Alison Peacock welcomes reforms that show respect for teacher expertise in their content and the way they was arrived at

The experiences of learning across the Foundation Stage are truly formative. The child who encounters a Reception Class experience where learning feels irresistible is given the very best start in school. That’s why I am pleased to have been able to contribute to the government consultation as a member of the DfE Early Years group and to spend time discussing what takes place in excellent Foundation Stage settings.

Last year’s pilot study of revised Early Learning Goals (ELGs) in schools yielded important insights into how teachers felt they could be improved still further. I am delighted that the consultation has provided the opportunity for these further improvements to take place. Early Years practitioners have been listened to.

The pilot showed that teachers were liberated through an alternative approach to assessment that trusted them to learn about their children through close observation, but did not require their judgement to be assessed, so the decision announced today to remove the requirement for local moderation of teacher assessment is a welcome one. Early Years practitioners will no longer need to constantly gather and record evidence against the ELGs to justify their knowledge of each child.

To teach in the Reception class is a holistic endeavour and teachers are experts at leading on each child’s development of language, their fine and gross motor skills. They notice aspects of the setting that the child is drawn to and they note the progress that is being made. This is a highly skilled and complex job, and a joyful one.

This is a highly skilled and complex job, and a joyful one

The ELGs provide an assessment framework for the end of the reception year. These goals, however, are not the curriculum. The curriculum is the overall experience that is offered to children throughout the Foundation Stage. It is for the teacher and her/his team to decide how best to arrange the full breadth of learning each child needs. This professional skill underpins every decision taken within the Foundation Stage setting and should always be taken following close observation of the children, their responses, their interests, their learning needs.

Working closely between home and school is crucial so that each child knows they are valued and that their development is being supported at all times. Some settings communicate with parents and carers during the day by sending comments and photos. Learning journals are made with children helping to build a diary of their time in the Reception class. These ongoing means of communicating learning over weeks and months provides a rich record for families and the children themselves to celebrate successes and offer a record of learning over time.

Today’s advice makes it clear that it is the teacher as a professional who is best placed to determine what happens in each setting and that assessment of progress achieved by the end of the Reception year should be approached similarly. Professor Robin Alexander describes how too often in England ‘the assessment tail wags the curriculum dog’. Now at the beginning of formal education, we have an opportunity within the Reception class to make an important change.

The Foundation Stage should never be viewed as the starting block for an educational race. It is of course vital that every child is offered a stimulating experience that provides opportunities for flourishing across all seven areas of learning, but this should be viewed as the foundation for more formal learning. This is why the decision to remove the ‘exceeding expectations’ judgement is again to be hugely applauded. Every teacher will know very well which children need more help in specific areas and those who are relishing every aspect of learning and they will know how best to support and encourage them accordingly.

The removal of formal external moderation and the need to justify assessment decisions will be one warmly welcomed by the profession. At last, teachers have been given the freedom to use their knowledge of the children and their expert judgement to offer a wonderful Early Years experience for all.

Of course, we still have a baseline test from September 2021, but that’s another story.