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The time has come to overturn neoliberalism’s hold on early childhood education

Blog Editor, IOE Digital4 May 2021

Peter Moss and Guy Roberts-Holmes.

Our last blog highlighted neoliberalism – what it is and where it came from. We argued that it has penetrated all aspects of everyday life, yet many people neither recognise what it is nor understand its huge influence. Education is no exception, as a Canadian course tutor vividly illustrates: ‘My students have asked: “Why should we bother studying this?”; “Why should we bother with neoliberalism when we have to learn how to teach children?”’

Compulsory and higher education have been well served by studies of neoliberalism. They have detailed how this philosophy has circulated since the 1980s via the ‘Global Education Reform Movement’. GERM’s common symptoms have included the spread of market logic, business management models and test-based accountability, and a narrowing of curricula to focus on literacy, numeracy and science.

Less attention has been paid to early childhood education. This is the subject of our newly published book, Neoliberalism and Early Childhood Education: Markets, Imaginaries and Governance. Though (more…)

Neoliberalism: what’s it all about?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital28 April 2021

Peter Moss and Guy Roberts-Holmes.

In his foreword to our new book, Neoliberalism and Early Childhood Education, published today, Professor Stephen Ball offers a stark assessment: ‘neoliberalism now configures great swathes of our daily lives and structures our experience of the world – how we understand the way the world works, how we understand ourselves and others, and how we relate to ourselves and others.’

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were the movement’s standard bearers

It has reached, as we will describe in our next blog, deep into all sectors of education – and far beyond. Whether it’s schools or bus services competing for custom, or the privatization of public utilities and the sub-contracting of public services to big business, or the marginalization of trade unions and the vaunting of a ‘flexible’ labour market, or the turning over of care for older people to private providers, neoliberalism has become the normal backdrop to life, appearing natural and self-evident. How else, we might ask, could things be?

Yet despite its enormous influence on all aspects of our lives, many people today can neither name nor describe (more…)

What bookworms need to thrive

Blog Editor, IOE Digital10 February 2021

IOE Events.

The benefits of reading for pleasure are many and varied, from the development of comprehension skills and vocabulary, to the enrichment of imagination and empathy.

For younger children, reading for pleasure builds the proficiency in literacy that accelerates their learning across the school curriculum, and this becomes a virtuous circle as they move on to more demanding texts.  But not all children – or adults – view reading as a favourite pastime. For our latest ‘What if…?’ debate, we brought together children’s author and poet Joe Coelho, literacy experts Charlotte Hacking and Professor Gemma Moss, and social scientist, Professor Alice Sullivan, to assess the barriers and enablers to cultivating committed readers (you can learn more about our panel here).  Along the way, we were delighted to be treated to a poetic tribute to reading, books and libraries.

Our discussion highlighted how the way in which literacy is taught and assessed in schools can be as much of an impediment as an enabler. An over-emphasis on reading as a proficiency and a sorting mechanism, manifested (more…)

‘We never stop learning through play, we just stop teaching through play’

Blog Editor, IOE Digital6 January 2021

IOE Events.

From rule-bound games to unstructured exploration, play brings us a lot of satisfaction. Its powers are increasingly recognised in the world of work. But it remains the ‘poor relation’ in our education system, certainly beyond the early years phase.

To assess whether we’ve got that right for our older learners, our final ‘What If…’ debate of 2020 drew on a diverse set of expertise in the form of cognitive scientist Dr Sara Baker (Cambridge University); director of evidence, Tom McBride (Early Intervention Foundation); author Michael Rosen; and former computer science teacher and play-based learning expert, Shahneila Saeed (Ukie). You can read more about our panellists here.

It seems that play is one of those rare examples of something that is both enjoyable and good for us – the equivalent of chocolate flavoured broccoli, (more…)

A few words in the OFSTED framework could help boost the digital skills children need for learning outside of school

Blog Editor, IOE Digital11 November 2020

Sara Hawley.

While the pandemic continues and individual pupils, groups or classes stay home self-isolating, the DFE has made remote learning part of schools’ legal duty for now. OFSTED has suspended routine inspections but is carrying out interim visits (without grading schools) to understand the lay of the land.  Yesterday, Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman published a report detailing the skills many children had lost during months of absence from school and acknowledging that home learning remains ‘patchy’.

For those of us working in and around schools in England over the last decade, it comes as no surprise to read of the huge variation in online learning provision across the state sector now and during the spring lockdown. Funding and policy choices made over recent years have in many ways taken things backwards. The abolition of BECTA (British Educational Communications Technology Agency) in 2010 meant the end of a coherent national strategy for online learning resources and infrastructure.

Since then, schools have been left to their own devices, navigating a baffling range of commercial options, often relying on any expertise held by enthusiasts among their staff. Compounding the difficulty has been (more…)

What food-insecure children want you to know about hunger

Blog Editor, IOE Digital15 September 2020

Rebecca O’Connell, and Julia Brannen.

Footballer and food poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford has rebuked Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake on Twitter for suggesting that parents who need help to feed their children are failing in their responsibilities.

Children growing up in poverty today recognise it is their parents’ duty to make sure they are fed adequately. But, like Rashford, whose family struggled with food security when he was a child, they know from experience that parents cannot always fulfil this obligation. In this context, they argue, government and others have a responsibility to act.

Children speak out about hunger

We know this because we have asked children about this exact issue as part of our research into food poverty. In a European study of low-income families, we asked young people between 11 and 16 years old who they consider to be responsible for making sure children have access to enough decent food. Most children argued that parents, government and organisations like schools should work together to achieve this. Phoebe, age 16, whose father had lost his job in the local authority, said:

If a family is unable to provide food then I think it’s up to schools and government to kind of make that up, if there is really nothing that they can do. So free school meals and fruit at break I think is really important. I think it’s really important that there is enough money for schools to be able to provide free school meals, breakfast club and fruit and stuff like that.

However, attributing responsibility to those in power did not mean children exempted parents from taking responsibility. On the contrary, several young people talked about the (more…)

Breadth and balance: the essential elements of a recovery curriculum

Blog Editor, IOE Digital3 September 2020

Dominic Wyse.

Government guidance for schools reopening this month originally suggested that national curriculum subjects could be dropped in order to focus on key areas such as phonics. In the latest welcome U-turn, the guidance now says that “the curriculum remains broad and ambitious”. But at the same time it notes that “Substantial modification to the curriculum may be needed at the start of the year, so teaching time should be prioritised to address significant gaps in pupils’ knowledge with the aim of returning to the school’s normal curriculum content by no later than summer term 2021,” and goes on to give details.

The key question is, will the guidance’s emphasis on aspects such as “disapplication”, “the essentials”, and “phonics” lead to some subjects in the curriculum being neglected? The history of governments’ national curriculum reform in England suggests this will be the case.

The guidance continues, “For pupils in Reception, teachers should also assess and address gaps in language, early reading and mathematics, particularly ensuring children’s acquisition of phonic knowledge and extending their vocabulary. Settings should follow updates to the EYFS [Early Years Foundation Stage] disapplication guidance.”

And, “For pupils in key stages 1 and 2, school leaders are expected to prioritise identifying gaps and re-establish good progress in the (more…)

Ending a pernicious split: how to get beyond childcare as a commodity to education as every child’s right

Blog Editor, IOE Digital6 August 2020

Peter Moss.

Early childhood services in England need to be transformed. The split between childcare and education, firmly embedded in our deeply flawed system, is one of the key problems. The solution is to stop focusing on childcare and reform our early childhood provision as an education service.

This is a central argument of a new book I have edited with Claire Cameron, with contributions from academics at or associated with UCL Institute of Education.

After the second world war England’s early childhood services suffered policy neglect for decades and the split between ‘daycare’ services (under health) and school-based services (under education) was ignored. Then the 1997 election brought landmark change. Early childhood became a New Labour government priority, followed by a start on integration. All services came under education and a common system of regulation (Ofsted and the Early Years Foundation Stage) was implemented.

But integration stalled before the difficult bits were tackled. Services remained fragmented, with (more…)

New study: empowering teachers, children and parents is the way to achieve the best early childhood education and care

Blog Editor, IOE Digital22 July 2020

Yuwei Xu, Clare Brooks, Jie Gao and Eleanor Kitto.

The need to educate young children from home during the Covid crisis has caused early years staff and parents to rethink their roles.

At the IOE’s Centre for Teacher and Early Years Education (CTEY) we carried out an analysis of 19 national and regional early childhood curriculum frameworks across five continents. It reveals that most education systems see empowering educators, parents, and children as essential for effective and high-quality Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC).

Government evaluation reports on those national frameworks make it clear that educators, parents, and children should all be involved both in the policy making of (more…)

Proceed with caution: unravelling the evidence behind the DFE’s Covid guidance on teaching assistants

Blog Editor, IOE Digital17 July 2020

Rob Webster.

In the early stages of the UK government’s response to the Coronavirus health emergency, it was common to hear that decisions were ‘being led by the science’. As attention begins to shift to addressing the impact of school closures on the attainment gap, it is essential that schools adopt a similar evidence-based approach.

The DfE’s guidance for the full opening of schools in September contains the following advice for school leaders on deploying teaching assistants (TAs) and other support staff:

“Where support staff capacity is available, schools may consider using this to support catch-up provision or targeted interventions. Teaching assistants may also be deployed to lead groups or cover lessons, under the direction and supervision of a qualified, or nominated, teacher”.

This section of the DfE guidance goes on to point school leaders towards the practical recommendations contained in the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants report. Ordinarily, a link to the EEF’s work in DfE literature is a tacit signal to the reader that the advice being provided is trustworthy, robust (more…)