translate the guidance into practice, but where children came as lacking in knowledge and experience, they brought nothing of ‘their interests’ to the table to develop. They needed a hugely enriched curriculum and practical experiences. In other settings with already precocious children, such children presented as gagging to read and write with a thirst for knowledge and improving their skills. Such children would be ‘pushed on’ whilst the adults waited for others to be ‘developmentally ready’.

    It is clear to see that those who present as ‘ready’ are those who have already been taught by the enriched childhoods provided by the parents. And, yes, these children present as ‘more able’ (and they are because of their experiences to date) as you have noted, from the teaching provided already in the home by parents – their first teachers.

    I remember being sent, by a concerned person, a local authority’s curriculum guidance for early years practitioners some years ago, and the word ‘teach’ was nowhere to be seen. To be perceived as a ‘teacher’ and ‘teaching’ in the early years was a no-no and it is worrying if this underpinning ethos still prevails.

    But I suggest that NATIONAL assessment should be snapshots and not hugely detailed based on onerous assessment regimes focused on the minutiae. I have always pondered on this issue of what the ‘nation’ needs to know and understand about educational progress compared to the individual setting’s personnel and the parents/carers. Do we differentiate well enough between various purposes of assessment such as accountability measures compared to information measures for the bigger picture and the minutiae for informing the parents/carers about their child?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s hard to believe that the EYFS is still in place considering that research has repeatedly revealed that the Piagetan concepts that inform it actually retard children’s progress. It’s pathetic waiting for children to spontaneously achieve ELGs through various play-based activities when they can achieve them easily through direct instruction.

    When the Wave 3 intervention I wrote was trialled by SEN advisers in Soton, the report commented:

    “At the start of the pilot, teachers had cited speech difficulties as one reason why some pupils were not being successful at reading. Interestingly, data confirmed that whilst 37% of pupils did show some speech difficulties at the start of the intervention, this did not continue to intrude as a barrier to learning. . .the number of pupils manifesting initial speech difficulties, fell to 16% after 6 months, suggesting that the programme itself had alleviated some symptoms.”

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I am very much looking forward to reading your next blog, as I am keen to hear your thoughts on how best to support those children who start behind, to get ahead, regardless of their home environments.


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