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. 

Our thinking about the curriculum emphasises play, and child-led exploration. These approaches are balanced with times in the day which are adult-led. You can read more of my thoughts about this in my September 2022 column for TES about the virtues of the mongrel curriculum.

We also wanted to make sure that we gave every child the best possible opportunities to develop their love of stories, songs and rhymes. We set out a sequence of the essential books and rhymes we want every child to get to know well and love, during their time with us. We worked with the website LoveMyBooks to share ideas and activities for families to follow at home. 

Staff have been busy creating home-made, short videos so that all parents can take part, not just those who feel confident to read and sing with their child in English. You can access all of that on the school website, for children aged 2, and for 3 and 4-year-olds.

We have created a short guide to our curriculum for parents which links through to our full policy, which has more detail and guidance for staff. Accompanying this is What to expect in the early years foundation stage: a guide for parents. This guide, optimised for viewing on mobile phones, explains the EYFS to parents and gives many suggestions for supporting children's learning at home. 

It goes without saying that we're learning all the time, and adapting our approaches as a result. What we're very pleased to report, is that the collaborative work across our whole area - between early years settings, childminders, school-based nursery provision and primary schools - is effective in promoting equity for the large majority of disadvantaged children. 

It is difficult to track longer term outcomes and make robust declarations of the impact of high-quality nursery education. For a start, the work of our local, highly-effective primary schools makes a huge impact. 

Bearing that health warning in mind, when we focus on the children from the primary school which the large majority of the nursery children move onto, outcomes are exceptionally strong.  For meeting the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, they were equal to or ahead of the England average in 2017, 2018 and 2019. In 2019, 73% of those pupils who were disadvantaged met the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, compared to 71% of non-disadvantaged pupils in England. 

We know that there are still important inequalities for us to tackle, and we are determined to keep refining and improving what we do. 

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