The Learning Journey

Author: Susan Aitouaziz,  Reception Teacher

After many years as a reception teacher I believe that children learn best experimenting through play within a creative space appropriately held by adults.   Much of my time in school is taken up by providing a play environment in which children can flourish.

This morning I invited the parents of the children in my Reception Class to share their child’s Early Years Profile.  It’s a large scrap book full of photos and written observations, mostly of the children engaged in play.  It details the learning and wonder as the children develop a sense of themselves and the world.

The scrap book helps me as the teacher to monitor and support every child’s progress, and to show parents how their child is developing throughout their reception year. It is constantly updated and covers all aspects of their development. It shows every child in my class as an individual with their own interests, talents and ways of learning.

It is a constant battle to retain good practice in our Reception Classes.  The pressure to abandon experimental learning and free play in favour of formal teaching to raise the standard of achievement and get the children school ready is immense.

In September 2015 this pressure increased still further when the DfE introduced Baseline Assessment- the first rung on the primary assessment ladder.

At consultation stage Baseline Assessment was widely condemned by teachers and experts alike- only 18% of over 1,000 responses to the DfE consultation were in favour of Baseline, but the government pushed on regardless.

I completed the Baseline Assessment with my reception class at the start of the school year, when most of the children were only 4 years old (many children across Europe don’t event start school until 6 or 7, let alone start facing tests!). The Baseline Assessment told me little about the children in front of me, and the score generated at the end of it told their parents and carers even less.

I, like so many other teachers, knew that Baseline Assessment was damaging to children’s education, so I stood up against it. I campaigned with other teachers and my Union. I supported the Better without Baseline coalition to make sure that Baseline Assessment would not happen in my classroom again.

Thanks in no small part to the pressure put upon the DfE by the Better Without Baseline coalition and the work done by teachers talking to parents and asking them to lobby their MP, the DfE was forced to U turn on its policy in the Spring 2016 and abandon its plans to force reception year to become part of its school accountability system. This means that I do not have to put another group of children through a meaningless test that offered no benefit to me, to the children in my class or their families. The children I teach are individuals, not scores and data entries.

This year when I finished showing parents and carers their children’s scrap books they were immensely proud of the children’s achievements at school and warmly congratulated the staff on their efforts and hard work. The experience gave them so much more than a number or the phrase ‘at standard’ ever could.

As I gather up the pile of scrap books this evening for yet another round of sticking, printing, cutting and annotating I reflect on the alternative posed by the DfE- an unreliable standardised test which would have inevitably led to rote learning to meet the demands of the test and the demise of play in the Early Years.

Although the current system in early years is not perfect, the pressure placed upon me to ensure the children meet the Early Learning Goals is enormous. Any disabilities, adverse home circumstances, English not being the child’s first language, a late summer birthday, or any other factor which may impact a child’s development are not taken into account. Some children overcome huge obstacles and make outstanding progress, but the system isn’t set up to recognise this.

However, the Early Years Profile is still at least is a meaningful assessment for me as the teacher, the child and their family to support their learning and future development. In the Early Years Profile children are still more than a score.

Susan Aitouaziz is a reception class teacher in London.

You can find out more about the more about the Better without Baseline campaign on their website and read the NUT/ ATL commissioned independent research report on the impact of baseline assessment here.

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