Sunday 28 November 2021

Curricular goals: reflections one year on from early adoption

Just over a year ago, we decided to pilot the revised EYFS as early adopters in the nursery school where I'm headteacher. We judged it would be a good opportunity to try out new approaches, and that the timing would be right too. During that period of the pandemic, we urgently wanted to put our major focus on supporting children's early communication, both in nursery and at home through our partnership with parents. We shared some of our findings about the special focus on communication, and working with parents, in a series of blogs for East London Research School (summarised here). We also shared some findings in a follow-up blog

One piece of work we did which attracted a lot of interest was to develop a top-level view of our curriculum. I blogged about this back in November 2020. With over 26,000 views, it's one of the most-visited posts on my site. 

So, a year on, I'm sharing a few key reflections and sharing our updated policy [PDF]. 

I'd like to thank my colleagues Lindsey Foster, Melissa Prendergast, Rahima Begum, Adam Mohamed, Fliss James, Stephenie Bostock and Tatiana Suliga who - with the whole team - have pushed so much thinking forward. 

You're welcome to re-use or adapt any aspect of that policy, as long as you credit the source. Because this is work in progress, the policy is long - writing and revising it is our way of thinking it through. 

How has our approach changed? Here is a brief summary.

  1. We judged that the policy didn't adequately explain the role of play and children's free exploration in their early learning. It sounded like two hybrid approaches (a curriculum, and play-based learning) had simply been pushed together. We've found a better way of thinking this through by reflecting on Ann Epstein's terrific book, The Intentional Teacher. The book argues that intentional teachers act with specific outcomes or goals in mind for all domains of children’s development and learning. Being clear about those outcomes helps us to support learning in all its different forms. It also means we have become sceptical of the notion of 'following children's interests' as if we are a step behind the children, just watching their learning unfold. 
  2. We judged that the goals didn't provide enough explanation of the different steps on the way. Also, by being clearer about those steps, we can see how to support children's key learning if they aren't interested in the specific activities we plan in-line with our policy. There is an important line we mustn't cross. We should be gently encouraging children to take part, and building their confidence and skills if they are a barrier to participation. But we should be extremely wary of anything stronger. It's all too easy to put very young children off learning before they have even started compulsory education. 
  3. We also judged that setting out key vocabulary alongside the goals would support the team better. It's very important to us that rich vocabulary is introduced and used in a natural way, so that children use and remember words which may not be part of their everyday conversation. We don't want to have word lists, and to hammer home vocabulary in a stilted way.

I'm sharing all this on our blog as I think there are still many important debates to have. I welcome your thoughts, and I would like to thank all the people who got in touch last time round with support, challenges and clearer thinking. 

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