In the first of three blog posts I have asked Joanna from her setting in Yorkshire 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.
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!
Have a great weekend.
Some lovely ideas – I want to implement continuous provision but I always find it so hard because I am completely on my own with a class of 30 year 1 children and no adult support. Therefore whilst I’m working with my group I have no idea what the rest of the class are doing.
Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Joanna. We are about to begin ours in Key Stage 1. I am really excited but a bit nervous too especially as the year 2 teacher. It is so good to hear how successful it can be.
Really interesting- thanks for sharing.
I am a R / Year 1 teacher and I love the thought of continuous provision but am scared that we won’t meet all of the objectives needed. I like the idea of having a loose umbrella topic for each half term, that I think I could do.
I am currently working in a Britsh School in Kenya but will be in the Swindon, Wiltshire area for a few days early March. ABC, do you know of any schools that offer continuous provision for a mixed R / Year 1 class that I could visit?
Hi Karen, it is worth doing some visiting as it can be a really powerful model to adopt. I don’t know personally of any schools in that area that have mixed R/Y1 provision. But I will see what I can find out!
Thank you for sharing such a wonderful post. I was just wondering how your staffing looks in the setting? How many teaching assistants do you have?
Well done for having this leap of faith. SATs/league tables have damaged early years education so much but you are doing something I would have loved us to have put in place at our school. I’m in the Nursery now though so get to do it anyway.
I hope you have started a ball rolling and that in 10 years time people will look back and realise how ridiculous it is to teach KS1 in a formal way.
This is wonderful I agree this approach is excellent I happen to run after school club for Ks1 and 2 kids and I use this approach kids enjoy, they always look forward to the day. Thank you for sharing these wonderful ideas.
Thank you so so much for all your lovely comments… we have been truly overwhelmed by all the feedback. I’m looking forward to writing the next blog post in the new year and hopefully this will answer some of the questions people have been asking.
Thank you again!
Apologies for the double response (see below!) -technology!!!!
Thank you so so much for all your lovely comments…! Regarding staffing we usually have a support assistant in each base, two in our shared area and at least one outside.
Thank you again for taking the time to read and respond to this post… we have been overwhelmed by the feedback we have had.
You can never go wrong with a philosophy that is learner centered and geared around individual interests…. What better way to make learning relevant – a philosophy that should be embraced across the entirety of the education system. Well done – amazing and pioneering work that’s been a long time coming.
Are there any other schools out there who have gone for this approach so completely? Would love to hear about more schools where the impact is also evident in results at end of Ks1, especially in the south of England.
We tried it for half the year, and are definitely doing it again for at least some of the year. It was hard, but I loved it. I wanted to develop it more, and I know we could have achieved the same progress with continuous provision for the whole year with the right staffing, planning and resources, as the kids were doing really well. The talking, collaborating and resilience they used really supported the transition to more formal learning. You need complete support from management though.
We started this child centred approach in September so it is early days Regards it’s impact. However we feel that we know the children better, they are more enthusiastic and involved in the activities they choose. It’s tiring for us and the classroom can look chaotic on first glance but there is definite deep level learning taking place.
That is great to hear Emma. I am sure the impact will become more visible over time.
This is so fantastic to read about. I am an Early Years practitioner and was moved into Year 1 to support teachers to apply an early year approach. The existing teachers have been really positive and we are also receiving enquires about how it works from Key stage 2. Would love to hear more about it ….
Brilliant! It’s the learning experience that all Key Stage One children should experience. I really hope that your success starts a long over due Early Years revolution and that more schools follow your example.
I admire your vision and commitment. It is so hard to quantify such an approach but it seems you have achieved that. I am inspired! Thank you xx
WOW. I LOVE this 🙂 Well done for persevering. It all looks wonderful.
Well done on having the bravery to go against the norm and create something which everyone knows is the right way! I hope lots of schools take inspiration from what you’re doing. I’m sure the long term results will show the impact of the fantastic opportunities your children have.
A fantastic blog post, thank you for sharing your inspiring setting. Your children are very lucky! Could you tell me how many members of staff are in each class please? Thank you ?
Lucky children. A fantastic and inspired account. I really hope others will feel confident to follow your lead. Well done to the St John’s team!