Maureen Hunt, Achievement for All

 “Research has never been clearer – a child’s early education lasts a lifetime. Securing a successful start for our youngest children, and particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, is crucial. It can mean the difference between gaining seven Bs at GCSE compared with seven Cs and is estimated to be worth £27,000 more in an individual’s salary over the course of their career.”

Teaching and play in the early years – a balancing act? A good practice survey to explore perceptions of teaching and play in the early years, Ofsted 2015

Real learning is not associated with the EYFS, it is often perceived to start in Key stage 1 and is typically defined by a child sitting with a pencil in their hand, or on a carpet with an adult talking to them, so how can we ensure that learning in the EYFS is valued and what principles can we take from the pedagogy?

In early years, it looks to the untrained eye as though children are ‘just playing’. Play is a crucial element in good early years practice, but if you look carefully you will see the child learning and practising new skills, extending their vocabulary, exploring and testing themselves and the world around them, developing socially, learning societal and cultural norms, expressing their needs and developing self-confidence.

When you consider all this, it certainly looks like ‘real work’, indeed to the child there is no distinction between play and learning. In early years settings, the adult plays a crucial role in their interactions with children at play using careful questioning techniques to promote discussion and encourage further exploration as well as providing the resources needed for children’s next steps in their learning.

This requires accurate assessment of children’s starting points and using their knowledge of child development to assess whether this was within typical development parameters or that the child may need intervention. Planning is centered around what the child can do and what their next steps in learning are, usually incorporating the child’s interests and catering for their specific needs. Activities can be wholly or partially child or adult led and may gradually move towards more formal teaching, but it isn’t a straight line of progression as different desired outcomes require different methodology. This is highly skilled work as decisions need to be made on the spot about what each individual child needs next, including when to intervene and when to stand back, when to instruct and when to follow the child’s lead, and yet we often hear it referred to as ‘only play’.

This pedagogy is central to the EYFS, because it considers the holisitic needs of the child, and their age and stage of development. Very few countries move away from this pedagogy as early as we do in the UK, with many children not starting formal learning until they are 6, but a child of just sixty months can enter key stage 1 in a UK school and this can cause issues.

“Child development tells us that children’s learning needs in Year 1 are broadly similar to those for children in the Reception year and that children should not go from being seen as a ‘unique child’ to a ‘Year 1’ in one small step down the corridor.”

Julie Fisher: Moving on to Key Stage 1

So why is Key stage 1 so different in some schools? There are many good reasons why it becomes more difficult to have a play based pedagogy in Year 1, ratios may be higher, there is more pressure to fill books with work so that progress can be evidenced, a change to the curriculum and the looming pressure of tests etc. but for many children this sudden abrupt change in the way they are expected to engage with their learning is difficult to adjust to and can cause a dip in progress as a result. Effective transition needs to be a smooth and gradual process, that builds on and extends what has gone before and as the pedagogy in the EYFS is often quite different to that in key stage 1, developing a shared understanding amongst staff is surely the first step.

Transition is not just a physical move to a new room, it needs to be about aligning practice, developing shared understanding and building bridges for children to cross, not hurdles for them to leap over. The Achievement for All Achieving Early Firm Foundation Programme acts as a bridge between good EYFS practice and the demands of the key stage 1 curriculum. It supports headteachers to bring the two key stages together using a systematic approach to ensure the needs of the child are paramount. By exploring issues such as culture, expectations, assessment, pedagogy and the demands of the curriculum staff are better supported to ensure the child’s journey through school is seamless. Schools are encouraged to challenge the status quo, ask questions and make changes to practice where it is sensible to do so. This approach works to ensure that the needs of the most disadvantaged children are considered and headteachers become more confident in their accountability duties as a result.

Achieving Early Firm Foundation – Top Tips:

  • Make transition a journey not an event
  • Ensure all Y1 staff fully understand EYFS practice and that EYFS staff understand the curriculum requirements of Key stage 1
  • Establish shared planning arrangements for children so that the needs of the child are fully met when planning the learning
  • Carefully plan the environment
  • Ensure transition is carefully planned so that children feel secure, comfortable and successful
  • Get to know the children and their interests
  • Introduce change gradually
  • Ensure Y1 staff understand how children are assessed in the EYFS – consider joint observations and assessments
  • Make sure the most vulnerable children are fully supported
  • Involve the children in the planning
  • Make time for parents and involve them in the process
  • Consider how resources can be used effectively, eg outdoor space, teaching assistants
  • Plan joint activities where it is sensible to do so
  • Challenge the status quo