A few days ago, Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted declared that in regards to Early Years: “Our view is that the looking-after-children side of things is very good. The education side is not so good.”
There are truly real problems in Early Years that cannot be swept under the rug. Still, the line of thinking demonstrated in this quote is ignorant, disrespectful and downright foreboding. The Head Cop of Education clearly does not understand how genuinely inseparable care and education are for young children. In her eyes, proper education must mean getting four year olds “school ready” in the most myopic sense of the term.
I am anti-Ofsted, but I do have to give whichever individuals responsible there credit for their defintition of teaching in the Early Years.
‘Teaching should not be taken to imply a ‘top down’ or formal way of working. It is a broad term which covers the many different ways in which adults help young children learn. It includes their interactions with children during planned and child-initiated play and activities: communicating and modelling language, showing, explaining, demonstrating, exploring ideas, encouraging, questioning, recalling, providing a narrative for what they are doing, facilitating and setting challenges. It takes account of the equipment they provide and the attention to the physical environment as well as the structure and routines of the day that establish expectations. Integral to teaching is how practitioners assess what children know, understand and can do as well as take account of their interests and dispositions to learning (characteristics of effective learning), and use this information to plan children’s next steps in learning and monitor their progress.’
I am finally at a place where I am willing to claim that I am a teacher in my work in a children’s centre 2 year old program. The thing is, I don’t think anybody else sees me as one. I am not looking for pity, just trying to say the truth of the matter. Spielman’s quote has got me thinking about this so here I am ranting to myself on a Friday afternoon.
Let’s get to it in broad, very general strokes: The older the person, the more respect – both social and financial – is given to the people teaching them. University professors make more than high school teachers. High school teachers look down on Primary teachers. Early Years of course is definitively at the bottom of the pile. Even within Early Years, Reception teachers are seen as the most important and get the most attention. In most people’s eyes de facto qualifications for working in the average baby room requires a certificate, two arms and a beating heart. Somehow cutting hair and taking care of brand new humans are considered comparable options.
Of course this not-so-secret hierarchy in education is incredibly stupid. The first 1000 days of a child’s life are of paramount importance to the rest of a human’s life. 90% of person’s brain develops in the first five years of life, and what happens in this time frame has a life long impact on their physical health, mental health and over all happiness and success in life. There is no evidence to show that early capital-A Academics helps young children at all, and less time for play is clearly harmful to children’s emotional and social development. Blah blah blah. If you are reading this you have probably heard it all a million times before.
Anyways, just a small handful of examples of me teaching in a 2 year old program this past week:
- I am with one of my key children at our water table, scooping and pouring water into a funnel. He tries to snatch it from me and I pull my hand a way saying “hey stop, I am using that. You can have a turn when I am finished.” Not too long after I give it to him, “okay I am finished, you can have a turn.”
- One of my key children is screaming and hitting another another who is trying to pull him off a bike. I suggest to the child on the bike, “tell him to stop. Tell him to let go.” Today, after weeks of these sort of instances, the child yells “let go!” (while still hitting the other child) and the other child listens to him and let’s go and looks for something else to play with. After the dust settles I tell the child on the bike “you told him to let go and he listened to you.”
- I am helping a key child get their shoes on and they tell me “Yusuf doesn’t like me.” I reply “you think Yusuf doesn’t like you?” “Yeah.” “Why do you think Yusuf doesn’t like you?” “Gonna hit me” “Yeah I wouldn’t want to be hit either, if someone trys to hit me I tell them to stop.”
- We noticed that the children are not using the smaller wooden blocks at all, and using duplos more, so we replaced the wooden blocks with a basket with many more duplos in them.
If you aren’t familiar with the Ofsted definition of teaching, look at it again. If you are reading this, you are probably already get this already. Honestly though, would your friends, family or coworkers see the above as examples of teaching? Would Spielman? These are “just” regular everyday interactions with an adult who has the time, patience and interest to talk things through with young children (and knows early childhood development). Call it teaching or don’t, but those of us who know the real value of these “regular” human interactions, can’t let them be muscled out of education by technocratic, test-loving ghouls.
I think I get on with my actual weekend and will end this with a quote from Early Education’s far more appropriate and excellent response to Spielman: “The problem is that education is not a production line, practitioners are not machines and children are not widgets. It is not realistic to think that the existence of a written curriculum can produce a uniform experience.”