Saturday 4 March 2023

Time to choose: do we want evidence-informed practice or influencer-informed practice in the early years

The government recently announced a significant investment in evidence-informed practice for early years practitioners, through the Early Years Stronger Practice Hubs programme

So, this is an important time to consider a key question: what do we actually mean by evidence-informed practice? Why should we adopt this approach?

Back in 2013, Ben Goldacre argued that: ‘By collecting better evidence about what works best, and establishing a culture where this evidence is used as a matter of routine, we can improve outcomes for children, and increase professional independence.’

Let’s look at that through the lens of early years. 


Tuesday 14 February 2023

I'm worried about what I'm seeing in the early years: we should all be worried about growing educational inequality

You're here because you care about educational quality and equality.

So I think you’ll be worried about the most recent information about children’s learning by the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) in England, when most are 5-years old. 

There is a huge and growing gap between disadvantaged children and all others at the end of the EYFS. This is a longstanding problem: England is a country where how well you do in education is strongly associated with how well-off your parents areThat's very different from countries like Canada, where half my family are from. 

Here's the background: at the end of their reception year, teachers are required to check children’s learning against 17 Early Learning Goals. 

The Department for Education explains that ‘Children are defined as having reached a Good Level of Development (GLD) at the end of the EYFS if they have achieved the expected level for the ELGs in the prime areas of learning and the specific areas of mathematics and literacy. This helps teachers and parents to understand broadly what a child can do in relation to national expectations.’


It is important to note that we can’t compare the statistics for the Good Level of Development (GLD) in the summer of 2022, because the DFE revised the EYFS Statutory Framework in 2020. 


So, after the health warning and the background, let's consider how worrying the headline figures are. 

Overall, 65.2% of children achieved the GLD in the summer of 2022.  


However, when we look at the outcomes for disadvantaged children, we see a very stark difference. 

Only 49.1% of children eligible for free school meals achieved the GLD, compared to 68.8% of those not known to be eligible for free school meals. That’s a whopping 19.6 percentage point gap.

(Note: Disadvantage is defined rather crudely by eligibility for free school meals. This isn’t an ideal measure, but it’s the best one we have.)


(Source: Office for National Statistics)


Tuesday 17 January 2023

Putting the EYFS Curriculum into Practice: my keynote at Newham's Early Years Conference in January 2023

 I'm sharing my keynote, which focuses on:

  • Context: understanding the current context and challenges, and ensuring that we make the right choices for the children we are working with
  • Child development: why it's important to think carefully about child development and get beyond 'levels' and 'drop-down menus'
  • The crucial importance of communication and language
  • Getting beyond the '30-million word gap'
  • The ShREC approach – four evidence informed strategies to promote high quality interactions with young children
  • Final thoughts: evidence-informed practice

Buy Putting the EYFS Curriculum into Practice from Amazon (commissions earned)

Sunday 25 September 2022

Thinking about the curriculum in a nursery school: two years on

The revised EYFS (2021) has put a much greater emphasis on the curriculum, with its more detailed Educational Programmes outlining the sorts of experiences and activities which we should offer to children.

I'm a nursery school headteacher. As early adopters of the new framework in 2020, we worked hard together to think about what the curriculum might look like for young children in a diverse area of East London, with high levels of disadvantage, and many children learning English as an additional language. As with everything else we do, we looked at this through the lens of asset-based community development. What are the many strengths and competencies of our young children and their families, and how can we build on these? Yet we were also pragmatic. On average, children from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to be around 4.6 months behind all children by the end of the EYFS. Far from catching up, most will fall further and further behind. 

The families we serve don't want this for their children.

We aim to honour their ambitions. 

Tuesday 15 March 2022

The importance of Pen Green Centre for Children and their Families

Pen Green Centre for Children and their Families is facing the fight of its life. It's vital we all step in with our support. 

You may have seen the news that the centre is facing a huge cut in its funding. Lots of organisations are on the ropes and other Children's Centres have closed down all around the country. The other nursery schools around Pen Green desperately need extra funding, too. 

So, why does Pen Green matter?

Firstly, because Pen Green stands for something very special. We're always hearing about the deficits in children and families - what children can't do, or all about the latest programme to 'fix things'. Pen Green stands for a different tradition. It's about community development: celebrating and building on the strengths of children, their families, and their communities. We need that voice. 

Secondly, because Pen Green is a world-famous centre of excellence. We should be proud that we have this centre in England, that's celebrated all over the world. We should also be under no illusions. If a centre with this history, reputation and strength can be threatened and undermined, no nursery school is safe, anywhere. 

Lastly, beware the argument that's being made. Others need a share of this funding, so it's only fair to cut Pen Green back. That's an argument which opens a dangerous door a bit wider, letting in a very chill wind of hardship and destruction. 

We know how much love and support centres like Pen Green generate in their communities. I wouldn't put a price on that myself. But if you would like the economics, then Nobel Laureate James Heckman can offer plenty of evidence that 'skills developed through quality early childhood education last for a lifetime'. Centres like Pen Green are a great investment

Fight for the other nursery schools and early years providers around Pen Green to get fair funding because they matter, too. Don't pitch them against each other in a zero-sum game. 

Friday 18 February 2022

Worries and anxieties of fussy eaters

Sarah Scotland writes:

In the early years, you are often in a position where you are feeding children. How do you cope when you have a fussy or anxious eater? 

At your setting, you may have fussy for anxious eaters and you may have children who find it difficult to sit at the table. You may get frustrated that they are not eating the food that you have provided. Encourage parents to talk to you about what happens at home, could you make a plan together?


Most importantly, think about what the child might be going through. Take a moment to understand from their point of view. Think what might be their reasons for not wanting to eat or sit at the table. Children don’t want  to be awkward and go hungry. Most likely, they want to please, but a mixture of fear, worry or a lack of trust may make mealtimes stressful places for them.

Enjoying a snack together

In order for children to be confident eaters they need to be able to understand the cues that make them want to eat. They need to have an appetite; they need to know that mealtimes will be enjoyable; and they need to have a good relationship with the person who is going to share a meal with them.


From an adult’s point of view it might seem crazy that a child will just not eat, that they need to be cajoled into eating, that they might have fears and worries that affect them.


Be aware of why a child might be worried, talk to parents about past experiences. Find out if they have suffered an allergic reaction or experienced traumatic gagging.

Monday 27 December 2021

Creating the safe, happy space where children are inspired to talk, listen, play and learn: guest blog by Emma Davis

The publication of the revised Early Years Foundation Stage brought with it an increased focus on communication and language development.  With it being a prime area, educators were already aware of the importance of promoting this, but it is now a clear priority.  We know that communication and language development is vitally important in the early years as it underpins development in all other areas.  In prioritising communication and language, we are giving all children the skills to succeed in their future education and adult life.  

Developing skills in communication and language impacts on a child’s holistic development.  Children are able to express themselves, share their ideas, talk about their experiences, make friends, access play and learning opportunities, make sense of the world and influence our curriculum and planning.  We are paving the way for later literacy development, enabling them to understand instructions, ask questions and become independent, curious learners.

Creating a language rich environment

Communication and language can be prioritised through the culture and ethos of settings and schools.