Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The EasyPeasy app

I was interested to come across the new EasyPeasy app the other day and, ever since, I have been mulling over my conflicting feelings. The app exists to encourage parents to interact with children aged from two to five, using games on their phone or tablet. Parents are supported in a number of ways, including short videos which model how they might help and play with their children.

My initial feelings were pretty negative. There are already quite a lot of concerns about the amount of screen-time young children experience, and the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to limit this exposure [PDF].  So, perhaps it is questionable for an app to be produced which encourages parents to allow their children to spend time on their phones and tablets? Especially as the assumption of the app developers is that parents will be encouraged to use EasyPeasy by Children's Centre outreach staff and other early years practitioners.

Moreover, some of the claims made by the app developers are a little dubious. They claim, for example, that "only half of children achieve the minimum acceptable levels of development by the time they start at school". This is a pretty strange interpretation of the data from the Department for Education which show that 60% of children achieved a good level of development by the end of the EYFS, as measured by the EYFS Profile, in 2014 [PDF]. 

If you look closely at what is required to achieve this "good level of development", it is quickly apparent that this goes well beyond "minimum acceptable levels of development". For example, in reading: "children read and understand simple sentences. They use phonic knowledge to decode regular words and read them aloud accurately. They also read some common irregular words. They demonstrate understanding when talking with others about what they have read." You can see more examples of what is expected here.

I am also fairly dubious that an app can help children from two to five build their character, as claimed.

But perhaps it is better to look at this the other way round? Children - very young children - are already spending considerable amounts of time playing on phones and tablets. Interaction with screens cannot help children to develop their play or their key early communication skills; but interaction with screens mediated by an adult can. As the National Literacy Trust noted in an important review paper way back in 2005, whilst increased use of computers and watching of television could damage children's development, it could also be argued that: "if well managed by adults, television is not bad for children. A research review on television and language in the early years, conducted by Robin Close on behalf of the National Literacy Trust, found that for children aged two to five, good-quality educational television can have a positive impact on attention and comprehension, receptive vocabulary, some expressive language, letter-sound knowledge, and knowledge of narrative and storytelling (Close, 2004). Other studies have shown that children’s interest in television can lead to imaginative play based on favourite characters, and can motivate them to read programme-related books (Marsh, 2005)."

Those conclusions about the potential benefits of educational television might also hold true of educational apps which have been carefully designed and tested.
In conclusion - it is probably too early to know either way, until better research is carried out. It would be better if EasyPeasy toned down some of their claims - and it would probably also be better if people like me controlled our automatic hostility to young children using phones and tablets.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Workplace bullying in the early years - is there a problem?

Whilst I was doing a bit of research for a chapter I am writing, it struck me here is a lot of literature about being the leader or manager of a team in the early years. But there isn't much about people's actual experiences of being led. Looking back at my own time as a young teacher working in nursery and reception classes, it struck me that there is quite a big grey area between inspirational leaders who expect - and achieve - the highest standards, and over-bearing, obsessive types who pick up on every little thing and make the team feel terrified of making a mistake.

Perhaps the stakes are much higher now, too: back then, there was less pressure. With poor Ofsted outcomes leading to schools being forced to become academies and early years settings losing their funding for two-year olds, things might well be a lot worse now.

I have not been able to find anything specific about the problem of workplace bullying in the early years, but there are several reasons why it is likely to be significant.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, it seems that bullying is more of a problem in the "caring professions" than it is anywhere else, though reliable information is hard to come by.

For example, the UK National Workplace Bullying Adviceline reported in 2004 that staff from education, healthcare and social care were the most likely to contact them about being bullied and other reports have claimed that workplace bullying is rife in education (e.g. Guardian, 2012; BBC 2011)  and healthcare (e.g. Nursing Times 2013, . Indeed, David Prior, chair of the Care Quality Commission, noted in 2014 that many hospitals had a “toxic” bullying culture that “stigmatises and ostracises those who raise concerns or complaints”. 

Could much the same could be said of schools and early years settings?

P.S - since I posted this, Laura Henry has emailed me about her own post on workplace culture in the early years which is well worth a read.

P.P.S - I was able to explore these issues a little further by co-hosting #EYTalking about staff well-being and bullying. There was just a little bit of discussion about some of the more difficult end of staff relationships - most of the tweets focussed on what made things work well. You can see the whole discussion here on Storify.


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Cambridge Primary Review Trust - challenging aspects of early child education

Every now and then, a major piece of research is published which is so important that we should stop just 'doing what we do' and pause to reflect and review.
For example, over the past two decades the reports from the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) project have influenced almost every aspect of early years practice, from pedagogy, planning and assessment, to leadership, resourcing and buildings, all the way up to local and national government policy.
The New Zealand government's seminal review of research into provision for children up to the age of two, written by Carmen Dalli and others, prompted many of us to rethink the conventional view that the focus for children up to two should be solely on care, leaving early education until later. It strengthened too arguments against the view that lower-skilled and lower-paid practitioners might be suitable to work in baby rooms.
Now to give us pause for thought is 'Children's cognitive development and learning', a research paper from Professor Usha Goswami, director of the Centre for Neuroscience in Education. Published earlier this year, the paper is part of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust research survey, and is highly significant. Here, I will focus on just a few of the important areas of research that Goswami covers and consider the implications for early years practice.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

EYFS practice: mentoring

The biggest motivator for practitioners working in the early years must surely be the desire to make a difference to the lives of children and their families. There are few things more satisfying than seeing young children make big steps forward in their development: to see a child bouncing in happily, who only a week ago seemed reluctant and overwhelmed at the nursery gate, to hear parents say that the work of the nursery has really helped their child with something tricky like beginning to play alongside others, or starting to say a few words.

If we pause and think some more about this motivation, we can see that it is really a dynamic situation which results from how different elements interact: an individual practitioner may come into work with energy and enthusiasm, but all of that will be lost if the workplace does not enable that individual to feel confident, supported and able to make good use of their ideas and their skills.

Read more (requires subscription to Nursery World)

Photo: Justin Thomas

Saturday, 7 March 2015

‘A day in the life’ – Tackling inequality in Newham

It’s a typical Monday morning at Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre. In the reception space, the flow of parents and young children surges and then trickles. First there are the 90 children coming to our nursery school, some stepping up their pace and looking excitedly for friends, others hanging back or clinging that extra bit more tightly to their mum or dad for a few last moments. The nursery team are making porridge with the children this morning. Soon, the Forest School team will be getting ready to spend a couple of hours with a group of children in the wild corner of the local park we’ve made our own. Just once in a while a parent needs a reminder that we are a no-mobile zone – we’re all here to listen and talk to the children. These are just some of the ways the nursery school has worked closely with health colleagues to boost children’s health and development in early communication, nutrition, fitness and stamina.

Read the rest of this post on Viv Bennett's blog (Department of Health)

Friday, 27 February 2015

Friday, 19 December 2014

Being an early years practitioner...one historical perspective: a presentation to the PGCE students at UEL

It was very enjoyable to return to the University of East London this year through a kind invitation from Fran Paffard and talk to PGCE students about some historical perspectives on early education and the changing ways that children and practitioners are seen. You can download my PowerPoint or view it in the player below -