Our third article on the changes to the EYFS looks in more depth at what the changes mean to your curriculum and educational planning.
The first principle to embrace here is that the EYFS is designed to inform your curriculum, not to rule it. Nurseries are still free to decide what they put into their curriculum and the parts of the educational programme they focus on, whilst hopefully still maintaining a broad and holistic programme that will help children reach their full potential later in life.
As children progress, they will be expected to learn certain things in certain subjects. If they attend a mainstream school, the school will be expected to teach them the National Curriculum, but there is nothing stopping schools from enhancing their curriculums through extra-curricular clubs, additional subjects, or more targeted opportunities for those who excel in a particular area. So schools can specialise in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths), the creative arts, languages, particular sports or individual religions. They will all be guided by the published National Curriculums but will have autonomy over how they schedule their school day, lesson length, timetabling, homework, and their overall ethos and focus. Even within each National Curriculum, there is a degree of choice: you can choose from a variety of different English texts, but in principle, the aim is to teach children to be able to read a range of books and analyse them in a historical, social and literary context.
In GCSE maths, there are the old favourites of Pythagoras’ theorem and trigonometry, for example. All students should be able to understand and solve problems in these areas, but there is no prescriptive way of teaching them. Some use the mnemonic ‘SOHCAHTOA’, or the rhyme, “Tommy on a ship of his, caught a herring”, and in China, they sometimes teach a trigonometry method which students remember as the ‘big-footed woman’.
The important thing to note here is HOW things are taught, is left up to the individual schools, Headteachers, and subject specialist teachers. If schools have experienced, well-educated and knowledgeable teachers, they are able to adapt HOW they teach their students, choosing the best methods to meet their needs, and using every opportunity to broaden their approach, stretch and challenge pupils and connect seemingly disconnected learning together. So, a cooking lesson can incorporate maths, you can learn history through drama, and politics in English or science. The differentiating factors then become the experience, knowledge, and expertise of the teachers, NOT the subjects they are told to teach by the government.
The EYFS should be considered in a similar light. Even with the existing EYFS, there are pre-schools that excel and some which struggle. There are individual practitioners who can identify and make connections across curriculum areas, and those who are less confident, less experienced, and who need more scaffolding and support on what to teach and how to teach it.
The Development Matters guidance gives many ideas and suggestions of what settings COULD do, but there is autonomy about what settings can CHOOSE to do. And this will depend on the expertise of management and staff. It is pointless regurgitating the Early Learning Goals (ELGs) or Development Matters guidance here, but we can look at how settings can use these documents more effectively to improve their educational content. Let’s look at an example.
One of the ELGs that children are expected to reach at the end of the reception year is:
Expressive Art and Design
- Being imaginative and expressive
- Sing a range of well-known nursery rhymes and songs
In Development Matters, for babies from birth to 3, this goal is broken down into smaller sections, and examples are shown.
If you have followed our articles by Frances Turnbull recently, you’ll have seen that her specialist knowledge of music has broken this down even further into her Magical Musical Kingdom stories, which use rhythms, props, imagination and movement to deliver this across a spectrum of age ranges.
Of course, the activity of singing, clapping and moving to music will also cover other ELGs too. Think about how this simple activity could impact on the following ELGs and a child’s expected level of development:
- Communication and Language – Listening, Attention and Understanding
- Speaking – Participate in small group, class and one-to-one discussions
- Personal, Social and Emotional Development – Self-regulation – Give focused attention to what the teacher says, responding appropriately even when engaged in activity
- Physical Development – Gross Motor Skills – Move energetically, such as running, jumping, dancing, hopping, skipping and climbing
- Literacy – Comprehension – Use and understand recently introduced vocabulary during discussions about stories, non-fiction, rhymes and poems and during role-play
Children do not learn in a linear way, but their knowledge and skill acquisition is more like a web – they pick up different skills, knowledge and understanding as they go, at different rates, through different activities. All of which are helped by the practitioners around them who need the skills to impart knowledge, the ability to make the necessary links between different curriculum areas and who can ask the right questions.
So when designing your curriculums, assuming you have allocated some time in your week to “sing songs and nursery rhymes”, several questions arise for nursery managers at this stage.
- Do you have staff who can deliver a session on nursery rhymes with confidence and commitment or do they just put on a nursery rhyme CD to pass time?
- Can they engage every child in the activity, and do they have the additional skills and knowledge to help those who may be struggling with SEN or sensory needs?
- Can they identify children at risk of falling behind in this area, and if so, do they/you have strategies and interventions that can help close the gap?
- What checks and strategies do you have to reflect success/weakness and make any necessary adjustments?
If your answers to the questions above highlight gaps in your staffing provisions, then you can design the most interactive, play-based, child-focused curriculum ever seen, but it will not have the impact you desire until you can ensure you have suitably qualified, experienced and knowledgeable staff to deliver it and these areas should be addressed first. Look out for our next article which will delve deeper into the educational changes.