Reading through the recent report from the Teaching Schools Council, Effective Primary Teaching Practice 2016, I kept having flashbacks to one of my previous roles as a Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education. Having spent years tutoring, marking and moderating undergraduate and post graduate (Masters) final dissertations I found myself wanting to consult the marking framework and grade the report accordingly. It would not come out well! In fact I am astonished that the Teaching Schools Council released the report without final proof reads and consultation with experts in the field of early childhood education. My feedback would be as follows:
Marking and Feedback
Whilst the aims and objectives of your research have admirable intentions ‘To explain the group’s view of the most effective practice for mainstream, state-funded primary schools in England and how these practices are best supported’ , there are many reasons why your findings and recommendations are flawed and unsupported, which, unfortunately, have led to an over-generalisation and a weak basis on which to make such definitive statements and recommendations particularly in relation to the Early Years Foundation Stage.
- In order for your recommendations for the Early Years Foundation Stage to be considered robust and triangulated your research should have referred to more relevant and recent research findings in the early years field, for example the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) and Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education 3-14 (EPPSE ) Longitudinal Studies; research on early brain development and the sensitive period at the Centre for the Developing Child at Harvard University; Dweck’s work on Mindsets; and the rich evidence base on cognitive, emotional and social self-regulation e.g. David Whitebread’s work at the University of Cambridge.
- There are some generalised and incorrect statements which lack objectivity, for example on page 8 you say the following: ‘Nursery teaching although a growing part of many primary schools was not within our scope’. Nursery teaching has been a part of primary schools for more than 40 years, with many Local Authorities expanding nursery provision in the early 1980s as they recognised the critical role early education played (and continues to play) in intervening early to support children’s development and learning, and build firm foundations. To consider ‘nursery teaching’ as ‘not within your scope’ is a serious omission which weakens your case significantly and demonstrates a lack of understanding of teaching in the Early Years Foundation Stage.
- When you refer to a ‘Reception Curriculum’ on page 36 what do you mean? There is no ‘Reception Curriculum’. Are you referring here to the Early Years Foundation Stage, the Key Stage before KS1 and KS2 encompassed in the Statutory Framework for the Early years Foundation Stage – Setting the standards for learning and development and care for children from birth to five (2014)? Please make sure that you are accurate when you are referring to key statutory requirements and phases as this severely undermines your research and recommendations. This is a weakness of your research and report, particularly as you state that you have drawn on additional advice and support from Ofsted (p. 7) and others. At this level it is unacceptable that you are not aware of the statutory duties and rights of young children as well as the underpinning philosophy and pedagogy of the EYFS.
- The point you make about effective schools investing in ‘developing a strong reception year’ is helpful, however I am unclear about what you mean by taking a ‘structured approach to teaching and planning for focussed learning rather than aimless activities’ (p.30). There is no reference here to the EYFS Statutory Duties of 1.8 and 1.9 both of which outline the expectation of a balance between adult focussed teaching and child-led play and learning in the skilful inter-play between children and teachers. All based on extensive research from the EPPE Longitudinal study (see above) and the Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years (REPEY 2002) report, which stated that children’s deep level learning through Sustained Shared Thinking was an essential part of the teaching and learning process. Since then the recent Study of Early Education and Development (SEED), commissioned by the DfE, has been following this up by using Sustained Shared Thinking and Emotional well-being scales for 2- 5 year old provision (SSTEW). Again making no reference to this well reported research is a serious omission and using such pejorative terms as ‘aimless activities’ is disrespectful and unprofessional.
- I am unsure as to why you invited consultation from Ofsted and then make no reference, within the report, to their definition of teaching (p.59 in the Schools Inspection Handbook) and the Ofsted thematic review ‘Teaching and play in the early years – a balancing act?’ (2015) both of which outline the complex nature of teaching and learning in the EYFS and the central role of play in this dynamic. Adding this into your end notes is not acceptable particularly when you are making judgements and recommendations in the way that you have. There is a much more extensive pedagogical research and dialogue to be made into this fundamental process of HOW young children learn from which you can then make recommendations, but to cover this in such a superficial way is unacceptable.
- On page 13 the oversimplified attempt at summarising the complex ways in which children think and learn takes a one dimensional view, implying that learning is more about remembering ‘information’ that is taught and how children then recall this, suggesting a didactic approach to teaching based on what the adult has decided the children will learn. There is no reference here to the way in which children are protagonists in their own learning and teaching or acknowledgement that they are competent and capable thinkers and learners. As you are making recommendations for children in their Reception year, referencing the Characteristics of Effective Learning (1.9 in the Statutory Framework) is yet another serous omission. Referring to the wide research on the Sensitive Period of brain development (0-6 yrs) (see point 1) would have given you a much clearer and deeper understanding of how children learn and the implications for teachers and teaching.
- The recommendation made in point 3 (p.3) ‘The teaching should dictate the classroom layout – rather than the layout dictating the learning’ is concerning in the way that this contradicts your subsequent statement ‘Effective classroom environments focus on pupil learning, providing reference points and scaffolds to support this and avoiding distraction and clutter.’ Such statements give a narrow didactic view of teaching and learning and make no reference to the environment as the ‘third teacher’. In the EYFS the Enabling Environment is seen as a partnership between the children (The Unique Child) and the adults (Positive Relationships) all leading to and supporting children’s Learning and Development (this is also a Statutory Duty of the EYFS point 6 on page 5). Again the language you use is inappropriate for such a report – what exactly do you mean by ‘clutter’?
- There are other points of concern about the language used throughout the report, for example children and young learners are referred to as ‘pupils’ (223 times) giving an outdated, Dickensian view of teaching and schools, which we need to move away from in the 21st Century when we should be recognising them as partners in their education. Frequently the language is prescriptive, giving implicit and at times explicit messages that teachers will teach and pupils will learn; and learning will be outcome–led by teachers despite the well-established research, which shows the process of thinking and learning to be the critical part of education. This all needs much further research, reflection, reading and discussion, particularly with early years experts from various backgrounds.
As a consequence of the above feedback your report has not met the required standards and has been referred. Please note that in any future work you must ensure that your research is not flawed in any way; is robust and will stand up to scrutiny and above all is not misleading and inaccurate particularly if you then publish this as fact.
Di Chilvers, Advisory Consultant in Early Childhood Education former National Strategies Regional Adviser and ex Senior Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, December 2016