Closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and those from more affluent backgrounds is a key priority for both the government and Ofsted.
Could making an understanding of good early years teaching a prerequisite for all teachers’ training help schools to improve social mobility more widely?
For the Education Endowment Foundation, a charity dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement, the earlier in a pupil’s life that problems are addressed, the better. By secondary school, even the best catch-up programmes can only go so far in turning things around for young people.
According to the EEF’s chief executive Sir Kevan Collins, knowledge of good early years practice could help secondary teachers to break an all-too-familiar pattern that results in 43 per cent of disadvantaged pupils achieving A*-C in both English and maths GCSEs, compared with 71 per cent of their more advantaged peers.
“We do need to make sure secondary schools have the tools and resources to support those pupils who are still struggling to read and write at age 11,” he says.
“This could mean making sure that every teacher has a good grounding in early and primary literacy approaches. The consequences for these pupils, if they fall even further behind, are just too big for us not to look at every option.”
Children 'fall behind'
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, agrees that understanding good early years teaching would assist secondary schools helping struggling pupils to catch up with their peers.
“One of the more difficult things that youngsters who are behind often find complicated is if they are then taught in a very different way to what they were taught when they moved through [to secondary school],” he explains.
You need to have an awareness of how they were taught in order to then build on that and teach them in a similar way
“It can be very difficult for them and they can regress rather than progress. You need to have an awareness of how they were taught in order to then build on that and teach them in a similar way, or, alternatively, try a slightly different approach if you know a youngster is having difficulties.”
Stephen Munday, chief executive of the Cam Academy Trust, who led an independent group of training experts, says that Sir David Carter’s idea would help pupils who are behind to catch up. And, he says, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are far more likely to enter secondary school in need of support.
In last summer’s key stage 2 Sats, 39 per cent of disadvantaged 10- and 11-year-olds reached the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, while the figure for non-disadvantaged children was 60 per cent.
Munday says: “If, for whatever reason, youngsters have missed out on these fundamental things, then clearly if you are ending up having to teach fundamental reading when you get to a later stage at secondary, having an understanding of early years and fundamental learning about key concepts makes it more likely that you will do a good job, and hopefully, help the pupil to catch up at high speed.
“I do think it would help whenever significant catch-up is needed with some youngsters.”
Breaking down the barriers
Pat Black, head of teacher education (primary and early years) at Bath Spa University’s Institute for Education, says that understanding early years pedagogy would help subject-specific teachers at secondary school level to separate out some of the barriers their pupils may face.
In particular, she says it could help them to understand whether a child has general difficulties with reading, or faces barriers related to a specific subject.
“I think you have to place that learner back at the centre, and what might the barriers be that that learner has that could work against an understanding of your subject,” she says. “Are there any learning difficulties, or delayed development?”