The Education Endowment Foundation latest guidance, Preparing for Literacy, has just been release. Its seven recommendations start with a focus on the development of communication and language with approaches that emphasise spoken language and verbal interaction.
The guidance is well worth reading. But how could we use it to increase substantially the development of pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds?
Downloadable PDF of the above – Preparing Literacy Guidance – Poster
The early years’ environment can be an alien environment to those of us grounded in secondary education. Its focus on structured play with small groups, engaged inside and out, on multiple activities simultaneously can be disorientating. Unlike more formal classrooms found in Key Stages 2 to 5 it has the potential to substantially benefit from reduced pupil:teacher ratios. Smaller class sizes in the other key stages rarely lead to changes in pedagogy; spending large sums of money on more teachers would simply be a waste. Other strategies would be more beneficial.
Stopping the Gap Appearing
Most of us have spent our professional lives attempting to close the attainment gap between pupils from more affluent backgrounds and those who are from significantly more disadvantaged backgrounds. Better to stop it appearing in the first place: intervene early and carry on intervening in ways that will significantly enhance children’s literacy.
If we really want to make a bold statement, at the beginning of a child’s education, why not place a statutory limit of fifteen pupils to one teacher in a reception class, rather than the current thirty to one, in schools with the greatest percentage of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Halving class size in this way, in an environment where the pedagogical approach is likely to mean it is effective, would need to be rigorously evaluated given the costs involved.
A three year programme with a longitudinal element extending beyond the time period of the intervention could look at the immediate impact and again at the end of primary school, end of secondary school and into adulthood. Potential impacts could be seen on educational outcomes as well as wider outcomes that would benefit society; for example, employment.
Targeting the programme at schools with 50% or more pupils entitled to pupil premium would bring just under 1,200 schools into scope. By limiting the programme to these schools: we maximise the impact on disadvantage pupils: limit the number of early years teachers we need to train across the system which will hopefully maintain teacher quality and can provide targeted training programmes for the teachers involved.
Assuming they are all schools in scope are one form entry (almost certainly wrong) and all schools are involved in the project you would require 1,200 early years’ teachers at approximately an average of £35,000 per annum including on-costs. The annual cost is £42 million plus the costs of the evaluation programme. Arguably a better use of funding than expanding grammar schools, setting up studio schools or the Strategic School Improvement Fund/Teaching & Leadership Innovation Fund. This really would be a bold beginning to children’s education; particularly those who need it most.