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While the new Early Learning Goals have been met with criticism from many in the early years sector, Mark Lehain explains why he thinks they are an improvement and a step in the right direction

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Mark Lehain, director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence

The Government recently announced an overhaul of the Early Learning Goals (ELGs), and it has generated a lot of attention and headlines within the early years sector. The aims of the revision are straightforward enough: to focus in on the most important aspects of learning, minimise the impact of disadvantage at this early stage, and reduce the administrative burden for schools, teachers and pupils too.

Sensible update

The Government consulted extensively with experts across the sector and appears to have genuinely listened to what they had to say, producing a sensible update that should both reduce workload and the word gap. The latter is the massively ambitious dream of many a teacher, and eradicating it is a long-term goal that may take many years to reach, but the hope is that these new ELGs will be a big step in the right direction.

When you look at all the changes together, one theme comes through – children knowing more, and fluently, rather than just being able to do more. This is so important, as it underpins the basis of the whole of the education that lays in front of them.

The communication and language ELG changes are perhaps the most significant of the seven goals. By giving tacit permission for Reception year teachers to teach children much-needed vocabulary and sentence structure, and combining this with plenty of practice to enable changes to long-term memory, children will be given more opportunity to become happy and confident conversationalists as they grow up.

Literacy

The increased focus on literacy is also welcome, and ties in with the later ELG of understanding the world. An understanding of the culture of the world around them – even a very rudimentary one – is vital for any child, as it becomes the foundation upon which they can access and engage with the world that they live in.

So many children do not have access at home to the kinds of conversations and educational experiences of their more advantaged peers, and so it is wonderful to see the focus on broadening the minds of all little ones, giving them real knowledge about their past, their natural environment, and interesting cultures around them. An expectation that children will be given not just access to, but a full immersion in, the rich tradition of storytelling is so important. It inspires both their independent writing and their free play, facilitating opportunities to form lasting friendships with their peers, and helps them become ever-more curious and excited about the world around them.

Mathematics

As a maths teacher by trade, I’m also pleased to see a clear knowledge focus within the mathematics ELG. Teachers of older children are as keen as ever to ensure fluency in recalling their times tables, and now teachers of younger children can ensure that they are fluent in the all-important foundational knowledge of numbers. The push for mastery of basic number facts is a welcome one and will enable them to better carry out creative and successful mathematical problem-solving all the way through school.

The whole early years framework is designed around different forms of development: intellectual, physical, personal, social and emotional. While some of the others feed into the predominantly academic ELGs listed above, the importance of the others are underlined by devoting ELGs to personal, social and emotional development. Tweaks to increase the focus on self-regulation – something every parent and teacher can surely get on board with – and also on gross and fine motor skills will help teachers focus on what matters the most for children’s development, and intervene when a child is falling behind.

Less paperwork

As well as all this, the other thing I want to mention is the significantly reduced burden for teachers in terms of reporting. It is good to see progress being made on this, and the Government recognising a better balance between teachers’ professional judgement and the need to monitor schools’ effectiveness. The old reporting system was simply too much work for very little gain; allowing teachers to focus on what they think is best by removing the need for photographic evidence of their findings is a huge step forward, and a clear sign that the Government is starting to live up to its aim of reducing teacher workload.

I really do believe that these ELGs will help schools focus on what really matters for their youngest pupils. If they manage to achieve their goal of closing the word gap, while also relieving pressures on teachers, then we will all be much better off for their introduction. Our children and early years professionals need this.

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