Early Years teaching (reflections from a Secondary teacher)

2 May 2018

Author: Niki Kaiser

One of the privileges of my job as a Research Lead for the Norwich Research School is that I get to work with colleagues from other schools, other departments and other key stages. Last week, I joined Early Years teachers from Norwich and Ipswich, as we looked at the evidence around the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

This post is written by a self-confessed non-expert in EYFS, but an interested non-expert who understands the importance of the EYFS, and who wants to learn more. If you want to hear more from the experts themselves, come along to our twilight in June.

If you ever had any doubts about the importance of EYFS to our children’s future prospects, this day would have completely eradicated them. I didn’t need convincing, but I did want to learn more about this formative stage, and it was an eye-opening day.

As the Sutton Trust states: “More than half of the gaps in achievement at age 11 are due to inequality that was already present at age five.” Improving early years education is crucial if we want to improve social mobility in the UK. Sutton Trust Early Years factsheet

And the recent Attainment Gap report from the EEF really hammers it home:

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 early years and 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. This shows the importance of intervening early and then of continuing to attend to the needs of disadvantaged pupils.


This infographic is a stark reminder of the battle we are facing, if pupils are already behind their peers at the age of 5:

But EY practitioners can sometimes feel sidelined, despite the key role they play, especially in larger settings. How many teachers and leaders are guilty of saying they “don’t know much about Early Years”, even when they work beside their EY colleagues every day?

Early Years is where the learning happens, where you can see it happening clearly, and children develop the skills and knowledge that will stay with them throughout their school (and later) life.

We spent some time examining the evidence from resources such as

The Laws et al. report is fascinating, particularly in the context of the Norwich Opportunity Area (where we are based), which has speech and communication in the early years as one of its 4 priorities. Key parts that really cried out to me:

Although language acquisition is a very robust process there is evidence that the rate at which children develop language is sensitive to the amount of input they receive from the adults around them. The quality of input that children receive is likely to be more important than the quantity.

At some point between two and three years of age, children typically start to produce longer, more complex sentences, and begin to include function words (for example pronouns like I/you/he, auxiliary verbs like can/will/might, articles like a/the) and word endings/ morphology (such as dogs, finished). Putting words together may be a better predictor of later abilities than the number of words that a child uses.

The development of oral language is mediated by, and in turn impacts upon, developments in other cognitive domains.

Oral language precedes and underpins pre-literacy skills, as well as later reading (and especially reading comprehension) and writing.

Since then, Megan has shared these helpful resources with us:

Come along on 11th June to our free twilight, when experienced Early Years teachers from Bignold Primary School and West Earlham Infant and Nursery School will be sharing more about how this research can help us to support children in this incredibly important stage of their life.

Many thanks to Megan Dixon for an inspiring day.

Posted on 2 May 2018
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