In the first of three blog posts across the academic year I have asked Joanna from St John’s Church of England School in Bradford to talk us through her school’s Early Years Approach to Key Stage One. Why she decided to do it, what she actually does and the all important impact on emotional as well as academic attainment. Over to you Joanna…
Our journey started five years ago and we haven’t looked back since. Walking around our setting now, it is hard to believe that we ever worked any other way; the formal classroom layout replaced with quiet nooks, busy provision areas and thoughtful provocations. Children are everywhere… on the floor, on cushions, in pairs, in groups or sitting quietly on their own. Our Key Stage One setting meets the needs of all our children because we provide them with what they need and most importantly, time.
Time to practise what they have learned; time revisit the same area over and over (and over!) again; time to spend hours on a project of their choosing and immerse themselves in an activity that is important to them. With time comes embedded learning, reduced stress and the opportunity to developed life skills such problem solving and resilience.
In continuing the Early Years approach into Key Stage One, the transition into Year One is seamless, building on their innate drive to learn through exploration and play. We hone this drive and use it as tool to build on what they have been taught already, identify areas of need and deliver the requirements of the National Curriculum.
Finding our way wasn’t easy and after searching far and wide for other schools who had taken a play based approach into Key Stage One, we quickly came to realise that although people knew it was the right thing to do for their children, the pressure of the curriculum and the ‘dreaded SATs’ was preventing them from continuing this way of teaching beyond the Early Years. In failing to find other settings, I began to document our journey on a Facebook page in the hope others would take inspiration and follow our lead.
One thing that we were quick to realise is that working this way was not going to be easy! We had to get our ‘ducks in a row’- the curriculum, the resources, the environment and the staffing.
Our Key Stage One children share a base so we developed a two year rolling program which ensured all the statutory curriculum requirements were covered through a series of very loose topics. Although we do have an umbrella topic for each half term, the children are still encouraged to follow their own interests. Having two years to cover the curriculum also means the children develop and embed the skills which underpin the subjects of Science, Technology, History and The Arts.
I wanted the environment to be a reflection of how we expected to children access the provision, calm and with purpose. We replaced computer generated printables with hand written displays and removed brightly coloured plastics with natural baskets. By replacing bright fluorescent strip lighting with table and standing lamps, the setting felt ‘homely’ and relaxed and the children’s behaviour reflected this; they love to work by the light of a table lamp in a quiet corner!
In order for the children to have extended periods of time working in the provision we needed to review our timetable. We removed playtimes and replaced this with free-flow access to snack and the outdoor provision. We wanted to remove as many ‘stop-starts’ as possible so positioned Phonics at the start of the day. When the assembly bells sounds at 10am, the children simply ‘down tools’ and pick up from where they left off on their return.
Our timetable allows the teachers to teach the children in small groups of six throughout the day whilst our skilled support team run the provision under the lead of a Nursery Nurse. Whole class teaching takes place in short espisodes at the start of the day or after lunchtime registration. In working this way, the children are able to access the provision all day, every day.
We are passionate that the resources available challenge and inspire the children to drive their own learning. Therefore the resources we choose to put out provide these opportunities. Amazingly, the most simple resources and have resulted in some of the most amazing learning moments such as ‘Keva’ play planks, plastic cups and the deconstructed role play. None of which cost the earth! We enhance areas thoughtfully, always considering how we can increase the level of challenge.
Unlike more formal Key Stage One settings, the children talk all day, every day, developing their speech and language and communication skills. They talk to themselves, to each other and to us- a lot! Teaching this way means our staff spend quality time with the children, tuning into what makes them tick and identifying gaps in their understanding quickly.
Often children are lost within a class of thirty but our children make rapid progress because they are taught closely within a small group and the timetable allows interventions to take place throughout the day.
The Provision is not secondary to the direct teaching sessions. It enhances and consolidates their basic skills development. We try to ensure there are reading, writing and maths opportunities in all areas; the support staff team are highly skilled in identifying opportunities for the children to extend their learning within a context which engages them. Because of this, our children meet end of year expectations and are not fazed by the end of Key Stage SATs.
Because of the way we work our children know who they are, what they like and what they are good at! You can step back and see the architects, artists, leaders and scientists of the future.
Even though our journey has not always been straight forward and at times, we felt like giving up, we are immensely proud that we stuck at it! There has been many a time when we have stood back, looked across the setting and shed a tear of happiness knowing all the hard work has paid off. Our children thrive in the environment we have created and the progress they make socially, emotionally as well as educationally really is amazing!
Thank you for sharing your ideas with us Joanna. I have seen first hand and written about the power of effective transition and play based learning in Key Stage One. It is great to be able to share it ‘in action’. I will look forward to the next post!
If you would like to keep up with progress at St John’s then don’t forget to have a look at their Facebook Page here.
Have a great weekend.