Early Years Foundation Stage Framework Reforms – An Expert View on Literacy
Our first piece of the new year has been written by specialist literacy expert, Megan Dixon. With over 20 years’ experience to her name, Megan has worked in both primary and secondary settings, specialising in literacy development. She is now the director of literacy at MAT, the research and developmental lead for the Aspirer Teaching School, and the director of a research school. She has also worked in an advisory capacity for both the Department for Education and Ofsted.
Any change is challenging and adopting a new framework for teaching and assessment is hard enough at the best of times, let alone in the middle of a pandemic! However, although daunting, perhaps within the challenge lies a golden opportunity for us as practitioners and leaders.
Whether we love it or loathe it, the new DfE curriculum changes to the Early Years Framework presents with us a chance to revisit and explore our practice.
It provides us with the opportunity to engage once again with the rich and varied research base that exists and focus on exploring the development of spoken language, reading and writing. We can provide ourselves with powerful opportunities to grow and learn more.
This is the chance to read widely from different domains of research – perhaps from a psychological or sociological standpoint. Or to reframe our viewpoints in light of the evidence around powerful pedagogies in the early years’ classrooms.
The challenges faced by our youngest children has been starkly illustrated and those who benefit the most from an outstanding early years education are amongst the most vulnerable in our society.
Large scale longitudinal studies show that the poorest children are more likely to have socio-emotional difficulties at the age of three and five. Children in disadvantaged environments are more likely to have speech, language, and communication difficulties. These impact on a child’s ability to read, write, and learn. Spoken language and communication play a crucial role in the development of all children; cognitively, socially, physically, and emotionally.
The evidence suggests that literacy skills development is not possible without a securely-developed understanding of spoken language, vocabulary, and listening comprehension skills. These skills are enhanced and developed through immersion in environments rich in language and the serve and return of conversation.
Vocabularies are built through engagement with text, song, rhyme, stories, and opportunities to explore the world through speech. Learning to read words is only possible if a child can distinguish sounds, one from the other – tuning into the variations in our language and discerning the nuanced differences in sounds.
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the education of children and our ability to provide the quality of learning we know is most effective. A recent survey I was involved in with colleagues (Bowyer-Crane et al, 2020) highlighted the particular challenges the early years sector has faced. Children have missed opportunities to develop their skills. The practitioners who contributed reported concerns regarding both the personal, social, and emotional development and the language development of the children they work with.
It is well recognised that literacy is a social and cultural practice that is shaped in, and by, space and time – it is part of the world we live in, is shaped by the world we live in, and is a door into the world we live in.
Without literacy, pushing open the doors to the world is an infinitely harder task for children.
Rather than focusing on one or two discrete approaches that focus on a single aspect of reading, a more effective strategy is to fill our days with a smorgsboard of activity that each contributes to building a rounded, complete picture of literacy attainment.
We need, as practitioners, to ensure we understand the key elements of the smorgsboard of early childhood education that contribute to developing the child.
A deep conceptual and theoretical understanding of these will help us be more effective in observing, understanding and scaffolding the developing competences of each child. It is important to recognise that the sum of the individual parts is far greater than the outcomes of the parts themselves.
In the webinars that I developed for The National College (developing writing and developing language in line with the new DfE curriculum guidance), I have included a wide range of references to research and other resources. They are intended as a starting point, to help practitioners and leaders structure a deep and sustained professional learning journey – I hope a starting point of a conversation, rather than the end.
The importance of early years education has been widely researched – there is little doubt of the value it has. The place of early years education has not always been as valued or recognised. This, perhaps, is our chance to focus on child education. Now, I firmly believe, is the time.
Have you considered joining The National College?