Planning for all children to succeed and make progress
by benc on December 9
I have recently been discussing the start of term with a Reception teacher, and during our chat the subject of expectations came up. There is no doubt that for children starting school in September 2020, the challenges they have experienced beforehand and the transition into school has been very different from previous cohorts. And yet many teachers are still being asked to predict the percentage of children who will achieve a Good Level of Development at the end of their Reception year, and these percentages are generally in line with all previous years. For those who are not aware, a Good Level of Development is measured by the children who achieve the Early Learning Goal in the Prime, Literacy and Maths areas.
Take a step back and think about the long-term impact that setting this percentage now has for those children. If a teacher is told in September / October that they have to get 75% of their class to a Good Level of Development (GLD), it is reasonable to expect that teacher to look at the children and think which are most likely to reach GLD and which might need extra support. The problem is when there is a larger group who need that extra support at the beginning of their school lives, a reasonable percentage of that class are already being written off as ‘not likely to succeed’.
This will not be because the teacher wants them to fail, but because they have been asked to set this target, which means that they now focus on the end point instead of the present. Instead of looking at what the needs of the children are now, the focus shifts to where the children need to get to.
Take writing for example. Instead of looking at the children who may have fantastic ideas and vocabulary, but struggle with their fine and gross motor control and so aren’t yet ready to get these ideas down on paper, the focus moves to those who may be able to form some letters. These children are pushed to write the sentences required to reach the ELG in Writing. Do these children always understand what a sentence is? Are they using a range of vocabulary?
What if, instead of setting an activity for all children to write a sentence – where most of them will not be able to achieve this, the activity was to draw circles and lines? Those children who may initially struggle with this will achieve it with the support given by the adults. But what about the children who can already draw circles and lines? Aren’t we holding them back?
Well, the answer to that is no. First of all, they may need to practice drawing circles and lines because whilst they can form some letters that are recognisable, you may find that their pencil control isn’t as good as you first thought it was. Secondly, if a child is able to draw lines and circles then you can help them to spot the links between this and forming letters. I remember the look of amazement on the faces of the children in my class when I showed them that once they mastered the letter ‘c’, they could then go on to form many other letters ‘a’, ‘o’, ‘g’, ‘q’ and ‘d’ just to start with! If a child is already at that point, then it is completely appropriate to talk to them about putting the letters together to make words. Now you are also getting them to use their phonics knowledge to start writing words. If you have a child who is already doing that, you will be expanding their vocabulary so they can write even better sentences. All this comes from the plan of drawing circles and lines. And every single child in the class will succeed in that activity.
For those who are working with children who are below school age, and especially for those working in settings with a wide age range of children, this way of working might seem daunting. Take PSED as an example this time. One of the areas you could look at is how they work with others and the friendships that they form. If you were working with children from 2 years to 4 years, what you would expect to see would be very different across the age range. For the younger children, the adult may need to support them so that they begin to play together on an activity, modelling turn taking, and talking out loud about being kind, sharing and what it’s like being in a group. As the children develop, you would expect to see them becoming more confident in asking others to play with them, or to join in the play of others. You would be getting them to think of their friends when coming up with play ideas – do they know other children’s likes and dislikes, who do they think would like to do what? Children will now be building an understanding that friendship is about knowing each other, kindness, and give and take. The planning might only be for children to work together and start developing friendships. The amount of support you provide and the expectations for the children, all depends on where they are developmentally.
Development Matters, the current and new versions, helps you to decide where to start and the types of activities you can try, but as Dr Julian Grenier has stated, these should be seen as the floor level and not the ceiling. We should always be looking for ways to challenge the children to achieve more. The role of an adult in Early Years is to identify the children who need support and to provide that support, so that they achieve progress.
Going back to those GLD targets that are set just weeks after the children have started in school: is it really Ok to agree that a percentage of the children are set to not achieve a level? Wouldn’t it be better to make sure that every child, every day, achieves success? And that this daily success goes towards building the strong foundations for them to be a successful and inquisitive learner throughout life?