Schools are set to pilot improved measures to support children’s early development in language and vocabulary in the Reception year.
The pilots build on two schemes announced by the Education Secretary in April that will improve children’s early language and literacy skills at home before they start school.
These include £5 million with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to trial projects that offer parents practical tools and advice on learning new words with their children, and an £8.5 million programme open for councils to fund projects that help disadvantaged children’s language and literacy.
The new pilot starts from September, when 25 schools across the country are set to trial revised Early Learning Goals, the key measures teachers use to decide how prepared children are to begin Year 1 at the end of Reception year. The changes are aimed at reducing teachers’ workload to free up more time to support children’s early skills and produce engaging lessons.
The Department for Education says the pilot will help to address the problem of children arriving at school struggling with language and social skills, helping to close the so-called ‘word gap’ – the gap between disadvantaged children’s communication and that of their peers when they start school.
They mark the first step of a full consultation process working closely with the early years sector, following the Government’s commitment to improve the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile in response to the Primary Assessment consultation last September.
Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “We want to improve education for every child and the early years in a child’s life are critical in laying strong foundations for future success. That is why we want to free up more time for Reception teachers to interact with their pupils, and make sure they are developing the rich vocabulary, skills and behaviours they need to thrive at school and in later life.
“The schools taking part in this pilot will help test these proposals, designed to cut down the burden of paperwork that exists with the current system. Teachers have the best understanding of their pupils, so it’s absolutely right that we empower them to use and trust their own professional judgment based on what they see.
“The proposals will help reduce teacher workload, in response to feedback from teachers during the consultation that they feel pressured to collect multiple pieces of evidence that justify their own observations of how a child is progressing.”
Ed Vainker, Principal at Reach Academy Feltham, said: “The Early Years are a critical time, especially for the most vulnerable children, where teachers have an opportunity to avoid an achievement gap developing. These proposals provide a welcome focus on speech, language and communication and confirm that teacher judgment, rather than onerous evidence collection, is expected.”
Lauren Costello, National Director of Primary and SEND at The Academies Enterprise Trust, added: “Today’s proposals represent a really positive move forward to build on the already great practice that exists in the Early Years Foundation Stage. As someone who works in the EYFS and primary sector on a national scale and across a wide range of socio and economic settings, I can clearly see a real commitment in these new Early Learning Goals to focus on key things that every child should know, master and have confidence in during their vital early years education.”
The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile is carried out in the final term of Reception year, and is a summary of a child’s development that year against 17 Early Learning Goals. These look at each child’s development across a broad range of skills including language and communication, reading and writing, numbers, art and design, physical development, self-confidence and ability to build relationships, and understanding of the world.
The reforms to the Profile will cut down the administrative burden required of teachers, freeing them up to spend more time teaching, interacting with and supporting their pupils so that they are prepared to move on to Year 1.
The Department for Education says it has worked with teachers, unions and experts from across early years, schools and child development to ensure proposals are based on the latest evidence and reflect feedback from practitioners.
Schools were invited to be part of September’s pilot based on a range of criteria including location, size, Ofsted rating and free school meal eligibility. Those who expressed interest were chosen to ensure a good balance in the pilot. Those taking part in the pilot will be exempt from elements of the existing profile while they test a revised version.
This is backed by a wider package of reform, set out in the Government’s response to the Primary Assessment consultation, which includes the introduction of a Reception Baseline Assessment.
The revised Early Learning Goals being piloted are available on the Foundation Years website.