Physical reality


The experiences of a child in early years are critical for their future, says Jan Dubiel

At Early Excellence we believe that a child needs to be physically ‘ready to learn’ in order to be mentally ‘ready to learn’.

The growing body of research being carried out in this area is to be welcomed. However, given the vital role that early years education plays in a child’s development, it is essential that we don’t jump to quick conclusions based on limited evidence.

The reports on recent research carried out at Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences are therefore a cause for alarm (‘Nearly a third of Reception children’s physical development “of concern”, online, 2 September). We are told that researchers testing just 45 Foundation Stage children at two different schools found that, for almost a third of children in Reception, their physical development was concerning.

Anyone who is a regular listener to Radio 4’s More or Less programme will know that conclusions produced through analysis of only 45 children are difficult to verify. At Early Excellence, as a result of more than 12,500 schools choosing our model of Baseline Assessment, we have built up a thorough and expansive database on the development of nearly 500,000 children. Bringing together information on such a large number of children at the point of their entry to school has provided us with hugely valuable insights into children’s physical and mental development, some of which contradicts the findings of the Loughborough University study.

Our figures, which are based on assessment of around 10,000 times more children than the Loughborough University study, show that 84 per cent of the children assessed demonstrated that they are at a ‘typical’ or ‘above typical’ level of physical development (PD). The Early Excellence Baseline Assessment (EExBA) was designed to reflect attainment within the EYFS framework and the outcomes in PD aligned with the Area of Learning for PD: Moving and Handling. The fact that most recent EYFS Profile outcomes (for 2015) indicated that 89.7 per cent of children attained ‘expected or above’ in this specific area demonstrates a much more comparable – and therefore believable – figure.

Part of the reason for the discrepancy between our findings and those of the Loughborough University study may be the conditions under which the children were assessed. We believe in an observation-led, non-test approach in order to ensure children do not feel stressed under test conditions and demonstrate what they really know and can do by applying it in a real and meaningful – rather than artificial and meaningless – situation.

Our approach is practitioner-led. This is because early years practitioners play a vital role in the education of young children, and through their everyday interactions with the child they develop a strong understanding of the range of skills and abilities. EExBA allows practitioners to assess children through observations, interactions and everyday activities, avoiding the need for formal pre-set tasks or tests. Using a non-invasive process which does not disrupt children’s induction into school, practitioners use 47 assessment statements covering all areas of a child’s learning. We believe that our model provides an accurate assessment that enables practitioners to work closely with pupils and understand their individual learning needs.

The Loughborough University study highlighted the work of the Movement for Learning programme, which has been piloted with two schools and works to redress the decline in children’s physical development. While the aim is admirable, we believe that the importance of physical development must be tackled on a far greater scale, rather than through the implementation of a single programme.

Early years policy and practice must both be based on an approach that looks at the whole child, taking into account their physical and emotional well-being alongside academic success. For practitioners, physical development should be seen as integral to everyday learning, and incorporated into all early years activities.

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