Preparing for the Future – Paula Shore, Executive Principal (Primary)
Early Years (EYFS), or early education for 2-5 year olds, has recently been recognised by the DfE as the most important element of education. Investing in young people at any age is important, but no more so than in EYFS. Our new Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, said during the summer, ‘We are committed to making sure this is a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. Education lies at the heart of this ambition and the early years are crucial to giving every child the best start in life.’
This is where children learn to cooperate, share, articulate and reason. They learn to develop complex thought processes and have an understanding of the wider world in order to find out how they can work within it. The education provided for our youngest pupils within CGST schools is the bedrock of their adult future. There are 420 early years children in CGST schools, which makes up approximately a fifth of the number of pupils the Trust is responsible for.
I visit the settings regularly and speak with staff, children and parents about the provision so that we can continue to establish the very best standards in education.
EYFS in CGST is brimming with curious children and experienced staff. With a combined total of 60 years’ experience in early years teaching amongst the leaders, CGST is strongly positioned to identify and share best practice. I have personally taught in three different early years departments, and as the Executive Principal of CGST Primary Schools, I understand how to support, lead and innovate the practices that take place in our schools.
Much research over the last century has helped us to identify that children learn best when they feel safe and content. It is the aim of all the schools to ensure that this is our number one priority and it is my mantra that children have to be safe and happy first, and then effective learning can take place. Children do not need or desire to be met with a frown of disapproval or a wagging finger, they need and thrive on reassurance, smiles and care. I see this in abundance at the CGST primary schools.
Wherever I go teachers are supporting individuals and groups to solve problems, socialise, learn about their world, share, reason, rationalise, engage and understand. The list of positive verbs is endless and so it should be as the list of possibilities in early years too is endless. When you are aged three, four or five, the world is exciting, everything around you is a learning experience and if our formative learning experiences are inspirational we are more likely to become true lifelong learners.
So, as I stand outside Bannerman Road Community Academy on a cold, damp December morning, ready for the day, the children are skipping, cycling, running and walking through the gates. They all have one aim in mind, getting into school to begin the learning and revel in the new experiences that await them. The children settle quickly and after self-registering, they gather on their learning lines on the carpet. They carefully listen to their teacher and answer questions on their core book, The Owl Babies. The class is set up with lots of tactile objects designed to enthuse and engage. Next door, in the other class, children are using their Talk for Writing lessons to recite the book with actions. They are word-perfect and only need a little guidance from the teacher. These sessions are used to teach children the framework of story making so that they can formulate their own stories in the near future. The children gather together to form a line, ready to join the rest of the 300 pupils to see a live puppet performance of The Nativity performed by the local church group.
Nursery in all of the schools is full of innovative practice. Outside in the Bannerman Road Nursery the children are using torches in Santa’s Grotto, whilst others enthusiastically use green paint to transform the colour of the 60 year-old tree. The children are taught key skills like riding a bike, cooking, inventing, threading, how to discuss etc. The focus for many in Nursery is on developing gross or fine motor skills to enable them to get ready for writing, designing, building a tower, riding and balancing on a two-wheeled bike, and so on.
Christmas has of course been on the agenda in the schools this month and behind the doors in Barton Hill Academy I find Reception children gathered, singing and rehearsing for their first-ever public performance. Joseph grapples with holding a baby doll which has broken free from its swaddling blanket. Children develop a sense of achievement whilst developing their fine motor skills as they prepare Christmas decorations for the classroom and the tree in Nursery. Socialising is a key part of any Nursery. The children sit in a circle, eat their fruit and drink their milk or water as they sing songs, chant rhymes and answer questions. Upon the walls we are reminded of the school’s values and expectations which are clearly embedded and form a key part of the school’s identity. Evidence of reading and writing, creating and inventing adorn the walls, a reminder of the inspiring work that happens on a daily basis.
At The Kingfisher School children in both Nursery and Reception classes engage with the theme of Christmas around the world as they organise their classes into buses, banquets halls, Santa’s Grotto, racing tracks and space stations.
Cooperative play has to be taught. It does not come naturally to all four-year olds. The skills and devotion of the parents and teachers ensure that after 13 weeks in a Reception class in The Dolphin School we all benefit from solving problems together. This is well practised and understood. Wherever my eyes fall I see great examples of cooperative play. Patience and a real desire to enjoy and revel in the company of others is shown as the children spin large hoops, roll large cardboard reels, decorate trees, play with boats in water and sand – everywhere they share. Both body language and spoken language are quickly developed as the school’s youngest pupils amaze and inspire each other. It is a pleasure to observe.
Fairlawn School children run around excitedly as they wait to impress and entertain their parents and wider family members with their performance of Countdown to Christmas; a lively production of the Nativity which allows the children to showcase their Spanish singing. And so this ends with rapturous applause and smiles from appreciative parents and excited children who clamber towards their loved ones to receive a well-earned hug. These children have yet to realise that they have created an unforgettable moment that will be shared and treasured for years to come.
For me, it is a pleasure and a privilege to work with the most inspiring people on the planet, our children.