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Priority is for happy pupils

"All close your eyes and think about what you want to do this afternoon," Judith Ingram tells her 16 reception-class pupils at Hatfield Crookesbroom primary, Doncaster.

Every pair of eyes snaps shut, cheeks are chewed, lips squeezed, the children think really hard about whether they prefer the toy pirate ship or making sandcastles.

Then each child comes up to explain what they will do before going off to play.

The school's foundation unit opened two years ago, but has already won praise from the Office for Standards in Education. It uses the HighScope approach, which emphasises routine, independence and communication.

The 26-place nursery, which exudes order and cheerfulness, has quickly proved popular and is already oversubscribed for next year.

The key concept is plan, do and review. The nursery and reception classrooms have a range of activities which children first choose to play and then tell their classmates about.

Lorna Suttie, five, said: "My friend Jordan and I did the water play. We collected some shells and counted them on to a boat until the boat was sinking."

Mrs Ingram said this activity helps Lorna learn maths, science and turn-taking, a social skill.

Miss Ingram, like all reception teachers, completed a foundation stage profile for each child in her class last year.

She said: "The problem with the profile is that it comes right at the very end of the year.

"We need to know where the children are as we go along, so we do our own assessments in addition to the profile.

"The profile is not useful enough to inform further targets, it does not correlate to anything else we do."

And there are some things that simply cannot be measured: "When a child goes home and says they want to come to school, that is fantastic. It is not acknowledged on league tables but that is what is at the root of it all, developing a child who is happy in themselves - happy to come to school and happy about learning," said Miss Ingram.

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