Credit where credit is due, writes Clare Sealy; the government has done a really good job on its new early-learning goals
So here we are again: another day, another early-years education story. There has been quite a lot of anxiety about these new early-learning goals (ELGs), and people are fearful that they will mark a switch to over-formal schooling, with children sat in rows all day, their freedom to play a distant memory. But I really do believe that these fears are groundless. The new ELGs take what is best from the previous goals and build on them. In my opinion, this is a big step in the right direction, for several reasons.
Firstly, the claim that the profession was consulted honestly is a true one. I should know, as I myself was on the working group, despite being a card-carrying member of the Labour Party. In addition to the working group, the DfE consulted a whole range of other sector professionals, asking for feedback and making lots of changes as a result. There is sector expertise running throughout the document, and it is greatly informed by the real-life anecdotes and ideas that the profession passed onto the government throughout the process.
We need to remember the goals are not the curriculum
Most importantly, this is the right thing to do for our children. The focus on speaking, communication, language and literacy is quite rightly at the heart of these goals. Any early-years practitioner will know that some children, usually from poorer backgrounds, simply won’t have been exposed to the same kinds of conversation and the same rich experiences as their more advantaged peers.
Young children all need frequent opportunities to share their thoughts with a knowledgeable adult who, through careful discussion, can guide and stretch their thinking, alongside nourishing them with stories, poetry and stimulating non-fiction that opens up their world. For disadvantaged children in particular, this is crucial. These goals remind all of us just how important the skilled guidance of early-years professionals is in widening horizons, developing vocabulary and ability to communicate effectively. Many settings already do this as a matter of course, but there is always scope to look afresh at what we do, and try and make it even better, even richer.
We need to remember the goals are not the curriculum! There may be no goal for shape and space, but no-one is banning anyone from teaching about triangles! The fact that the goals are much clearer than before will hopefully remove any confusion or grey areas. This will free practitioners to really hone in on the most vital experiences for children and using their teaching time as they see fit.
Even better, the greatly reduced need for evidence collecting – which was something that came up time and again when I and others spoke to the government – cannot be understated. The trust in teachers’ profession judgement that the government is showing is both overdue and welcome, and is one part of the proposals that absolutely everyone, from all sides of the education divide, can get on board with.
I have no doubt that, as I type, many are fuming over this latest announcement (though what exactly they’ll be upset about I’m not sure yet). But I really believe that this latest change is a positive one. It’s not burdensome on pupils, parents, teachers or schools; quite the opposite. It’s not highly ideological, relying instead on evidence and knowledge from the sector about what works and what needs to be done. It’s smart, streamlined and gives kids in need a better chance at reaching their potential.
Can the same team approach be used to overhaul the assessment of writing at key stage two please?