Category : Viewpoint

Viewpoint

“She needs a story….”

It’s been a busy weekend.

On Saturday morning, I had the great pleasure of attending the North West ‘Ofsted Big Conversation’ (or obc), along with 499 other people. This is an opportunity for Ofsted to present their latest priorities and also for Ofsted to listen to the concerns and priorities of the Early Years sector. It is an amazing forum and the only place I know where, as a practitioner, you can actually talk directly to a senior HMI.

The focus for this meeting was literacy, with Sarah Hubbard, HMI and National Lead for English.

One of her main messages was that sharing books, talking about their content and use of suitable questioning about books is an excellent way of narrowing the gap in the attainment of children.

On Saturday afternoon I went to the cinema with my 6 year old nephew, to see Storks. During the film, two of the main characters are trying to get a baby to sleep, but she will not go to sleep, whatever they do. My nephew turned to me and, in a voice of exasperation, said “She needs a story!”

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Viewpoint

Valuing children’s abilities

I was reminded last week just how clever, adaptive and creative children actually are.

Let me start at the beginning. In schools all over England, young children (and some VERY young children) are being given words to remember, spell and write. They are then tested on these and measured against a set of standards.

Now, in my experience, having a set of pre-determined scales poses a number of problems.

First of all, where do you pitch it? So low that everyone passes with flying colours – a little bit pointless, if great for self-esteem.

So high that most children will be set up to fail, which has to be morally, ethically and in terms of PSED wrong.

Therefore, it has to be a middling average, in terms of reading ability. There has not been any account made for children’s unique life experiences, their culture or their existing knowledge.

Even if we, as adults, have been there with the children, their experiences of the same event may be very different indeed. I’ll never forget the big trip to Chester Zoo, on the coach, great adventure, picnic lunch and the only memory my son has of the whole day is seeing the elephant weeing! So how can we possibly extrapolate their experiences and put them into a standard test?

On top of all that, children are exceptionally good problem-solvers, adapters and makers of meaning, even if something seems non-sensical to us.

For example, one of the measures, or tests, of their reading ability is to de-code ‘nonsense’ words. These are phonetically possible, but are not encountered as regular English words. The activity in this particular classroom last week was to identify the nonsense words, and then say them.

However, there is one little lad in the class who had early life experiences in Hong Kong, and also supports Everton football team. So when he came to the word ‘Chang’ he didn’t identify it as a nonsense word.

Why?

Because it is a common Chinese surname, a brand of beer common in Hong Kong and sponsors of Everton. So he has seen and used the word often and it makes perfect sense to him, in a number of different contexts.

As a test of identifying ‘nonsense’ words, this is clearly not working. As a test of de-coding the word, again, not working – he could read it on sight (at a hundred yards on a football shirt!). But as an example of his cultural, community and knowledge of the world – excellent!

But he got the test ‘wrong’ because he didn’t identify it as a nonsense word.

So before we try to show how we, as adults, are more intelligent than children, let’s just take a moment and remind ourselves how clever, inventive, creative and knowledgeable our children are first.

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Viewpoint

Chasing the shadows away on ‘Lighting up Young Brains’

An interesting and sensible report was issued this week by Save the Children, entitled ‘Lighting up Young Brains’.

In this report the authors state one clear and unequivocal priority for Government: For every nursery in England to be led by an early years teacher by 2020.

This is based on previous research (EPPE) and on newly completed research (most notably Goswami’s work on children’s cognitive development). The tone of the report is measured and written in accessible language. There are only 3 sections: Children’s early brain development; the role of parents, the HLE and childcare in supporting brain development; and their priority for government.

My personal view is that is a document that invites discussion, based on research, with a clearly stated recommendation at the end.

However, it has caused an amount of debate on something that is not even contained in the report. For example, the BBC website states that children ‘can be “set back decades” if their brains are not adequately stimulated’ (an interesting time travelling trick if you are only three years old!). There has been much talk about ‘school readiness’ and how having an Early Years Teacher means that children will be sat at desks, completing worksheets, before the age of three.

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Viewpoint

Why PSED is fundamental to children’s learning and development

Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED) is fundamental for young children’s learning and development. It is for this reason that the 2016 EYP/T Development Day has the focus of ‘Healthy Child, Happy Child’.

However, it would appear that this message is not clear to everyone. I was recently talking to a friend about her child’s experiences at school. It was not a happy story, and included a number of jaw-dropping mistakes by the senior management.

The one that really struck a note was the serious and genuine belief by the school head that their role was ‘education’ and that the mental health of the children in their care was not part of their remit.

I think the whole coffee shop heard my “WHAT??!!”

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Viewpoint

Why 21st Oct 2015 is significant for Learning Dispositions

The 21st of October 2015 is a significant date for many of us who watched Sci-fi films in the late 1980s.

It is the date of the future in the film ‘Back to the Future 2’ that Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) goes forward to, and is amazed by, the way the world has changed in 2015. There are an impressive array of concepts that the film got spot on:

  • Giant, split screen TVs
  • Computer games operated by the player (think Kinect)
  • Video phone conferencing
  • 3D films
  • Handheld devices where you can sign a petition (think your tablet and online petitions)
  • Biometrics as security
  • Exercising at your desk (think ‘standing’ tables)
  • Google glasses

Some of these might be a little predictable – we would expect TV technology and gaming technology to move on – but others are more unpredictable and rely on technology or a change in society that we couldn’t possibly have known about 30 years ago.

Coincidentally, I was asked this week about children under the age of three using tablets and the benefits of this. Who would’ve imagined that we would be discussing the efficacy of babies using computers 30 years ago?

I know there are many arguments for excluding screen technology of any sort for very young children, and I would agree that tablets and ipads are no replacement for many of the rich sensory experiences that children should be having. However, this may be a good time to reflect on what we are giving our children and how these are preparing them for their future – whatever that may be.

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Viewpoint

School’s Quandary

I’m beginning to wonder if the government has forgotten the original purpose of schools.

First schools were able (expected?) to offer care and education for two year olds onwards to tackle the childcare ‘crisis’ (one news report here) so parents could leave toddlers during the ‘working day’.

Now comes the latest news from Nicky Morgan, who would like schools to offer wraparound care to cover a ‘working day’ (news report here). There have been doubts expressed by the Head Teachers Association (NAHT) whether or not this could even work, due to staffing and individual circumstances of schools.

I did think the original purpose of schools was for the education and care for children – not as somewhere to place children so parents could go to work.

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Articles Viewpoint

One Thousand and Counting…

This week my subscriber list broke through the one thousand mark, which made me sit back and reflect for a moment.

That’s an awful lot of people!

When subscribers sign up, I send them an email, just asking for their most pressing issues and finding out a bit about their concerns and achievements. I will admit at this point that I was a bit dubious about this bit (my husband talked me round though).

What if I was deluged with comments? What if no-one at all replied? What about questions I couldn’t answer?

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Viewpoint

Awe and Wonder in the Rain

When my son was only four, almost five, we saw a shrub full of spiders webs.

It had been raining the night before and every tiny web glistened with bright drops of rain. He was fascinated with this and we stopped for a long time, amazed at the different shapes and patterns that the webs made. We were a little late for registration at school, but it really didn’t matter – he still remembers that day and occasionally he will comment on it if we walk up that stretch of road.

This morning I spotted a spiders web on the fence that reminded me of that encounter and I had to smile.

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Viewpoint

Peer Pressure in the House of Lords

I stumbled across the House of Lords TV feed totally by accident (via Twitter – the power of having social media!). It is a fascinating process to watch and listen to – and very, very encouraging.

The first debate I watched was on the 16th June, which was the second reading of the Childcare Bill (see link below). Lord Nash (the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education) opened up the debate with the Government’s party line, with nothing new or surprising. For example, how a ‘balance’ has to be struck when setting the hourly rate – between fair for providers and ‘value for money for the taxpayer’, how the increase in number of practitioners with NVQ3 will raise quality in settings and how the sector is ‘vibrant’ and growing.

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Articles Viewpoint

A View from the Other Side of the World

I am incredibly delighted and excited to have as my guest blogger this week Rebecca McIntosh, from Brisbane, Australia. We started comparing notes about childcare in England and Australia some time ago – and found some fascinating differences as well as some similarities.

Here Rebecca gives us a history of Australian childcare. It is a surprising story I was totally unaware of and really shows how much childcare philosophy varies around the globe. It is well worth a read and a BIG thank you to Rebecca for sharing this history with us.

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