Monday, 12 January 2009

Will making all children start Reception in September work?

In the interim report from the Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum, Sir Jim Rose is proposing that all children should start Reception in September. If implemented, this policy could have a significant impact in areas where younger children stay in nursery until the January or April before their fifth birthday.

It could have a really bad effect on children whose development makes them unsuited to the more formal world of learning that still characterises many Reception classes. It is important that we fully understand and act on the fact that the development of children in the EYFS will vary hugely from child to child. The maturity of summer-born children, and some others born earlier in the year as well, will mean that any assessment of their learning will show them to be significantly behind some of their peers. This is not a sign of poor teaching: it simply results from the variability of development and biological growth.

For some children, the main developments they will make in nursery and reception are to settle in, to get used to socialising with their peers and to become more confident communicators. These are perfectly adequate aims for early education, and we shouldn’t be shy of saying so. Educationally, there is no point in making the youngest and least mature children sit through formal whole-class lessons and fill in worksheets when they can hardly hold a pencil.

This doesn't mean that we should wait endlessly for children to be "ready" for certain aspects of learning. This happened to many children in the past, especially those from working class and ethnic minority families. They could spend years languishing in school without adequate teaching because they were judged to fall short of the required "readiness". Children will only be curious, excited learners if there are many stimulating experiences to be had, many opportunities to solve problems, enjoy stories, poems and songs, to move and dance, to draw write and paint, and to benefit from the skilled support and teaching of well-qualified staff.

The planned single point of entry to Reception classes will only be in children’s interests if we stop expecting all children to achieve arbitrary learning goals like writing a full sentence by the end of the summer term. We need to focus instead on the bigger principles and commitments in the EYFS and offer Reception children a carefully organised play-based, stimulating early education with sensitive care co-ordinated by a key person.