I decided to put my latest musing, which started life as a thread on Twitter- onto this page of the KEYU website: "Voices from the Foundations". After alI I am a teacher of over 20 years who has made the decision to stay firmly in the classroom. I am, like many of you reading this, a voice from the foundations- literally. I hope you read this and feel empowered to share your voice! We are the voices that need to be heard and I would love for this page to be your megaphone! Contact me here to share your voice!
Well for today- let me kick things off. So, today with EYFS reforms, myths and legends abounding and confusion in many quarters- let's ask:
"Whose practice is it anyway?"
Those of us working in the Early Years sector are fortunate to work in a sector shaped by a rich heritage moulded by some of the leading pioneers from past and present- from Isaacs to Bruce, and MacMillan to Fisher. In 2021 there are pressures from above, sometimes from within our sector, often from within ourselves as we are overwhelmed by what we see shared on social media. More recently in a Covid world many of us have accessed never ending webinars during our evenings and weekends- giving us even more to consider- perhaps sometimes we are hearing too much!
We all have important decisions to be make about our pedagogy, our principles, our values, our ethos for today and the future. We have to make decisions about make about how we hold onto all that matters in the face of pressures from those who do not understand child development. We have to decide which battles to pick and which to smile sweetly and nod at before carrying on regardless with what we know matters.
Let's take a moment to think about some of the pedagogical approaches that settings may choose to embrace. How often do we hear people say "We are Reggio/Montessori/Forest School/Froebellian/Play based/Child led...." the list goes on.
The truth is that these pedagogies can become the air in our settings, benefitting everyone- however- alternatively they can be completely misunderstood, misconstrued and poorly applied.
How many times have we seen a Montessori settings that whilst having the word Montessori in their title or on a board outside- inside bear no resemblance to Maria's work aside from a couple of resources? I once visited a setting who informed me they were child led/Montessori/Reggio and In the Moment. After spending a few minutes in the setting I can honestly say none of the above were embedded and in trying to be everything- there was actually very little happening.
So what are the keys to really embedding an effective pedagogy? Here's a few starters:
*level of understanding, confidence and skill of all staff
*level of training and support they receive not just at the beginning of the journey- but throughout it.
*leadership within the setting.
*shared understanding that developing practice is a slow journey.
*time to talk, reflect, learn, celebrate, comisserate and grow as a team
Our "In the Moment Journey"
As a NNEB trained nursery nurse first and foremost- I’ve always been committed to a pedagogy based in child development with play, interaction and observation at the core.
For years I was swallowed up in the status quo of topic work, setting up activities everyday inside and out. I taught focussed groups where children were being pulled from where they were highly involved- in their play. But I’d leave my focus groups, never get them completed and go to the child to teach wherever they were, or I'd abandon my preplanned on a Sunday night outside activity because I could see the childs work was far superior!
This was all before I had heard of Anna Ephgrave or Ruth Moore, but I had read Mary Sheridan, I had worked in a Montessori pre prep. I had read Elizabeth Matterson, Margaret Donaldson and Janet Moyles amongst others....
In fact whilst I was reading these books the chances are Anna and Ruth were developing "In the moment planning" which by their own admissions- is nothing new- just good EYs practice- in the settings they were working in. Growing the work with their team and doing their research.
So when I joined a school as the EYFS lead back in 2013 where change was needed to improve practice- I started looking for something. Going on endless courses. Buying books and trying things out. I realise much of which was fancy pants; based in nothing even if it was delivered with great charisma. I also realise at times I returned from courses in a state of what I would call "dangerously inspired" where I would try and change the world over night- after all we knew OFSTED were coming!
But this trying out was an important part of the journey. I learned I needed to slow down, work with my team and bring them with me. We joined a local network with Early Excellence. I promoted the project heavily within the area and the take up was great. All of the team were able to attend sessions, including SLT and hear the same messages. It was at one of these meetings that the wonderful Judith Twani introduced our cluster to the work of Anna Ephgrave and Ruth Moore....
...and to be honest- it felt like coming home. The journey we’d always been on. We started slowly moving away from topics and focus groups as it was what the team knew and felt safe with. Small changes leading to long term change.
Our Requires improvement judgement in 2013 from the big O became a good in 2014 with the compliment that if the inspectors had small children they’d like them to be in our setting....
It’s now 2021. We are still on our journey. Talking. Reflecting. Building. The truth is we will always be on our journey as we never stop learning together.
Our GLD (for whatever that really means about young children ) is inline with national. Our children are thriving. Parents are happy. Our school is popular. Our team is strong and we are confident in what we do.
So when I am contacted by skilled, experienced practitioners questioning themselves because a trainer has told them “working in the moment isn’t enough” or that they’ve read a blog, article or watches a webinar saying the same- I simply say this....
Ofsted by their own admission do not, cannot, will not dictate pedagogical approaches. It’s not their remit. Not their setting. It’s yours.
If the inspectorate can’t tell you how you should work- I’m pretty sure no one else can. And if- just if- someone with an Ofsted role was doing this in another guise- then that’s an issue, a conflict of interest surely?
To conclude what was meant to be a few musings. Whatever approach you use, just make sure you train your team, you read, you learn, you reflect and embed. Just saying you are a “such and such” setting doesn’t mean you are- pedagogy is more than a label. Its the golden thread. The air in your setting.
Read. Train. Get the full story. Build deep understanding. Reflect. Evolve. Don’t get sucked into the myths and legends spread by those who haven’t done the reading, studying or even practice themselves. Don't fall the rhetoric or hyperbole.
If I reflect on our setting. I am proud of what we have achieved and continue to achieve. I am proud to say we teach in the moment and our children learn in the moment. Everything we do has play, child development, loving, caring relationships, enabling emotional and physical spaces and CoELs at the heart. This is our "In the moment" approach.
Is it adequate for my setting?
Is it adequate for my team, our children, our families?
Er yes. If it wasn’t we wouldn’t continue on this journey would we and we wouldn’t see the results we have over the past 8 years. Not just in terms of outcomes but the morale and confidence of an amazing team.
So yes, the EYFS reforms are coming. Parts of them are good, parts are not so good. Many in the sector feel unsure. Messaging from some of those in positions of power isn’t helping us.
Yes the framework is changing.
But your children aren’t.
Neither is what they need.
Neither is what makes the difference.
So don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
What’s good is good.
And if your approaches are working whether you work in the moment or not- why would you change?
I’m all mused out.
Over to you!
As an EYFS teacher for the last 8 years and an EYFS leader for 5 of them, I have often
stressed and worried about the impact that my workload has on my personal life and worked tirelessly to
maintain a reasonable work-life balance. The more responsibility you take on, the harder the balance becomes.
Over the last 8 years I have worked with the 2012 revised EYFS curriculum, the Early Learning Goals and the Characteristics of Effective Learning for the children in my settings and have used my professional judgement and best fit analysis to assess against a developmentally appropriate curriculum. The 300+ children I have taught have left my foundation settings with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed as they move through school. Their foundations have been firmly set in place and they are confident, independent and resilient learners. The reason for those children having firm foundations is not only due to the dedicated, skilled and enthusiastic practitioners facilitating and enhancing their learning experiences but also a curriculum that is developmentally appropriate and encourages schools to use a more holistic approach to teaching and learning with the youngest children in their settings.
We are constantly hearing how the National Curriculum is deeper and wider, deep dives into specific subjects are being carried out and children need to be knowledge rich. Why then does it feel like the new EYFS has been narrowed, shortened and children being encouraged to simply learn facts by rote? Whole sections of our current curriculum have been removed and the replacements are questionable and some developmentally inappropriate.
The main defence that I have seen for the revisions is to reduce workload for staff. As an EYFS practitioner I’m not going to sit here and say that my workload is manageable or that I have plenty of time for my personal life but what I will say is that as an EYFS practitioner, I would go above and beyond time and time again to ensure that the children I teach have the best possible education they can receive in the earliest years of their school life.
*My workload shouldn’t be the reason those children receive a narrowed curriculum.
*My workload shouldn’t be the reason those children will miss out on valuable learning
Some schools will not continue to teach a broad and balanced EYFS curriculum but instead will teach specifically to the new goals. This is not what our children deserve nor what they should receive. There was a brilliant opportunity to really harness the awe and wonder that occurs in an Early Years setting and showcase it and this has been completely missed.
Our children are already expected to achieve far more academically at a much younger age than most other countries across the world and even more so now from 2021. Children are unique, they are individual and we should be encouraging them to learn in ways which suit them and work with their individual needs and interests. They should not be learning facts by rote like robots.
I am proud to be part of the EYFS community as I know the dedication, hard work, passion and enthusiasm that each practitioner exudes and the effort we will go to in the name of appropriate early childhood development. However, I do not understand how or why it is appropriate to place workload above the importance of appropriate child development. I would happily keep my workload at its current level if it meant that my children would continue to receive a broader, richer curriculum and a holistic approach to childhood development in the Early Years environment. Staff workload is not the issue here, using workload as an excuse is.
My workload will continue at its current level because I like many other EYFS practitioners will continue to provide an excellent, rich curriculum full of amazing learning opportunities for children who deserve nothing but the best.
It feels increasingly important to find my voice and raise it.
Here is a letter I wrote to the boys school last week.
Issues relating to racism and white privilege are getting lots of coverage at the moment. It might feel like these issues are a million miles away from your lived experience, or you might feel like you or your family face them every day. You might feel somewhere in the middle, and have been impacted by the recent coverage you have seen, and are wondering what it all means for you and your families.
It is not my intention to speak on behalf of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) families at the school, and I am certainly not the voice of every person of colour, but what I can tell you about, are my experiences, as a mum of two wonderfully funny, compassionate, beautifully brown boys, and I hope you will listen and understand.
You might feel like this letter doesn’t relate to you, or reading it might offend, or make you angry or sad. If it makes you uncomfortable, I would invite you to BE uncomfortable.
It’s as uncomfortable as I feel when we go to the supermarket, and the checkout assistant asks my partner “can I help you?”- assuming we are not together because he doesn’t share the same skin colour as me or our boys. It’s as uncomfortable as I feel every time I see a prejudiced or racist comment on the local community pages on social media, and it takes me a day or two to recover, as I remind myself, we are safe and we are loved. It’s as uncomfortable as I felt after the Brexit vote, when I was too scared to take my youngest to the park after drop off, in case someone said something racist or xenophobic and he had his very first experience of direct racism right there in the park. It’s as uncomfortable as I felt when I went swimming, and a well-meaning older lady, told me I “had a nice tan”.
It’s every direct, indirect, casual or structural form of racism I have ever felt or experienced, many of which are too hard and painful to write about here.
It’s happening now, in our communities.
Many people are understandably angry.
I am not angry, I am sad.
I don’t want my beautiful boys to grow up in a society where “colour doesn’t matter” or “isn’t seen”, but where their cultural difference is embraced, understood and respected.
To this end, I need your help.
I need you to talk to your children and young people about:
• Positive cultural identity and how people of colour have positively contributed to society, not just pop stars like Beyoncé or sports people like Mo Farrah, but all the fabulous doctors, scientists, historians, and artists of colour.
• Talk honestly about British colonialism and British history, and remind them that people of colour contributed to the war effort in both world wars.
• Help them understand the realities of structural racism and how power and privilege gives people very different life chances or opportunities.
• As teenagers when they begin to find their own identities, support them to understand cultural (mis)appropriation, so they don’t take aspects, ideas or images from another culture without genuine understanding, acknowledgement or respect of it.
• As your lovely little people grow up to be brilliant decision-makers and influencers, talk to them about how black representation matters, and give them the tools and strategies to be actively anti-racist.
It has been a difficult few months, and I feel a spotlight has been shone on our need to be “global citizens”, so we can smash those glass ceilings and understand how to make a fairer, better and more sustainable world for us all.
Please take this letter with the intentions that is it written - love, compassion and understanding, and above all, I ask you to
be kind and be brave.
Let’s support the change,
let’s BE the change.
Much love. ♥️
“If tolerance, respect and equity permeate family life, they will translate into values that shape societies, nations and the world”. Kofi Annan.
#4 FREE stories to support PSED during the Coronavirus pandemic
I hope you are all safe and well. I just wanted to share with you an email I received today from the wonderful Sue Rogers, from the Early Education London branch.
She has kindly shared some resources I think you might like to share with children and families at this difficult time.... please have a look, feel free to download and share far and wide! Please note "George" is only for families who have suffered a bereavement during this crisis.
Over to you Sue!
Wash your hands....a powerful message from one of our members
When I was 4 years old, my mum kept telling me to wash my hands and not to touch things as they had germs on them. I liked to play in the garden, making mud pies and generally getting dirty like most 4 year olds. Anyway, 'go and wash your hands' and 'Urgh, put that down it has germs on' was said to me so many times that I began to worry about it. I got scared. I started to feel things crawling on me - everywhere. When I closed my eyes I kept seeing 'germs'... everywhere. I remember they were like the cells you see under a microscope, dividing and multiplying. This gradually got worse until I wouldn't touch anything or wear any clothing at all. I remember my nan coming round with a newly knitted two piece outfit that she'd made from 'special germ free wool' that she'd told me she'd bought. I wouldn't wear it. It was itchy and I could feel the germs all over me. My mum tried to bribe me into wearing something by saying I could wear my bridesmaid dress. But I couldn't. Eventually I was taken to the doctor - wrapped in a dressing gown, that I wouldn't actually wear. My symptoms were a result of stress and anxiety around 'germs'. My mum was told I was having a 'nervous breakdown'. I was 4 years old!
I'm now 46 and I don't have many memories of such a young age but I can remember this like it was yesterday - the memory is vivid. It has upset me even writing this as it was such an awful time for me.
I just wanted to say to everyone, please be careful how you share the germ/hygiene message with these young children returning to school or other early years settings. Of course they need to know they have to wash their hands and that there are germs out there - just don't go on and on about it.
There is a great deal of concern around recent and forthcoming policy developments in early childhood education and care. The ongoing funding crisis, changes to curriculum frameworks, assessment and regulation, closures of children’s centres and more are preoccupying our thoughts in early years. There is uncertainty, instability and confusion across the sector.
In response to this there are many charities and membership bodies working hard to represent early years practitioners, (see the Early Years Coalition) ensuring policy makers hear other perspectives from practitioners ‘on the ground’ and from research.
In addition to these organisations, some individuals and groups have taken direct action (e.g. March of the Four Year olds against baseline testing, meeting MPs about early entitlement funding) whilst others are standing their ground or challenging decisions at a local level. But some people can’t or don’t feel comfortable, for a range of reasons, with this kind of activism that is public and visible. It’s just too challenging.
But what we all have is experiences. Stories. Voices. And often these go unheard in policy developments. So, in all the noise of these policy shifts, various responses and competing arguments – where and how is your voice heard? How do you stand your ground in the face of unwanted changes? How do you share your values and principles on early education and care?
Keeping Early Years Unique have set up ‘Voices from the Foundations: Life in the Early Years’ as a webpage for you to post or blog anonymously. This platform offers a place for you to write about life in your setting or school from your perspective, and aims to ‘turn up the volume on inaudible voices‘(Clough 2002).
This is a place to share your experiences, voice your concerns and connect with others. Whether you consider yourself an advocate/activist or not, sharing your story is an act of solidarity with other early childhood educators.
As Ishiguro said:
Stories can entertain, sometimes teach or argue a point. But for me the essential thing is that they communicate feelings. That they appeal to what we share as human beings across our borders and divides…But in the end, stories are about one person saying to another: This is the way it feels to me. Can you understand what I’m saying? Does it also feel this way to you? (Ishiguro 2017)
We encourage you to take a few minutes to share your voice – and be part of a movement.
Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be part of the change. Be heard. Speak up for EYs. It's time.
Clough, P. (2002) Narratives and Fictions in Education Research. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Ishiguro, K. (2017) My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs. New York: Penguin Random House.
I am a teacher. I have been teaching EYs for over 15 years.
There is change ahead always and I know that we are expecting some early years reforms in TWO YEARS time but...
1. Why is the DFE asking me to be an early adopter of the early years reforms?
2. Why is the Local Authority bribing me to sign up and saying I will be exempt from moderation if I do as though that would be a good thing?
3. Why is an Ofsted representative sharing the link for me to join now!?
4. WHY ON EARTH is Ruth Miskin (of RWI phonics programme) emailing me to “get in first’?
Has the world gone mad?
The real questions to ask ourselves are:
1. WHY oh WHY would we risk de-skilling our staff by asking them to teach a different programme of study/curriculum to what we are teaching now OR will be teaching in two years time?!?!?!
2. We will be exempt from moderation only because they will not know HOW to moderate us!?
3. What about the children while we test out more curriculum reforms? Such risk of weaker cohorts since their early adopter curriculum is not supported by guidance, a framework, exemplification or evidence?
Do they think we are daft?
Do you have the answers?