The day started with an introduction from Julianne Marriott, cabinet member for Education and Councillor for East Ham Central, in which she shared her views that Stratford aims to be the best place in the world for children to be educated and that events such as these really help raise the standards in the area. This set the tone for the day, as everyone speaking was passionate about helping children achieve the most from their time in education.
The first speaker was Jan Dubiel: Knowing, Remembering and Understanding: developing a responsible approach to Curriculum in EYFS.
He made some key points, notably that the understanding of Early Years by some leaders in education is not always what it should be, and that it is down to knowledgeable practitioners to challenge their ideas and share a deeper understanding of good practice. This is particularly important in school settings where the focus can sometimes be on the end of KS2 SATS, and not the journey that children experience to reach them. Ensuring that school leaders understand the importance of the Early Years on that journey, and also acknowledging what we know about brain development - that children of different ages learn in different ways - is vital to getting things right.
Jan discussed how important it is that we challenge ourselves so we don’t just do things because it's how we have always done them! It made me think back to my classroom and why I did some things, such as get the sand tray out every day. Without careful planning, provision can become stale and unproductive: we need to constantly reflect on our own practice.
One phrase used by Jan really struck a chord with me: Everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere. With so many ideas being shared on social media, it is more important than ever that we remember to ask ourselves under what conditions things might work and how they will support our children, rather than jumping on the latest bandwagon. Following this, Jan discussed the importance of sticking to our values when looking for new ideas. He quoted from Judith Lloyd Yero’s book, ‘Teaching in Mind: How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education’ where she says “Values are important. The choices we make, reflect what we value the most at a particular point in time.” This reminded me of a discussion at the second Tapestry Education Conference (TEC 2), where we agreed that values underpin everything a setting does. Families want to know about the ethos of a setting when making choices for their child, and some setting managers at TEC 2 highlighted their values over their Ofsted rating - the values being strong and embedded in practice, while potentially an Ofsted rating can change!
Jan went on to talk about how using language positively has a huge influence on children, as well as reminding everyone that knowing is not the same as remembering! Children are motivated to learn when they can explore a new concept or their own ideas, which reinforces the importance of a play based curriculum in Early Years.
The key message from his talk was that what happens in Early Years shapes what happens later in a child's life – so we need to make sure it counts.
After Jan’s talk, Sarah Tillotson from Education Endowment Foundation explained some of the great work being done to close the gap (or should that be 'diminish the difference'!) so that all children have an equal chance in life. She shared their Early Years Toolkit and hoped that people would be able to use it to promote professional dialogue.
She also talked about the research that EEF do, and highlighted the guidance reports that are there to offer support if you are looking to improve specific areas. Having read through the ‘Preparing for Literacy’ guidance report, I can say this would have been so useful to me when I was in the classroom!
Next up was HMI Wendy Ratcliff who went through the recent changes in the inspection framework, highlighting what is now being inspected. The overall message, and one that I can only see as being a positive one, is that they want to move away from teaching to the test. To achieve this, they are now putting the curriculum at the core of any inspection and checking that providers ensure children learn, develop well and are kept healthy and safe. She made it very clear that inspectors are charged with finding out what it is like for a child to attend your setting. If you tell the inspector about an aspect of your provision or learning, such as children independently putting on their boots, then they would expect to see this happening during their Learning Walk. The questions surrounding the ‘deep dive’ were cleared up, as there are a lot of misconceptions about what this involves. Wendy explained that the main point of a ‘deep dive’ is to check the understanding of the curriculum overview by the subject leaders. The inspector will also expect to see the curriculum in action and look for evidence of learning before evaluating the impact of it all.
Ofsted's ‘Bold Beginnings’ which received a lot of press when it was first published was only ever to be used for Reception children and not aimed at children who are of pre-school age. The follow up from the report is that inspectors are looking for a greater emphasis on reading. There have been some discussions that inspectors are looking for phonics teaching to be started on day one, which in my opinion is a ridiculous idea. The first few days (at a minimum!) of school for a child should be about settling in, feeling secure in their new environment and making connections with their peers and adults. By all means, have resources out that can support children to learn sounds etc, but to be having a taught session from day one? That was not the message that I was hearing from this HMI at least!
A massive change that I noticed from the last inspection framework was the move away from internal tracking data. Inspectors will no longer ask for this, and will learn more from being with the children. It is also Ofsted’s view that any assessment done should not be excessive or add to staff work load. This video from Ofsted tries to help clear up any misconceptions.
The rest of the day was spent attending workshops led by early years educators from the local area. It was so interesting to hear what was going on in settings in a different locality. No matter what stresses these settings may be under, it was clear that the future for children attending them looks bright, with so many hard working members of staff putting children at the heart of everything they do.
It was a great day overall and one that I can recommend attending in the future.