Starting life in the education system is a huge step for you and your child. Some of you will be breathing a sigh of relief as we near the end of the first half term, while others face the hugh decision of which school or nursery to choose for your little one for next year.
The deadline for primary applications is January 15, so now is the time to start considering schools. For those of you with children in Reception already, you may be wondering what happens next...
Many of us consider those early years to be about socialising our children, establishing routines, some basic learning and plenty of play! However, the reality is that these first steps into the education system are actually formally defined as the Early Years key stage of the national curriculum, (which covers children aged from 3 to 5 - so until the end of Reception) and as such, schools and nurseries are required to cover a range of subjects and meet specific learning goals, ready for each child’s performance to be assessed at the end of the stage.
So what exactly should a nursery/school be covering during these formative years? And what makes for a positive learning environment? Sally Walker, Reception Class Teacher and Early Years Co-ordinator at Barrow Hills School sheds some light on the matter.
What are the key areas of development that are covered as part of the Early Years curriculum and have there been any recent major changes?
There have been no major changes since April 2012 when a revised EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) Early Years Framework was issued by the government. These focused on strengthening partnerships between parents and professionals and pinpointed the three prime areas of learning that are most essential to prepare a child for future learning and healthy development: personal, social and emotional development; communication and language, and physical development.
How are children tested?
In the academic year 2015-16, the government introduced a baseline assessment for each individual child (requiring a child to be taken out of the class for approximately 30 minutes in the first six weeks of them starting Reception to answer a series of multiple choice questions) designed to measure starting points in education and track progress. The outcome has been a realisation that this isn’t a reliable or successful process (it requires the teacher leaving the class to work with one child rather than getting to know all the children in their natural learning environment), so for 2016-2017 year it is not a statutory requirement and schools/nurseries are now returning to in-class assessments, as per previous years.
Are there any particular areas that establishments offering education up to Reception Year have been advised they should focus on?
All the areas of learning are equally important in creating a whole child, not just literacy and maths. Schools and nurseries should focus on initially developing the prime areas of learning (personal, social and emotional development; communication and language and physical development) during the first years of nursery. After this, the child will be ready for deeper learning in specific areas such as literacy, mathematics, expressive arts and design and understanding the world.
There is a national focus on developing boys’ writing and narrowing the gap between both girls and boys and children who are born in the summer.
What are the key markers to look out for in a child that is developing normally in a new Early Years learning setting?
Every age band defines the expected parameters in relation to learning and there is an overlap of months in the learning goals to allow for the different rates of development amongst children. The priority is to focus on the individual and not just use the age band ‘requirements’ as a tick list. If a child can do everything in the age band description except for one thing, they can still be considered to be working within that age band.
At the end of the Reception year, children are assessed against the Early Learning Goals, which represent the desired learning achievements at this point of their education. Some children will exceed these learning goals but some may not and will reach them in Year 1.
For example, the Early Learning Goal for writing is:
‘Children use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which match their spoken sounds. They also write some irregular common words. They write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others. Some words are spelt correctly and others are phonetically plausible’ (source: Early Years Outcomes).
What are the key markers for a child that is struggling in a new Early Years learning setting?
Building a relationship with their key worker or teacher and feeling secure in the Early Years setting is essential. A child that is struggling to build a rapport or who feels worried/anxious in school/nursery will find it difficult to flourish. In addition, if a child is having problems developing relationships with their peers, this will undermine their ability to feel secure, which will ultimately impact on their potential to thrive.
What questions should parents seeking out an Early Years learning centre be asking?
Check if the school/nursery offers a free flow learning environment. Can the children choose to undertake their learning inside or outside? Providing this freedom to choose is essential for a child’s development.
Find out how much time is allocated to child-initiated play and guided learning.
Ask how a child’s learning journey is recorded. Do they use books/online learning journeys and how often are these shared with parents?
Determine what form of communication there is between parents and staff and the frequency of such communication.
Request details of any extra curricular opportunities that are available to the children.
What other steps should I take to ensure the school/nursery is right for my child?
If I was looking for an Early Years setting for a child, my personal priority would be to look at the children already at the school and ascertain whether they are happy, confident and sufficiently supported to help them become independent learners. Seek out evidence to show that the children are engaged in their learning. Personally, I would also spend time assessing whether the staff appear content/fulfilled, as in my opinion, happy staff in the workplace will always go the extra mile both for the school and the individual child.
One thing's for sure, every child deserves a learning journey they can enjoy and thrive in. It's a very special time...before you know it they will be off to university or work!
Photo: Sally Walker with Barrow Hills children.
Bright Horizons are excited to announce that our brand new Woking Day Nursery and Preschool opened end of May 2016. The nursery is located a 5 minute walk from Woking Station in close proximity to the town centre.
Bright Horizons has over 30 years’ experience in building and designing nurseries, and this wealth of knowledge has enabled them to create a naturally inspiring nursery environment that will allow the children to grow, flourish and develop a love of learning. The nursery has been thoughtfully designed for children aged three months to 5 years, offering five individual homes-bases which are specifically tailored to the development of each age group. There are two external play areas to provide the children with a stimulating natural environment to explore including lots of exciting features such as a beach, garden shed and vegetable patch.
Bright Horizons’ nursery team lead the children through a range of educational activities, nurturing each child’s imagination and helping them to develop and learn in a warm and friendly environment. For babies and toddlers they create a safe world, rich with opportunities to actively explore, with books, songs, and lots of listening and responding to their vocalisations and words. For toddlers they offer the manageable challenges and relaxed environment that two to three year olds need. Staff understand the frequent changes in moods, interests, and capabilities and provide calm, consistent care and supportive teaching. For pre-schoolers, Bright Horizons have created bespoke Ready for School Programmes which prepare children for the next steps on their learning journey. These programmes include Growing Readers, Growing Writers, Growing Mathematicians, Active Athletes, Cookery Club and Gardening Club.
The nursery is open from 7.30am to 6.30pm Monday to Friday throughout the year (excluding Bank Holidays), and fees are fully inclusive. This means you don’t need to worry about food, drinks, nappies or formula milk, as these will all be provided. There is also an on-site chef and menus which are created by a nutritionist to provide a healthy and balanced diet.
Bright Horizons Woking Day Nursery & Preschool can be found at Sandringham Court, Guildford Road, Woking GU22 7QL. For more information, please call 01483 617711 or take a look on their website.