‘Some Station Platforms are Curved…’ What ‘narrowing the gap’ really means

23rd January 2018

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Every year EYFSP data is analysed to see how the ‘gap’ of attainment is ‘narrowed’.  Then we make predictive targets so that there will be a smaller gap next time.  Bingo!  But is it that simple?  What is this ‘gap’ really?

In a world of numbers and data on spreadsheets, it appears linear and straightforward to work a bit harder with the children on Numeracy and Literacy, in order to make sure that the ‘gap’ is narrowed next time.

But what would really make a difference to children?  They are all ‘curved platforms’, and not one the same as the other. What must we take into account to stop the children falling onto the rails?  Is concentrating on literacy and numeracy enough?

Short answer – no it isn’t.

Let’s continue in a railway theme.  Do you know the story of The Little Engine that Could?  All the larger engines refused the job of pulling a heavy load over the hill, but the smallest engine agreed to have a go.  And did it.

“I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I know I can.”

(Watty PiperThe Little Engine That Could)

Well, she could have been said to have narrowed her gap of attainment when compared to the larger, perhaps more capable, engines by using her ‘have a go’ positive self image.  She made a personal achievement. Without being enabled to achieve, even the smallest success, attainment of learning targets can become difficult.

My argument is that this has to be our start point for the children too – a positive self image both physically and mentally.  After all, the Little Engine used both these capacities.  This meant understanding that she was capable of anything.  We need to develop confident and motivated learners who can challenge their own capabilities.

My way into enabling children to achieve is always through a positive physical and emotional environment. The emotional environment must be respectful, sensitive and supportive of all involved so that success is celebrated and difficulties supported.  The physical environment must allow the children space and challenge to test out the potential of their bodies and how move confidently and competently.

Physical Literacy can be described as the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life (IPLA 2017)

If we are looking to ‘narrow the gap’ then we need to enable children to negotiate all the different platforms, at the variety of stations they will encounter.  Recently, with the publication of the Ofsted report ‘Bold Beginnings’, many have become concerned that the definition of ‘curriculum’ in the Early Years will narrow down to table based, sedentary activities based on reading, writing and arithmetic.  How would the Little Engine cope with this?  Well the answer is probably that she’d try and try, but the ‘one size fits all’ approach would not work for her.  She’d need to feel good about herself physically and mentally which she wouldn’t be able to do if she were kept still most of the time.  And like the Little Engine was built to move, so our children can’t reach their full potential unless they have an enabling environment that allows purposeful, physical play.

So what will really make a difference to children?  In order to stop the children falling onto the rails we need to concentrate on more than literacy and numeracy.

I’m going to end with a quote from a blog by Sally Goddard – Blythe

What are the foundations of school readiness?

In making recommendations for policies in the future we need to remain aware, that although early years education can help to support children’s growth and development, particularly for children growing up in deprived areas and impoverished environments, “too much, too soon” can also stunt children’s development in other ways.  Children are not miniature adults. Development of the brain and nervous system in the early years takes place in the context of the physical world and is not a purely cognitive process.

Dr Sue Allingham will be speaking about narrowing the gap at Childcare Expo London taking place at Olympia London on 2 & 3 March. Book your seats today. 

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