The government’s announcement that the Early Years Foundation Stage should be reviewed “looking at the latest evidence about children’s development” makes perfect sense.
But “evidence” is always harder to establish than we might hope; too often, announcements are made which do not stand up terribly well. You may have read recently, for example, that research from the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) came to the potentially significant conclusion that children in private nurseries have more time to play than those in maintained nursery schools and classes. But you cannot read this piece of research in full unless you are a member of BESA or prepared to pay them £350. What you can tell from the press release is that their evidence comes from a survey of 510 nursery settings in the maintained and private sectors, who are unlikely to be a representative sample. This “evidence” makes for a good headline, but little more.
On the other hand, anyone can freely read the EPPE (Effective Provision of Pre-School Education) Project, which probably unrivalled in the world for its scope and rigour. All the same, its findings need to be put in context. Take Sustained Shared Thinking (SST) as an example. SST is taking place when a practitioner and a child spend time thinking together about a problem or an idea. When we say “hmm, I wonder why that happened?” to a child as we look at a shriveled bean plant, and we both talk through our ideas for several minutes, we are engaged in SST. When we say “you forgot to water it”, we are doing something else.
EPPE finds that SST occurs most often in settings with the best outcomes for children. On the back of this, there are some very good courses, books and training on using this strategy. But we only know from EPPE that SST is associated with good outcomes for children. For example, it could be that settings where practitioners and children talk like this have many other features which support children’s development very well. SST could be more like the tip of an iceberg of good practice, rather than constituting effective practice in itself.
It is common to wish to improve things on the basis of evidence; but “evidence” needs to be thought over with care and over time, before we jump to conclusions. This is what will make the review of the EYFS so interesting.
This piece was first published in Nursery World