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With the reception baseline pilot due to start in September, attention is now rapidly turning to the qualifications of the panel consulting on the proposed new Early Learning Goals (ELGs). The concerns are that some panel members have little practical knowledge of early years, some have a vested financial interest whilst others are in support of formalising the early year’s curriculum.

Early years professionals are clamouring for the removal of those with vested interests and those without early years expertise. Kym Scott started a petition a few days ago (which has already received almost 5,000 signatures) asking the DfE to halt the EYFS review until a new panel can be convened, composed of early years experts with a proven knowledge and understanding of how young children learn, based on longitudinal, international research NOT a top-down, target-driven agenda or based on the findings of Bold Beginnings.

News of the petition coincided with media reports raising concerns of the mental health and well being of young people with exam-related stress.   A report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (September 2017) revealed that suicide rates of students in higher education have increased by 56% (between 2007-2016) overtaking, for the first time, suicide rates of those not in education. Suicide rates in young women are on the rise and the number of first-year students seeking support for their mental health has risen fivefold over the last 10 years.  ‘The crisis in children’s and young peoples mental health and well being is real and is urgent…..3 children in every classroom have a mental health problem.’     Are we really going to subject children of 4 and 5 years old to the same pressure of performance?   By removing play, the vehicle through which young children learn best and replacing it with a formalised curriculum in which reading, writing and maths are the be all and end all, we will be doing just that.

I once observed a reception class, in a large academy chain, who I was informed focused almost exclusively on the 3R’s. The children had 30 minutes of grouped phonics followed by a 25-minute carpet session, where all the children were expected to write a sentence.  Some did this immediately, others took a lot longer and one was unable and was supported every step of the way by an adult. Those that completed the sentence sat and waited patiently for the remainder of the class to finish. It was heartbreaking to observe these children, whose individual needs weren’t catered for, and who were then sent off to tables, in groups, to complete yet another pre-ordained task which involved, for some, even more phonics! Surprisingly none of the children seemed to rail against this but they were very passive and levels of involvement were low.   Play, I was told, had been taken out of the equation.

Data is an incontrovertible fact of life for schools and, for many, such as the one above, this drilling paid off in terms of rising scores and it turned a failing school into a ‘good’ school.   I use this term loosely in this instance as I believe that there is more to being a good school than turning out reception children who are proficient in the mechanics of reading, writing and maths.

I wonder if the characteristics of effective learning will survive the introduction of a formalised curriculum?  The characteristics are supported and developed by experienced practitioners who know how to create an enabling environment which supports investigation, exploration and children’s own fascinations, leading to high levels of involvement and engagement.   The characteristics are most certainly not supported through an overly focused, adult-directed curriculum based on reading, writing and maths.

Attitudes towards learning are developed in the early years and children who learn through play discover that learning evolves through doing, through trial and error and problem solving.  Skilful practitioners actively encourage and develop children’s interests, which even though unplanned, will cover many areas of learning, allowing for meaningful connections to be made and purposeful learning to take place.

Please sign and share this petition and do what you can, at whatever level,  to ensure that children do not lose their right to play.

THIS IS ME:  Article 31 and a child’s right to play





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