Early years experts have hit out at a report by the Teaching Schools Council (TSC) which calls for the Government to carry out a review of the Reception year.
Dozens of signatories have accused the TSC, which authored the Effective Primary Teaching Practice report, of being ill-equipped to make such a recommendation on the early years.
The TSC called for the review after observing ‘inconsistencies between practice in Reception and Key Stage 1 (KS1)’, which it said could isolate Reception teachers and harm children’s progress.
A strongly worded response to TSC chairman Andrew Warren, co-ordinated by charity Early Education, is critical of the limited number (20) of schools visited by the advisory group.
It also highlights what it says is ‘very limited early years expertise’ on the panel, which made a number of wider observations on primary school practice in its report, published this month.
The letter urges the TSC to commission an ‘expert report on early years pedagogy’ to address what it believes are the apparent gaps. It suggests the additional work should draw on ‘relevant research and the many excellent examples of Reception classes using the principles laid out in the statutory framework for the EYFS’.
On early years, the report says it regards Reception to be the ‘most important year’ which can ‘provide pupils with a strong foundation for the rest of their time at school’.
The detractors’ objection stems from the way the report, led by former primary school head teacher Dame Reena Keeble, flags up issues with teaching practice, particularly ‘confusion about expectations among teachers and heads’ in relation to Reception.
Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, said the backlash, which is evident across social media and news websites on the topic, had been caused by the report ‘seeming to imply there are problems with the Reception year because it is not sufficiently like Year 1 of primary’.
Ms Merrick added, ‘That appears to show a deep misunderstanding of the reasons the EYFS curriculum is different to the National Curriculum, namely that it is based on well-evidenced pedagogical principles and research relating to child development [for] children under five.
‘The report said it had found confusion among teachers and heads. In our experience, confusion among Reception teachers tends to come from a conflict between their wish to deliver the EYFS in accordance with their professional training, and pressures from above for more formal approaches.’
Elaine Bennett, an EYFS specialist and signatory to the letter, said, ‘I couldn’t see any input from early years experts or recognised early years organisations. And yet this report is being shared with our nation’s school leaders and even with the Government.
‘The recommendations in this report, based on visits to only 20 schools, threaten to set back Reception class practice by years.’
The TSC report gives as an example, witnessed during visits, a counting-based approach to numbers education (Early Learning Goal 11: Numbers), which it claims is at odds with research showing that ‘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.
The report continues, ‘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. This would support Reception teachers and help school leaders ensure children enter Year 1 fully equipped.’
NEED FOR DEBATE
Professor Iram Siraj, who is not a signatory to the letter, said she could understand some of the criticisms raised in it, but also welcomed the report as an opportunity to ‘put the issue up for discussion’.
Such a discussion should focus on improving training in early years among all primary staff, and particularly school leaders, she said, adding that the focus should be on instilling an understanding of the importance of ‘relational pedagogy and experiential play’, as well as transition.
Prof Siraj said, ‘The very fact they [TSC] are saying that Reception is the most important year – that’s a huge shift.
‘In the past, primary schools didn’t believe that. They often put the newest or worst teachers down there and kept their best teachers for the higher years.’
However, she added, ‘There’s an awful lot of excellence in Reception, which I don’t think has been picked up [by the report].’
The leading early years author, who was on the research team for EPPSE, last year chaired ‘An Independent review of the Scottish Early Learning and Childchare Workforce and Out of School Care Workforce’, which recommended head teachers should receive better training in the early years.
Prof Siraj said, ‘I don’t think the situation is different in England.’
She added that the ‘confusion’ described by the TSC’s report was well-documented, and an indicator of poor leadership.
‘Where are the head teachers?’ she asked. ‘This is an abdication of responsibility for young children’s learning. The senior management team should be ensuring that early years education is taken seriously, not simply for getting ready for formal education.
‘All staff should be talking and planning together what is best for the kind of intake that they get.’
Echoing these observations, the sector letter says, ‘We would welcome a follow-up report from the TSC on early years pedagogy which might help primary colleagues better understand how they can work with Foundation Stage colleagues to achieve the best outcomes for children.’
Early Excellence, whose CEO Liz Marsden, and national director Jan Dubiel, have put their names to the letter, is launching its own review of Reception practice in school settings.
The ‘Hundred Review’ will be practitioner-led, and will involve a range of different voices including head teachers, phase leaders and academics (see online story).
The TSC has the support of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, which is an arm of the DfE. A DfE spokesperson welcomed the TSC report as a ‘contribution to the debate about teaching practice and its clear focus on the use of evidence.
‘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.’
The full letter, signed by at least 47 early years representatives including nursery and infant school leaders, teaching school organisations and consultants, is available at: http://bit.ly/2fC4o4v
The TSC report is available at: http://bit.ly/2eXA1bv
A Government blog explaining the role of the TSC is at: http://bit.ly/2fmuGZl.