Reception year: 'could do better', report finds

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Education leaders have called for a Government review of the Reception year after research found inconsistencies in teaching practice.

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The council flagged inconsistencies with maths teaching

The Teaching Schools Council (TSC) regards Reception as the ‘most important year’ which, done well, can ‘provide pupils with a strong foundation for the rest of their time at school’.

But the TSC’s Effective Primary Teaching Practice report, published this week, flags concerns about teaching practice, particularly ‘confusion about expectations among teachers and heads’ in relation to Reception.

The problem seemed to be partly caused by inconsistencies of approach between this year and Year 1, which it was claimed could harm pupils and alienate Reception teachers from their colleagues.

The report, led by former primary school head teacher Dame Reena Keeble, said the council had not taken the recommendation lightly, given the recent ‘continuous succession of changes affecting teachers and schools’, with associated ‘stress and workload’.

It added, ‘We are, however, concerned about the inconsistencies between practice in reception and key stage 1 (KS1), and their effect on potentially isolating reception teachers from their other colleagues, and the critical impact on pupils.'

The council, made up of education leaders from across the country, including an early years representative, went into 20 participating primary schools to gather evidence.

Among the issues noted was a counting-based approach to numbers education (Early Learning Goal 11: Numbers) which is at odds with the available evidence.

According to research, ‘knowledge of composition of number’ is critical to maths progress, while counting is ‘a strategy relied on disproportionately by low attainers’.

During KS1, this is instilled through ‘subtraction by complementary addition’, which is done by partitioning numbers.

There was also a clash with effective KS1 methods, causing teachers to have to undo children’s entrenched bad habits.  

The report added, ‘Given our view that the reception year is crucial to get right, we recommend that The Department for Education supports a review to address the confusion and lack of consistency regarding curriculum and practice in the reception year.

'We believe this should be evidence-based and led by teachers and leaders from primary schools, and draw on research and expertise from those with reception experience in particular.

‘We believe this would support reception teachers and help school leaders to ensure that children enter year 1 fully equipped.’

More generally, the report highlighted the lack of evidence of the benefits giving homework to primary aged children, and suggested only setting it ‘when there is clear justification for it and there are evident benefits for pupils, including school data to back this up’, rather than for the sake of it, or out of habit.

The TSC has the support of the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL), which is an arm of the DfE.

A DfE spokesperson said, ‘We welcome this contribution to the debate about teaching practice and its clear focus on the use of evidence and hope schools and teachers find it useful.

'We have noted the recommendation of Dame Reena in her report and will consider how best to support schools and heads to address the issues raised around Reception year.’

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