Monday, 16 November 2015

Early Years Pupil Premium: keynote address

This is the PowerPoint that goes with my keynote address for Kent's Early Years Equality and Inclusion Conference in November 2015 - or you can download it here.

You are also welcome to use this annotated guidance on the cycle of planning and reviewing for the EYPP which is based on my work and was produced by Optimus earlier in the year.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Looking for some ideas to share with families about gardening together?

This PDF which came my way is useful to share with families.  Simple ideas include: making a bottle bird feeder, growing strawberries on your window ledge, growing mint and some tips on watering plants.

Without killing them off.


"Let me be" - a Montessorian replies

Erin Blessitt writes in response to my recent feature about children's social and emotional development, Let me be:

I found your article entitled ‘Let me be’ particularly resonant and exciting. I am a Montessori teacher in a pre-school in Bristol and the fundamental basis of my work with young children is to respect and follow the unique child. I noted many parallels between suggestions in your article and Maria Montessori’s method of teaching young children. We employ many of your ideas to great effect and I would like to share some of those with you if I may.
With regards to settings often wishing for an upbeat atmosphere, which can sometimes interrupt concentration, we aim to provide a calm and purposeful environment where the children are able to follow their own interests. We try to ensure that if a child is concentrating they are not disturbed, as these moments of concentration are often when deep learning occurs.
This leads me to your point that all children have different patterns of learning. We support this by offering space where children can choose their own activities but also offering space and time for group work and socialisation. We recognise that, just like adults, children have good days and not so good days. This means that what works for one child on one day might not work for them the next day.
The fundamental basis of Montessori is respecting the child and acting as a guide, allowing them to follow their interests and encourage a love of learning. As with all methods of teaching, our first priority is that the children in our care are secure and happy.
I think that as Early Years Practitioners it is important to share good practice and I think the Montessori method has a wealth of practical and tested ideas to offer. People often have preconceptions and misunderstandings about the Montessori method and I wanted to write to show that we are often singing from the same song sheet but not realising it!
Find out more: Montessori on Pinterest

Monday, 27 July 2015

Secret teacher - is it just harmless fun to let off steam about parents?

Can you be a good teacher, or a good school, if you don't develop respectful relationships with parents? I would say not.

So whilst I can see how readers might feel that the Secret Teacher's end-of-term report to parents in The Guardian is just a bit of fun, I would like to spoil the joke.

 "Parents, refrain from showing up at the school gate in a bunny onsie. Your child won’t get over the sniggering" - sound advice from The Guardian's Secret Teacher?

Part of the piece, which is well-written and amusing, takes the familiar line that the kids are alright, it's just the parents you have to look out for. This was exactly the type of good advice that I remember teachers passing onto me during various teaching practices back in the late 80s - in schools where it was also common for headteachers to refrain from coming into the staff room, or even knock first, so it ended up as a kind of privileged zone where anyone could let off a bit of steam about children and parents without fear of any repercussions.

So, let's put this into context. The teaching profession is mostly filled by people with white, middle-class backgrounds, like me. Teachers usually then find themselves working either in socially mixed schools, or perhaps  in schools where the large majority of families are from ethnic minorities or from working class backgrounds. Professional behaviour in a context where you do not share the same background as many of the people you are working with is tricky, and requires a lot of thought and sensitivity. I don't think you can allow a culture in the staffroom to develop and imagine that it will not affect the relationships and values of the wider school.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Let me be

The first thoughts which come to mind when reflecting on the personal, social and emotional development for children up to the age of three will almost certainly be about ensuring that every child feels secure and content. As I have argued earlier, it is essential that we work hard towards getting this basic aspect of our provision right. We also need to resist cosy assumptions that we have all the necessary procedures securely in place. We need to check that we are doing our best to help children feel secure and content through regular and careful observations of children, through dialogue with parents, and by having a robust staff supervision system in place.

But, going beyond these foundations, it can be argued that early years practitioners sometimes take too narrow a view of this area of child development. I think this potential narrowness can show itself in four main areas.

Firstly, there is the tendency to wish for a very up-beat atmosphere in settings, which is intended to help the children to feel that they are in a happy environment. The constant focus on positive feedback, with high fives, praise for every little thing, and requests to “show me a smile” may be well-intentioned, but they can have unwelcome repercussions. Where babies and toddlers are regularly encouraged to give us a smile, or gently teased for being grumpy or unresponsive, they can lose touch of their own emotions. They begin to prioritise what people want them to feel over what they actually feel. In the long run, this does not help them to manage their feelings or become aware of what they find upsetting or difficult. In the same vein, it is easy to make the mistake of attracting the attention of a toddler or a baby in ways which are playful and jolly, but interrupt their concentration. For example, I recently observed a baby who was working hard to crawl, focussing all her efforts on co-ordinating her movements. Her key person across the room called out her name, causing the baby to stop, look up and smile, but also to stop what she was doing.

Read on [requires subscription to Nursery World]

First of all - underlying essentials of high-quality provision

The question of a curriculum for children up to the age of three has been controversial for a long time. Back in the 1960s, the seminal Plowden Report concluded that “the day nursery is the proper place for those children who have to be away from their homes before the age of three. An institution with a more directly educational aim is right for children of three and over.”  But the same argument flared up from the opposite direction just over a year ago, when Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, sharply criticised “those who dislike the words ‘education’ and ‘teaching’ when it comes to very small children.”

To get away from this conflict, it has often been argued that it makes more sense to think of care and teaching as inseparable in the early years: children will always be learning whilst they are being cared for, and vice versa. For example, in the original CurriculumGuidance for the Foundation Stage it was stated that the curriculum should be thought of as “everything children do, see, hear or feel in their setting, both planned and unplanned”.

But I think that taking this point of view neglects the fact that there is a real controversy about the respective importance of having basic care and routines in place, and having an effective curriculum. As the New Zealand researcher Carmen Dalli has noted [PDF], to see the baby and toddler as a learner requires a fundamental shift in thinking on the part of early years practitioners. If we think of every interaction as being teaching, or every experience being the curriculum, then it can be difficult to reflect on that, or to focus on the absolutely fundamental care routines and approaches which must be securely in place for every child.

Read on [requires subscription to Nursery World]

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Early Years Leadership matters

The last few months have been both the most demanding, and the most rewarding in my career as I've worked with colleagues to make a success of our new Teaching School. We are striving hard to put together programmes which will make a real difference to the quality of provision in Newham and across East London - rather than just organising hundreds of courses.

One of the first results of all this work, is a strong focus on early years leadership. Please share this post with anyone who is teaching in nursery or reception is (or close to) East London and who may be interested. The flyer with more detailed information is here [PDF].

We have lots more to come, and will be widening our focus to include other EYFS providers in due course.

If there’s one message that came across clearly when we were sharing ideas about East London Early Years and Schools Partnership, it’s this: we need to do more to support and develop leaders in the early years.

We heard from primary school EYFS co-ordinators who felt in urgent need to develop their leadership confidence and skills, to make sure that they could continue to develop appropriate and effective early years practice in their schools.

So, I am very pleased to announce that we are now taking applications for the National Professional Qualifications for Middle Leadership (NPQML) and Senior Leadership (NPQSL). In addition, we are planning to develop an additional Early Years Cluster for East London, both face to face and online. This will provide colleagues with the EYFS support and challenge that we all need in today’s uncertain and difficult educational climate. It will also help to ensure that candidates feel there is expert EYFS understanding running through their leadership development.
East London Early Years and Schools Partnership is offering these two qualifications in collaboration with UCL Institute of Education, rated as the world’s top university for education.