Ofsted report says many reception children can`t sit properly, or even hold a pencil
Recent Ofsted inspectors have issued some dismaying news, saying that a third of five year olds lack the knowledge they should possess after completing their first year of school. Some of the skills the children are lacking are fairly basic and undemanding ones, such as how to sit properly at the table, or how to hold a pencil correctly.
Ofsted have said that reading should be the focus of reception, and that it is vital teachers read stories, poems and rhymes to their pupils. There must be appropriate reading material available, so the children can practice the lessons they should be learning in their phonics.
The way children have been taught to read in school has undergone drastic changes over recent years, and phonics are a big part of that shift. Working alongside guided reading, and shared reading (more traditional techniques) phonics help children identify the building blocks of words - called phonemes.
In their new report `Bold Beginnings` Ofsted stress the importance of teachers using phonics, and their associated techniques, to help children learn learn to read during their reception year:
`Systematic synthetic phonics played a critical role in teaching children the alphabetic code and, since this knowledge is also essential for spelling, good phonics teaching supported children`s early writing.`
This report stresses the importance of laying a good foundation for a child`s education, and is explicit with its warning about the potential consequences of an ineffective first year on a child`s future:
`A good early education is the foundation for later success. For too many children, however, their
Reception Year is a missed opportunity that can leave them exposed to all the painful and unnecessary consequences of falling behind their peers.`
The report was commissioned by Her Majesties Chief Investigator (HCMI) in 2017, and during the summer term inspectors visited primary schools `in which children, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, achieved well.` The `disadvantaged children` refer to those who are eligible for free school meals, though it seems strange that their inclusion need be pointed out. Some key findings from the report as as follows:
- Story time is part of the daily routine, and teachers cite it for helping to develop children`s vocabulary, comprehension, and overall language skills.
- In well performing schools children were adept in their spelling of phonically regular words, as well as common exception words. These schools also attended carefully to children`s pencil grip, along with their posture.
- Reception lacks a clear curriculum, leaving teachers to develop their own teaching plans. Elg`s (Early Years Foundation) provided a framework, and teachers went well beyond the EYFSP (The early years foundation stage profile) in their teaching.
- Headteachers were of the opinion that the reception year is `fundamental to their school`s success,` believing that these early steps in education will have fundamental ramifications in the child`s later life.
The head of Ofsted Amanda Spielman made it clear how important she values the first year of school to be:
`Reception should not just be a repeat of what children learned in their nursery or pre-school, or with their childminder. ; They deserve better than facing years of catching up. The best schools know how to design their curriculum so that children`s learning and development sets them up well for the rest of their schooling. Reading should be at the heart of the Reception year.`
The learning capacity of children is truly astounding - they can learn with greater ease than adults can. If you doubt this try learning a second language past the age of 30. You may, after much time and effort, achieve some proficiency, but you will never approach the fluency a child attains in the same language. It is because of brain plasticity that babies and children (and even foetuses, according to many scientists) can learn at such a heightened level. Most of us learn our first language without any `formal` lessons - we just assimilate, as if by osmosis, the words and sentences of our parents and friends. This learning capacity diminishes rapidly with age - some scientists claim that it drops off sharply around the age of 8. This strongly suggests that we want children to have the very best education in their early years. Interestingly though (and just to confuse the matter!) many Scandinavian countries don`t enrol their children into school until the age of 7. In Finland for example, children don`t start their schooling until they are seven - and they came fifth in the 2015 Pisa science rankings - with the UK far behind in 15th place.