Negative Reaction or Positive Reflection?

Bold beginnings:
The Reception curriculum in a sample of good and outstanding primary schools
OFSTED  November 2017

Since the release of Bold beginnings I have quietly watched and listened to the many negative reactions and musings of people on social media. Some of the negativity and concerns about the potential impact of this document on the future of Early Years Education I definitely share.

However, what struck me, was rather than focus on and worry about what may or may not happen, how about we use this document to critically reflect on our own current provision and practice.  Instead, we can use it to challenge, question and strengthen our own pedagogy.

Notably, a key thread throughout the Bold beginnings document is how the 41 schools visited (yes only 41!) were making their own decisions and choices based on the needs of their children. These were wrapped securely around the leadership’s own values and beliefs about Early Years Provision. They are using statutory and non-statutory information to help them formulate their own vision of their EYFS based on sound evidence and beliefs about learning.

So do you make your own decisions and choices or do you make knee jerk reactions and follow the crowd?

Why not use this document to help raise questions and provoke debate so that you can be clear about why you provide the provision you do. A much more positive response than ‘I don’t agree with this or that!’ and “what’s going to happen if…’.

This is what we suggest you do.

Start by reflecting on your provision as a whole. 

  • What type of provision do you want for your children?
  • How will you make it fit for purpose?
  • What teaching approaches will you use? What balance of adult-led, child initiated learning will you have?
  • When you walk into your Reception/Nursery environment what do you want it to look/feel like?
  • If you have a large Foundation provision including 2’s 3,s and 4’s how will you ensure that there is progression and how will each age differ?

‘A good early education is the foundation for later success.’ (p4)

  • The Foundation Stage should be a highly valued part of the school if children are to develop the foundations they need for future success. How valued is the Foundation Stage in your school and is it seen as the crucial stating point?
  • Is there a member of the Foundation Stage on the Leadership Team?

‘The teaching of early mathematics was not as well developed as that for Literacy.’ (p24)

  • Which is functioning more strongly for you, Literacy or Maths? Why?
  • How are these areas delivered?
  • How much time is spent in adult led and how much time in child initiated?
  • When children are in independent learning what is the adult doing?
  • Is the learning in continuous provision reflect that which has been delivered in adult led so that the children have an opportunity to practice, rehearse and apply?
  • Are they on hand to extend learning and challenge misconceptions or are children left to their own devices, reinforcing their own mistakes?
  • How do you make mathematical learning irresistible for your children?
  • How confident are your team in their mathematical knowledge and skills? Do they have a clear understanding of the building blocks that children need to become confident and capable mathematicians?

There is a lot in the document about the importance of Literacy, reading, phonics and writing. 

‘The headteachers prioritised language ad literacy as the cornerstones of learning.’ (p5)

‘Leaders had placed reading specifically at the heart of the Reception curriculum.’ (p19)

  • In any given day how much time is spent on this area of the curriculum? How does this compare with maths?
  • Critically reflect on your own environment, is it language rich?
  • Are there words and sentences at children’s eye level for children to read everywhere? This also provides a useful tool for adults when working with the children in the environment.
  • What do you do with the reading scheme? Is it all nicely coded in boxes or is it out for children to look at so that they can go back to texts and stories they have read and share them with their friends?
  • Do you ensure that your children have the pre-requisite listening skills that will give them a flying start in phonics?
  • Is your environment set up so that the links between reading, writing and phonics are explicit for children?

Here is a controversial one!

  • If learning to read is so important is it given ‘pride of place’ on the timetable or is it squeezed into precious minutes and seconds?

It might be worth reviewing parents perception of reading books and how they will be sent home! Maybe a balance of a ‘reading book’ and a book to share and enjoy would be a way forward p22.

I particularly liked the idea of ‘five-a-day’ reading programme as referred to on p19. This is something that could be debated and discussed and made into your own if you like the idea.

Page 23 have some useful checklists for teaching writing and phonics. They could be valuable as a reference point when planning.

There is also a controversial paragraph about whiteboards. What is your view about these? I think as a tool they are very useful and should be available alongside other writing materials. You may have a different view.

Access to snacks 

  • What is your view about this?
  • Is it a time for independent decisions and choices or is it a time for PSED focus and C&L opportunities? There is no right or wrong just be strong in your opinion of why you do what you do!

What is your view about schemes? 

  • Do you have them? How many? Are there too many?
  • Are they useful for Foundation stage?
  • Do they target the learning that you want to focus on?

What is your view about transition to Year 1? 

  • Are your children Year 1 ready? How do you know?
  • What information is passed on? How useful is it?
  • In terms of provision how do you make the bridge from Foundation Stage to Year 1?
  • What are the expectations for Reception in the Summer term and what are the executions for Year 1 in the Autumn term?

Outdoor Learning

  • It is interesting that in this document it is referred to in only one paragraph p16!
  • What is your view about outdoor learning and how this should be approached?
  • Should children have access all day or should it be at a designated time?
  • How do you set up your provision?
  • Do you replicate what is indoors or do your focus on a particular areas of learning?

Continuous Provision

  • Is this a time for children to ‘free’ play or is it a time for children to access independent learning, structured carefully by the adult to target next steps?
  • What do your adults do during this time?
  • Are they sitting with a focused group or are they facilitating, challenging, modelling thinking and correcting misconceptions or are they writing notes and taking photo’s?
  • What do you want your adults to be doing?
  • What is going to have the most impact on learning?

Observations and evidence p28

  • What do you think is an acceptable amount of evidence?
  • How will this be kept?
  • How will you ensure that taking photographs and recording written evidence is manageable and purposeful?

These are only a few questions and I am sure that when you read the document for yourself you will debate more. Remember that there is no right or wrong. The discussion and debate that you will have is just as important as the decision and choices that you will make.

Take control and formulate your own vision and expectations

The bottom line is your children need to make progress and achieve the best that they can. Don’t get hung up on what you think you should be doing. Do what the document says and be BOLD. Have faith in your own views and opinions as they are underpinned by your own sound values and beliefs.

Be strong, take control of your own destiny and make sure that you are in a strong and robust position to withstand change.