Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Child-initiated learning in the EYFS - just a fashion?


Recently, someone I respect a good deal said in a small meeting how much she had appreciated the rule that 80% of the assessments for the EYFS Profile had to be child-initiated learning, and only 20% adult-initiated.

She felt that the so-called“80:20 rule” gave early years practitioners an opportunity to argue for play and child-led learning – in local authority meetings, when speaking to primary school headteachers, and so on.

And I bet this was, indeed,  the case. Lots of primary school headteachers and others who did not see much of a role for play or children making choices suddenly found themselves in an unexpected position. Their schools’ EYFS outcomes would be judged, for the most part, on those very aspects of the early years curriculum they understood the least. It is not an exaggeration to say that in some cases, this led to a complete turn around in school policy. Suddenly headteachers were hot on play – and going round schools checking that there was enough of it.

So surely this was a good thing? 

No - for two reasons.

Firstly, I think that the “80:20 rule” distorted our understanding of good early years practice. The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) produced some excellent video footage of child-initiated learning - which is still available and well worth digging out, by the way, before their website is shut down. 

But none of these videos featured adults teaching, or starting play off which children continued, or demonstrating a skill. All of these are important parts of good practice in the early years, but they were neglected. As a result, practitioners who attended training based around the QCDA’s materials were given a distorted impression of what they should be doing in the EYFS.

But even more regrettable, in my opinion, is that schools changed practice in reception classes because they felt they had to. Some of them were never really convinced – they just did what they thought would please Ofsted or their local authority early years team. 

It was a good thing to bring more play-based learning into reception, but this should not have been done through commands from Whitehall or the Town Hall.

When practice evolves in classrooms and settings, through trialing and professional dialogue, then confidence grows and quality develops. Otherwise professional practice becomes nothing more than a piece of string blowing about in the winds of the latest whims and fashions.

A version of this piece was first published in Nursery World