Exclusive: Formal learning starts too young, say early years teachers

Survey of thousands of teachers uncovers broad support for more play-based learning in Year 1

Helen Ward

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Children would benefit if the play-based style of learning they get used to in Reception was continued into Year 1, according to early years teachers taking part in a review of the Reception year.

The Hundred Review of the Reception Year in England asked more than 4,000 teachers about what happens in Reception now – and what changes they thought were needed.

Respondents had “unanimous” support for keeping Reception within the early years foundation stage framework – rather than moving it into the more formal national curriculum.

And they also “widely believed” that if Year 1 teachers could adopt the early years play-based approach – rather than their current more formal focus – then children would do better.

“What came across very strongly was about the pedagogical approach being extended to Year 1,” Jan Dubiel, national director of Early Excellence, said. "A bit more flexibility, especially for summer-born and younger children, as they transferred from Reception to Year 1 to still have an early years foundation stage approach. There was a feeling that it could be extended into Year 1 and a lot of children, especially younger children, would benefit.”

Reception 'needs an overhaul'

The review, which was carried out by training company Early Excellence, comes after an earlier report from the Teaching Schools Council, which said that the Reception year needed an overhaul as the gap between expectations in the Reception year and Year 1 had grown since the new national curriculum was introduced.

Both reports said that there was confusion about how much time children should spend in child-led activities and teacher-led activities.

The Hundred Review found that all Reception teachers provided focused daily maths, literacy and phonics activities – but added that it was not always understood that in order to do well in literacy and maths later on in school, children needed to develop broader skills.

It found concerns that schools’ senior management teams often put pressure on Reception teachers to move to a more formal approach.

“There is a lack of understanding from senior leadership teams of what Reception practice should look like," Mr Dubiel said.

“If you want good outcomes for literacy, then in Reception that is not just about them doing lots of literacy – it’s about children having language skills, good personal, social and emotional development.”

He added that the idea that simply doing more literacy in Reception will necessarily lead to better literacy later on is not borne out by research.

The report calls for the Department for Education to reaffirm that Reception year will remain in the early years foundation stage, that a review of the literacy and maths goals will be carried out and that a member of the senior leadership team will be given specific responsibility for Reception.

The report is based on 4,250 responses to an online survey, visits to 44 schools, a series of focus groups and a review of academic research.

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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