What all schools can learn from EYFS

When schools return, our education system needs to learn lessons from early years practice, argues one nursery school headteacher

Rikke Coster Waldau

EYFS

When the Covid-19 lockdown happened, thousands of headteachers were faced with a question: how will we teach now?

As a headteacher in a maintained nursery school, I faced the same question. But because early years teaching is based on developmentally appropriate practice, quality interactions and the idea of teachable moments, my concerns were not so much about content, outcomes or missed targets.

For us, the question became: how are we going to replicate daily teachable moments and interactions? 

In early years, teaching is not instructional. Learning is not a matter of recall and it is not linear; it is a process. We can't substitute early years teaching with setting homework or providing worksheets. The most valuable resource that we have is the resource of the teacher themselves.

So when the lockdown forced us to adapt, we based our strategy around one of the key strands of early years education: that parents are their children's first educators.

What does this look like? We took our time to decide what could be useful for our parents and identified that we can communicate with them using Facebook and YouTube. We have posted stories, songs and videos every day.

We are also rolling out an early years version of Google Classroom. We don't give marks or set homework, but instead provide a menu of activities which we think all our parents will be able to access, becoming even better educators in the process.

Lessons from early years

So far, the approach is working for us. But perhaps parents aren't the only ones who can learn from early years practice. Perhaps there are lessons here for the whole education system.

I happen to be a parent of teenagers. Since lockdown began, I have seen the stream of homework being set on their homework app and witnessed their disbelief that their beloved teachers have been replaced by worksheets, whole-year-group teaching, and self-directed activity.

They struggled to understand how they could possibly teach themselves without classroom interactions and ability-grouped seating plans. Covid-19 has stripped them of the human connection they rely on.

Our obsession with academic learning has led to some children, mine included, left feeling that they cannot possibly rise to the challenge of independent home learning. Our overreliance on testing and examination has left them without a sense of worth. They have worked so hard to prepare themselves for gruelling examinations and now these have been stripped away.

This pandemic has highlighted the lack of humanity in our education system. The government should take note.

But rather than looking backwards and lamenting past mistakes, I think the current situation also provides us with a wonderful opportunity to look forwards and to overhaul our approaches.

As we plan for the coming weeks and months, our task is to create a more flexible education system, one that is not reactive and susceptible to future lockdowns, but which takes the complexity of teaching and learning fully into account.

This is not going to be an easy undertaking. But here is my take on what future education needs to do.

Celebrate the teacher

Now is the time to reclaim teaching. I implore all teachers to set up studios in their bedrooms, to use their voice and sense of humour to give our children a sense of direction. Children need the face of their teachers to illustrate, to talk, to demonstrate, to calm and to instil discipline. It is not perfect, but it is human in all its imperfection.

Recognise quality interaction

So many of our duties involve more than just assessing children's abilities and progress. The new system needs to take issues relating to equality and safeguarding into account.

We are instrumental in keeping some children safe by seeing them every day, by enquiring sensitively about how things are at home. We compensate by giving extra time to children who have challenging home circumstances.

Current technology solutions do not allow for these interactions, so developers will need to consider new approaches that will allow us to protect children from the harm they may unfortunately face at home.

View parents as educators

As our school system becomes more reliant on the home environment, we need to have respectful and empowering conversations with parents and help them believe that they can do it.

We need to see parents as their children's first educators and to put our trust in them, while also understanding that each child is different. This means giving more time to those who need it, while letting others run with it.

The concept of progressive universalism is usefully applied here: not all are equal so therefore we should not treat all the same.

This lockdown might not be the last, but if we see this time as an opportunity to evolve – and perhaps to take a lead from early years – we can make sure that we are ready for whatever comes next.

Rikke Coster Waldau is headteacher of The Fields Nursery School in Cambridge, a maintained nursery school

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