Bold Beginnings?

Alistair Bryce-CleggABC Does A Blog8 Comments

Never has there been more of a time when the Early Years community need to come together to be bold!


Bold about what we know, bold about what we believe and bold about our resolve to ensure that children in Reception get a developmentally appropriate curriculum that is based on extensive research around child development and not the current government’s misguided agenda for ‘improvement’.


The day that ‘Bold Beginnings’ was published I was delivering training. Telling delegates all about the power of child-initiated, play based learning and the impact that I had seen it have in numerous settings over many years.


It was with a real heavy heart and some frustration that I first read the report on my train journey home.


There is no doubt that as Early Childhood Educators we want all of the children in our care to have a bold beginning to their individual learning journey.


The dictionary definition of bold is:


showing a willingness to take risks; confident and courageous.


Surely all of those attributes will come from a learning environment that values the Characteristics of Effective Learning? Spaces where children can explore, engage, play and learn. They will not come from sitting at a table with the correct pencil grip.


Of course our children need to be literate and numerate. There needs to be a balance in Reception between appropriate adult directed teaching supported by opportunities to play. The skills children develop need to be real and meaningful, embedded through practical experience and application. I worry that the Reception practice promoted by ‘Bold Beginnings’ will return us to the days of the carousel of maths work sheets and daily sentence of ‘news’ in books.


The report says that:

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.’


From my experience of working with successful schools this is true, but perhaps not in the way that the report is suggesting.


There is lots missing from the ‘Bold Beginnings’ report, but the thing that is the most startling is the lack of reference or acknowledgement of the importance of wellbeing to children’s success. If a child is feeling afraid, anxious or uncomfortable in any way then they are not going to be receptive to learning whatever form it takes.


The best schools ensure that the systems and curriculum they provide for their Reception children have a firm basis in children’s personal and social development, recognising that this is the area that all others can grow from.


The purpose of the Reception year is not for children to ‘practise’ being in Year One. It is for them to develop a rich bank of learning strategies and experiences that they can then hone and apply to all of the learning opportunities that they meet. This will make them curious, independent and creative learners, secure in their own ability to apply what they know.


I have taken part in many transition projects supporting children with the transition to Year One. Overwhelmingly, when Year One provision has been based on Reception provision (rather than the other way around) the levels of wellbeing have been higher and the children have made better progress.


I am truly worried for the future of the Reception year as we know it. ‘Bold Beginnings’ is a narrow, ill informed report, based on very little evidence, all of which seems to support a political rather than an educational agenda. This is in contrast to the mountains of research that we have into effective child development. This, combined with the changes that are coming to Early Years assessment and the introduction of a baseline, suggest that we are moving in the opposite direction.


One positive that has come from the publishing of ‘Bold Beginnings’ is that the spotlight is well and truly on Early Years. The report is promoting discussion and debate. It is crucial that we use this opportunity to express our opinions and direct people to the research that supports what we do and why we do it.


Of all of the responses to ‘Bold Beginnings’ that I have read so far TACTYC’s has been the most useful. Not only do they give their thoughts, but they also link to some really useful research.


So, if you are like many of the Reception teachers who have been in touch with me over the past couple of weeks, told that their practice must change in light of the ‘Bold Beginnings’ findings, then download a copy of the TACTYC response here and discuss it with the person who is asking you to make the changes.


I am not usually one for an ‘inspirational’ quote – or someone who regularly reads Wordsworth!


But when thinking about what it meant to be ‘bold’ I came across this and it just about says it all.



Miscellaneous Sonnets 1

“How does the Meadow flower its bloom unfold?

Because the lovely little flower is free

Down to its root, and in that freedom bold.

And so the grandeur of a forest tree

Comes not by casting in a formal mould

But from it’s own Divine vitality.”  

-William Wordsworth



So let’s be ‘bold’ together and ensure that we get the very best possible beginnings for all of our children.



8 Comments on “Bold Beginnings?”

  1. Hi Alister I have really enjoyed reading your blog! I am currently in my final year of a childhood studies degree and have been inspired by your work! My dissertation module focuses on outdoor play, specifically mud kitchens which I know you are passionate about. If the UK Government is only focused on a political agenda what are your views on a Scandinavian approach?

    Thank you

  2. Great blog, love the quote! I’m pretty sure Ofsted are regretting publishing that report and have now said not to change your practise based on it. This is from Early Years Practitioners standing strong and challenging others, which is the best way to be, exactly how we teach children to be.

  3. Thank you Alistair,
    Like you, I had a heavy heart when I read that report. I am sure that many Early Years Practitioners felt the same. We need to hold on to the excellent practise and put the wellbeing of our Early Years children first.

  4. Thank you Alistair. As always, your words and wisdom make more sense than any nonsense report written by people who clearly know nothing about early child development. This is definitely the time for the early years professionals (because that’s what we all are, because WE know what we’re talking about!) to stand together and be strong and firm about our beliefs.

  5. Is there anything worth keeping from the report? I’m just starting a new reception post in January and was hoping to use the report to persuade leadership to invest money in more decodable reading books and time in reorganising them according to Phonics phases. We’re currently using book bands and lots of the pink and red books we send home are not decodable with the synthetic phonic knowledge the kids have so far. Instead of using the skills taught in class they’re encouraged to guess the words from the context of the repetitive text.

  6. Hear hear !! I have changed my practice since seeing you at Leeds and I can honestly say it’s the best thing I’ve done .. I’m not sure if I’m doing it right but the children are more engaged and it feels right to me and my TA .. we love it … then we read the report and questioned whether we were right to believe in this way of teaching … luckily for us our Head trusts us to do what is right by the children but I know many others are not so lucky and are having to make changes following knee jerk reactions .. !
    So in January we WILL BE BOLDER …and do what WE KNOW IS RIGHT ! Thanks Alistair

    1. Thanks Debbie. That is great to hear! I am sure that you will do ‘bold’ brilliantly!

  7. Thank you Alistair, we are so lucky to have you as a spokesperson. Team Early Years are ready to stand up and fight!

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