Early years practitioners can make 'a positive' difference' to child health

Catherine Gaunt
Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Children’s health has been ‘neglected for far too long in the early years’, a leading expert told delegates at Nursery World’s online CPD conference on the EYFS.

Dr Julian Grenier giving the opening speech at Nursery World's online EYFS conference
Dr Julian Grenier giving the opening speech at Nursery World's online EYFS conference

Speaking on the impact of Covid-19 on children’s development during his keynote speech, Dr Julian Grenier, head teacher at Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Newham, and lead on the Revised Development Matters guidance, said that, ‘We’re seeing that a lot of children have been quite inactive during the previous lockdown period, and they are struggling in a way that we haven’t seen before with some of the equipment and some of the activities we plan. We’re having to give those children extra support and extra help.

‘And I think that health has been neglected far too much and too long in the early years.’

He added, ‘Children at the moment we’re seeing probably are not as healthy as children in the early years were decades ago.

‘We also know that there is a very strong link between poor child health and child poverty in general, and that reminds us that disadvantages pile up on each other, if we’re not careful. So, in other words, by the end of the early years it’s not just early learning where children can be behind if they face difficulties in the early years, it’s also health. But we’re in a great position to make a positive difference to children’s health and early learning. And that is going to be extremely important in the period that we’re in and the years ahead.’

‘No tick-sheets’

However, he said that despite concerns about children’s health and statistics showing the rise in obesity among children at the end of Reception, he said that when we look at some of the data on early years it was ‘really surprising’, with 9 in 10 children achieving the Early Learning Goal for health and self-care.

He said, ‘I think that tells us something really important. Which is that where we’ve been focused on data, and moving from one age band to the next, we’ve often missed the bigger picture. Our data tell us health and self-care is going really well but If you spoke to a health visitor or looked at the kids we’re working with, you would get a different picture.’

The revised Development Matters was ‘not a tick list to generate more data.’

It was about putting much more emphasis on helping children in the here and now in the provision.

‘Adding all that data is no help to children that need it. Depth in learning matters much more than moving from one band to the next and covering everything’ and ‘filling in the gaps’, he said.

Settings should give children more time to challenge their physical development, focus on healthy eating, and make sure that children had enough time.

Children need to have enough time to ‘practise and repeat’ and become ‘secure in one phase of development before moving on to what’s next’, he said.

Dr Grenier said, ‘The early years is the place in our education system where high-quality provision really can make a difference and help children who we may first get to know and worry about, but over time we can really make a difference to those children. Research shows it helps all the way through schooling, which is an incredible outcome. If children are behind at the end of the early years it’s much harder for them to catch up later in their schooling. I know that some people worry about this catching up comment, and I understand these worries. And it’s one of the most important things about the EYFS that we think about the unique child and we remember that children’s development is neither predictable nor linear.’

Dr Grenier added that while ‘traditionally’ practitioners focussed on all children’, they should spend more time on observations and assessment on children that were ‘struggling to learn’.

  • More information on the Future of the EYFS conference can be found at http://www.eyfs-conference.com
  • All those registering will be able to access all sessions, including recordings of the webinars

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