The Past Can Hurt. But You Can Either Run From It or Learn From It by Rosie Birks

Reading Time: 4 minutes


“The past can hurt. But you can either run from it or learn from it.”
The Rafiki approach to integrating EY knowledge into Secondary School Classrooms

I confess that I am not an expert in EY – I am far from it. However, I am a curious non-expert who recognises the importance of this stage, and who wants to learn more.

During my teacher training, EY (henceforth EY) was never really mentioned. I trained in Secondary Mathematics and one of the most fascinating parts of my training was my very short, but insightful, visits to a primary school. My own primary school was a tiny rural affair, with two classrooms and less than 50 students on roll in total. Larger schools blew my mind a little bit. The creativity and focus on holistic development were refreshing.

Despite this, I still didn’t really contemplate the lives of the students before they arrived at Primary School. It was only when I met Aaron Bradbury through the Doctorate Programme at Derby University that EY Education became real and significant. My revolution is confirmed by Alison Peacock, who states that EY has a “profound and lasting influence on a child” (Peacock, 2018).

All children, regardless of age, deserve the very best teachers and facilitators to ensure they get the best chance of success in the future and fulfil their potential. The advantages of play, talk, socialisation, establishing relationships and refining motor skills are all integral aspects of a young child’s learning; they are the foundations of future success. So, we must get it right as a society.

It is paramount that policymakers, educators and society recognise the importance and impact of EY education.To help those of us not embedded in EY practice, here are four summarised findings from Peacock’s article on EY (2018):

  1. The home learning environment is the biggest influence. However, high-quality EY education can provide a safe space to mimic a comfortable and inspiring environment for learning. Furthermore, outstanding providers can support parents and carers too. This concept continues to be important through every stage of education.
  2. High-quality EY education makes a difference for both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, which form the base for independent learners at primary and secondary level. They include both academic skills and non-cognitive traits such as determination, resilience and self-regulation and social skills. With these skills aptly practised and developed from an early age, children can play together, connect with new people and places, and engage confidently with new experiences.
  3. The benefits of EY education extend far beyond the EY, if maintained by high-quality provision at primary and secondary levels in turn.Strong communication, collaboration and quality provision across EY, primary and secondary is vital, but in my little experience, very rare. There seems to be little consistency in transition across the country. Even when educational attainment benefits do fade over time, the non-cognitive benefits appear to continue. This could even be the reason for the substantial long-term benefits, such as improved adult earnings, where EYeducation is effective.
  4. EY education provides a strong return on investment.The sources of these cost benefits include health improvements, reduction in crime, increases in parental income during the programme, higher salaries and rates of employment in participants’ own later-life.

The Sutton Trust claim that: “More than half of the gaps in achievement at age 11 are due to inequality that was already present at age five.”
Sutton Trust (2017)
Therefore, shouldn’t we look to EY education if we want to improve social mobility in the UK?

The EEF go further, and state in its recent report on the Attainment Gap that:
“The attainment gap is largest for children and young people eligible for free school meals (the best available proxy measure of economic disadvantage) and those assessed with special educational needs. The gap begins in the EYand is already evident when children begin school aged 5. The gap grows wider at every following stage of education: it more than doubles to 9.5 months by the end of primary school, and then more than doubles again, to 19.3 months, by the end of secondary school.”
EEF (2018)

Clearly, this asserts the importance of early intervention, then continuing to attend to the needs of disadvantaged pupils through primary and secondary education.

For an international perspective, I am reading Cleverlands by Lucy Crehan. It is an accessible read that follows a secondary teacher round the world, looking at “successful” education systems. So far, I’ve read about the important of play until the age of 7 in Finland, “Education Mamas” in Japan and early age streaming in Singapore (Crehan, 2017). There are lots of interesting footnotes, including relevant research and reports, that has given me an insight into different education system across the globe.

However, in England now, EY is not a fully integrated aspect of our education system. I am not truly surprised that EY practitioners sometimes feel side-lined, despite the key role they play, especially in larger settings. I do not think I am not the only one to be guilty of saying they “don’t know much about EY” as a classroompractitioner. Some of these practitioners work alongside EY practitioners daily, and yet there can be some division between stages. Even though, EY builds the foundations for later learning.

EY is where the learning begins, where it is visible, andwhere children develop the skills and knowledge that they need for the future. The future of their education is in primary and secondary schools, so why aren’t we all working more closely together? We all teach children. We all have the same goals for children. We all have expertise that we could share. Secondary teachers need to look and learn from students’ pasts to prepare them for the future.


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