Last November the government published a document ‘ Bold Beginnings’ to inform EYFS teachers, schools and Ofsted about what good practice looks like in the Reception year. The backlash on social media was huge, passionate and reassuring. Personally this document was disastrous. My setting was inspected by Ofsted last November and it was clear that the document had influenced one of the inspectors. The phrase the inspector used was “ missed opportunity” and they clearly felt that a formal setting was the way to get children writing. The whistle stop tour and preconceived ideas about bold beginnings for children , meant that our explanations of continuous provision within a play based, child centred enabling environment fell on deaf ears.
As a setting we maintained our good Ofsted rating but found the experience to be extremely frustrating and disappointing non the less. What they failed to see was that children were often rehearsing the application of skills in a playful environment. This is far from a missed opportunity! In fact as EYFS practitioners know, it takes great skill to know when to interact and when to observe. The belief that children can only learn with an adult or that learning opportunities are only fulfilled when an adult is present reveals a lack of knowledge and understanding about how children learn and develop.
A year on, following a great deal of reflection, I feel compelled to write about the experience and to add my voice to the many voices calling for our education system to be about real children, real learning and real education. Surely education is about improving lives and shaping a better society. Yet our current systems are clearly failing children. Sue Palmer states in her book ‘ Toxic Childhood’ that ‘ in 2004, an English research foundation recorded that behavioural problems in young people have doubled over the last thirty years and emotional problems have increased by 70 per cent’. The current factory model of education influenced by education systems in the Far East expects children’s progress to be linear year by year and any educational research will show you that this is simply not really the case for most children.
In my opinion real bold beginnings for children means teachers having the courage to speak out for what we know to be true about how children learn. As humans we learn through interest, enjoyment, mistakes, an element of struggle and real experiences. We learn through quality interactions with others in a rich and interesting environment. We need others to be sensitive to our needs for space, time to explore, time to talk and to rest. Our children’s educational experience should be one that allows children to thrive not just survive! Learning should be an experience through which knowledge and skills are retained and transferrable and this should be achieved with joy. Greg Bottrill states in his book ‘ can I go and play now? ‘ that there is a Finnish saying ‘ those things that you learn without joy you will easily forget’. Do we want our children’s education to be forgotten?