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A small-scale exploratory study of educator’s perceptions and expectations of summer-born children in the reception classes of three English primary academies and the strategies used to support them

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This small-scale interpretative study, carried out in the reception classes of three English primary academies, examined educator perceptions of summer-born children, their expectations of children on entry to reception classes and whether those expectations were age differentiated. It also investigated the support and intervention strategies used for children in reception classes. The findings showed that the children were viewed in terms of a whole cohort and expectations of the children were not age differentiated, raising equity issues. Educators were pressurised by the ‘school readiness’ metanarrative so that although they spoke of a focus on children’s personal, emotional and social development in practice, their focus was on children’s acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills in whole-class activities and intervention groups, resulting in a conforming, instrumentalist pedagogy at odds with their assertions of a play-based curriculum.
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A Small Scale Exploratory Study of Educator's Perceptions and
Expectations of Summer- born Children in the Reception Classes
of Three English Primary Academies and the Strategies Used to
Support Them.
Edwina Mitchell
28 The Chase, Bromley, Kent BR1 3DF. 02084600453
I trained as a Nursery Nurse ( N.N.E.B.) in the early 1960's. I worked as a practitioner in
most fields of the early years profession, maternity, nanny, childminder, preschool playgroup
leader, nursery teacher, special needs assessor in the health service and children's centre
practitioner over the course of forty years. I moved in to teaching childcare students doing
CACHE courses and NVQ's in F.E. before going to university to do a BA in Early
Childhood Studies ( Hons. first class) followed by an MA in Early Years Education. I ended
my career teaching and mentoring students doing BA's in Early Childhood Studies.
This small scale interpretative study, carried out in the reception classes of three English
primary academies, examined educator perceptions of summer-born children, their
expectations of children on entry to reception classes and whether those expectations were
age differentiated. It also investigated the support and intervention strategies used for
children in reception classes. The findings showed that the children were viewed in terms of a
whole cohort and expectations of the children were not age differentiated, raising equity
issues. Educators were pressurised by the 'school readiness' mettanarrative so that although
they spoke of a focus on children's personal, emotional and social development in practice
their focus was on children's acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills in whole class
activities and intervention groups, resulting in a conforming, instrumentalist pedagogy at
odds with their assertions of a play based- curriculum.
Key Words: summer-born, reception classes, educator expectations, educator perceptions,
support strategies, early years curriculum.
This was an independently funded piece of research solely undertaken to facilitate the
presentation of a paper at a European Conference of the World Preschool Organisation
(O.M.E.P.) held in Canterbury in May 2016. During September 2015 there was a media
focus in both newspapers and television, with articles in, for example, the Guardian ( Weale
8.09.2015) and The Telegraph (Everett 9.09.2015), on the effects of school starting age for
summer born children in England. These articles along with the dissertation of a former B.A.
in Early Childhood Studies student, which examined how her setting supported summer born
children's transition from reception in to formal education, sparked my interest. My student,
a mother of summer born twins, found that early years professionals often viewed the
children as a cohort which she felt could disadvantage summer born children by failing to
meet their individual needs.
The academic year in England runs from September 1st to July 31st with children entering
reception classes at age four meaning that summer born children are defined as those whose
births fall in the months of June, July and August.
My research questions were:
What expectations do educators have of children on entry to reception classes?
What are educators perceptions of summer born children?
What strategies do educators employ to support younger children on entry to the reception
This paper will examine the existing research into summer born children and look at
current educational policy for children entering school at age four years in England. It will
discuss the findings from a small scale qualitative research project that demonstrated that
educators are pressurised by a top down approach and the 'school readiness' mettanarrative,
so that whilst the discourse was of an individual child, expectations of the child were not age
differentiated. It will demonstrate that there was a dichotomy in the participants
expectations of the child wanting them to conform yet demonstrate independence. Support
strategies used by educators in reception classes will be described showing that the emphasis
on 'catching up' meant that more summer born children were in intervention groups.
The researcher acknowledges that her extensive experience in early years practice will
influence her interpretation of the data but will take steps to present the data analysis as
accurately as possible so that it is a true picture of the participants views.
Education policy:
Governments hold that it is part of the national interest for children to get a good start in
life with Tickell (2011) arguing that skills learned in the early years are necessary lifelong
skills. This results in education that develops human capital so that future citizens can
compete in the global market and knowledge economies, epitomising the neoliberal agenda,
which views education in terms of measurable outcomes aimed at meeting market driven
needs thus making the child a commodity, an empiricist perspective (Auld and Morris 2016,
Gammage 2003 cited in Grenier 2014). This views the child from a deficit perspective where
the educator's role is to provide the missing skills and knowledge where as a postmodern
perspective argues against a view of the child in the process of becoming but sees them as
having agency which enables them to achieve a self -chosen outcome through co-constructing
their learning. Since 2010 the British government has demanded that education had to
focus on children's acquisition of "essential knowledge and concepts" ( Roberts-Holmes
2015). This leads to a curriculum that is focused on English Language and Literature,
mathematics and science, a skills based rather than a broad and balanced curriculum which
would encourage the development of creativity and imagination essential to future
experimentation and innovation concomitantly essential to economic success (LeBel 2008).
An empiricist perspective leads to schooling, an instrumentalist approach to the concept
of learning. This approach is part of the process along the path to productive adulthood
therefore 'school readiness' is a mantra that drives preschool education today. Moss (2013)
suggests that 'school readiness' focuses on the acquisition of defined cognitive, linguistic,
physical and social skills so that children can cope with formal schooling. Crucially the
education policy agenda has lead to a skills based curriculum, leading to a sharper emphasis
on literacy and maths so that the early years have become more like formal school with ever
younger entry to reception classes and exposure to formal learning. This is in contrast to the
Nordic countries that have an educational system that is underpinned by social pedagogy, a
more holistic approach which focuses on the processes of learning. Children in these
countries are not exposed to formal learning until the age of seven years, moving from day
care to a preschool class at age six. The curriculum in preschool supports the first year of
formal education ( Einersdottir 2013). This approach has lead to children's levels of
attainment in reading and maths that are higher than those of the U.K. (OECD 2015)
Robinson (2013) argues that the focus of education is on testing and there is a command
and control system in education with which educators and children have to comply resulting
in the de-professionalization of teachers and a narrow curriculum for children.
Government discourse deceptively speaks of trusting professional judgements, however the
imposition of the EYFS (DFE 2014) with its learning goals is a top down approach that takes
the focus away from child-centred learning and is difficult for educators to challenge in the
light of the 'school readiness' mantra. A focus on the requirement to prepare children for
future testing, in year one, also inhibits educators ability to adhere to their professional values
and follow a child-centred curriculum. Whilst the discourse is of a unique, individual child
the goals and expectations are applicable to all children leading to an instrumental pedagogy
with teachers who are technicians delivering a curriculum that provides the skills and
knowledge needed, rather than a social constructivist pedagogy where children and educators
are given agency in the learning process ( Roberts-Holmes 2015).
Teachers endeavour to focus on child-centred education but are under pressure to
produce data for OFSTED resulting in their primary engagement teaching literacy and
numeracy in whole class and ability groups so that children achieve good levels of
development (Roberts-Holmes 2015). Although the EYFS has learning goals its underpinning
principles are that children in the early years learn through play, a mettanarrative that is
widely supported by early years educators (Crawford et al 2011). An instrumentalist
pedagogy in which play is structured, leads to high expectations for children to conform to
the developmental norms and behavioural expectations and results in interventions for those
perceived as falling behind.
Summer borns:
The school starting age in England is one of the lowest in Europe and the USA ( Daniels
et al 2000). ). Izbecki ( 2009) holds that in the U.K. children start school too early with
'summer borns' being younger and smaller than their older peers . The school year in
England commences on September 1st so children who enter reception classes shortly after
their fourth birthdays in June, July and August can still be little more than toddlers
(McPhillips & Jordan- Black 2009). Crucially research shows that summer born children
can experience less positive short and long term educational outcomes, showing large
differences in attainment especially for August borns, and summer-borns overall doing less
well throughout their educational experience. (Frazier Norbury et al 2016 ; Long 2016). ).
Baker et al (2009) state that subtle age differences in cognition and physical skills are evident
despite considerations given to gender, type and stage of education.
It could be argued that the September born summer -born binary creates a hierarchy that
categorises summers- borns in a totalising system that is not sensitive to their developmental
differences. Rather than acknowledging their differences there is an effort to assimilate them
in to the larger group leading to the educator supporting the child to become 'normal' by
achieving the curriculum goals at the same time as their September born peers (MacNaughton
2003; Smith 2010). Viewing summer- born children through the same lens and having the
same expectations of them has equity issues. The EYFS (DFE 2017: 6 & 8) states that " every
child is a unique child" and demands that educators "consider the stages of development of
each child in their care." An assimilationist approach to equity fails to acknowledge
developmental differences and exhorts children to meet the defined curriculum goals which
take little account of individual needs and capabilities.
OFSTED (2014) suggests that children need to begin school demonstrating a readiness to
learn, be physically healthy and well nourished and have developed linguistic and socio-
emotional skills. Summer- born children may not have had time to develop these skills
leading to poorer levels of academic attainment. (Cybele Raver 2003). In order to make
children 'school ready' some reception classes follow a more structured conforming
curriculum based on defined curriculum goals that will achieve the best measurable
outcomes for children's normal development. This can result not only in a pedagogical focus
on literacy and numeracy skills but grouping by ability which, Frazier-Norbury et al (2016),
suggest could exacerbate the problems for summer- borns possibly resulting in higher stress
levels, lower self -esteem and sense of competency compared with older children who are
more developmentally mature. Frazier Norbury (2016) states that U.K. and U.S. research
shows that many 'summer- borns' struggle to meet the academic and social demands of
reception classes and are more likely to be diagnosed as having additional needs and more
often referred to psychiatric support services. Campbell's (2013) study finds that at age seven
more summer- born children are in lower ability groups especially those with August
Transition to reception class demands high levels of socio-emotional skills to enable the
child to adjust their role from the concept of being a 'child' to that of being a 'pupil' who is
ready for 'schooling' ( Kennedy et al 2012). In order to foster a sense of self as a
competent learner the transition experience needs to be positive for children which will
facilitate the child's adaptation to the new environmental culture, academic demands and peer
groups (Tilleczek 2012). Pro-social skills, self help skills and the ability to express needs and
wants are seen as essential pre-requisites to starting reception classes, as is the ability to
separate from parent/carers and demonstrate developing levels of independence. Summer-
born children may not have had the time to develop these skills to the required levels
meaning that they can be less accepted by teachers and peers thus being given less attention
therefore learning less (Denham 2006). Teacher home visits and/or parent/carer and child
visits to classrooms are essential as familiarity with people and settings eases transitions
aiding children to apply previously learned skills and gain in confidence (Skouteris et al
2012). Systems of support for new parents and buddy systems where older children support
reception entrants could be especially useful for summer -born children who may struggle
with separation anxiety (Dockett and Perry 2004).
This small scale interpretative study aimed to discover educators perceptions of summer
born children, their expectations of the children on entry to the reception class and support
strategies they might use for those children who were perceived as needing additional help.
Letters were sent to fifty primary schools, with two or more reception classes, in an outer
London borough, outlining the aims and purposes of the research project and informing
participants that the researcher, a U.K. committee member of (O.M.E.P.) The World
Preschool Organisation aimed to present a paper at their European conference ( Cohen et al
2000). Seven schools replied, three primary academy schools agreed to participate whilst
four declined citing pressures of work and transformations into academies as reasons for their
refusal. To facilitate credibility, preparatory visits to each school were made where the
research process was explained in detail to the gatekeepers, who then discussed the research
request with the educators before allowing the project to proceed. It was made clear to the
researcher that the data collection had to have as little impact on staff time as was possible.
Two of the schools had two reception classes and one four reception classes. Both teachers
and teaching assistants working in the eight classes were invited and all agreed to participate
giving a wider perspective and possible range of experience on the research questions than
might be obtained from solely interviewing the teachers. For the purposes of this paper all
staff will be referred to as educators.
BERA ( 2011) ethical considerations underpinned this research project which aimed to
consider all the rights and welfare of the participants. The study and its purpose was
explained to the participants, voluntary consent was obtained and confidentiality and
anonymity was assured prior to each interview (Edwards 2001).
The data was collected through individual interviews with all of the educators as this was
the best way to explore the participants opinions and provided the least disruption to their
daily routines. The semi-structured interviews facilitated a degree of standardization yet
allowed a degree of flexibility to explore issues that arose. They were conducted in an office
giving privacy that allowed educators the freedom to express their ideas. Minimal access to
the participants was a weakness of this study therefore to eliminate bias and ensure
trustworthiness the use of iterative questioning and mirroring conversational techniques was
employed to clarify perceptions and ideas expressed. Responses to questions were verbally
summarised and checked with interviewees to avoid misconceptions. Recorded interviews
meant that the transcript was as close to a true record of the interviewees ideas as possible.
Field notes were written up after each interview to support data analysis and reflective memo
notes added to the transcription of the interviews. A short observational visit was made in
each school. (Oates 2006).
To provide a framework data analysis began by cutting up each educator's transcript and
organising this into the questions asked during the semi-structured interviews. An inductive
process underpinned the data analysis so the responses were read and re-read to get the
flavour of emerging themes. Codes were then assigned to repeated words and phrases which
were then transferred to post it notes and organised into the emerging themes. This was then
charted with second order analysis refining the emerging themes in to smaller categories
allowing deeper analysis (Miles and Huberman 1984).
The researcher acknowledged that the perceptions of educators who were summer born
or who had summer born children could be influenced by their personal experiences.
School 1: two form entry
Position &
experience in
Early years
Summer born
Summer born
stage leader- 8
Teacher- 2 years
B.A. Early
T.A.- 3 years
T.A. 7 years
School 2: two form entry
Position &
experience in
Early years
Summer born
Summer born
stage leader. 6
Teacher -7 years
T.A. -3 years
School 3: four form entry
Position &
experience in
Early years
Summer born
Summer born
Deputy head
early years- 10
Teacher- 22
BA. Early
Teacher -3 years
BA Early Years
T.A. 2 years
T.A. 9 years
T.A. 8 years
T.A. 9 years
T.A. 3.5 years
HLTA trainee
L.S.A. 15 years
Five themes emerged from the data:
the child as an individual
expectations of the child on entry to reception classes
perceptions of summer borns
support strategies used
curricula demands
The child as an individual:
The overwhelming message was that each child was viewed and treated as an individual
which chimes with the EYFS ( DFE 2017 6&8) which states that " every child is a unique
Mercy said " they are all developmentally different" This was echoed by Juliet who said
" each child is different" Isabel emphasised that you must " treat the child as an individual".
Anne said that educators needed to " look at the child holistically" and " accept them for who
they are" indicative of her training and experience in early years.
Most educators did not prioritise knowledge of the age of each child in their class relying,
when necessary, on wall displays showing the children's ages however nine educators were
confident that they knew each child's birth month with Anne feeling that this knowledge was
very important.
Expectations of the child on entry to reception classes
All of the educators spoke of having high expectations of the children. Leticia said " I
have high but realistic expectations." Anne stated that " I have the same expectations for all
of the children". Lily said, "Summer-borns all come in with the same chance. I do not see
them differently". Ruth held that " they all start on a level playing field. I don't have different
expectations". Crucially Lily felt that " expectations have risen exponentially because of the
government bringing in the curriculum and everything else so you just build with it, don't
you? Even if you don't realise that you're doing it your expectations become very high."
All the educators expected children to have developed the socio-emotional skills needed,
for example be able to separate from parents, self regulate, socialise, take turns and share
and demonstrate some independence. However they also wanted children who could conform
to the culture of the school and classroom dynamics. They expected children to have
developed dispositions necessary for learning and be able to understand the expectations of
the school. Independent self help skills and an ability to ask for help were required.
Communication skills were seen as necessary and some early literacy and numeracy skills
Educators wanted children to be 'ready to learn' and 'ready for school,' being able to "Sit
still and listen, even if only for a few minutes" . This was found to be more difficult for the
younger children whose attention span was more limited especially in the afternoons when
they appeared to be more tired.
Beatrice said "I sometimes find that the younger summer- borns don't necessarily
understand what the whole school thing is about and they don't understand that they have to
always listen to you and they don't understand the authority of you." Mercy said, " You want
children who can become compliant so they'll be compliant in following the rules"
Ellen said, " We would look for children who have independence and confidence to be
able to access the curriculum and do things for themselves." Ruth wanted children who " can
go off and choose to do something and get on with something"
Amanda said," I'd expect them to be able to start taking turns and sharing especially if
they've been to preschool." Roisin said she would like to see, " Children who are able to
socialise with other children whether that is kind of mirror play or collaborative play if
they're that far along."
Roisin wanted " children who are able to communicate, to speak to an adult whatever
their needs might be so they've got the confidence to do that." Beatrice said, " we try to say to
parents get the children to understand that they can always ask for help coz I find that if they
are stuck at anything a lot of them will just cry."
Sally said, " if they had an idea of you know just basic numbers, you know just like one to
one correspondence in counting. If they could do that up to five even because some have no
number knowledge at all having been at preschool for two years."
One school expected all the children to respond using whole sentences and felt that
preschools needed to focus on the development of language and communications rather than
on the acquisition of academic skills. Such high expectations across all developmental areas
could engender a sense of failure in those who cannot achieve.
Perceptions of summer born children:
Educators described most summer- born children as being physically, linguistically,
socially and emotionally immature. Physically they were perceived as having less well
developed fine and gross motor skills and were more clumsy and less co-ordinated, often
being physically smaller, more like toddlers. Socially and emotionally summer born
children were perceived as babied and more needy of adult attention, especially boys. It was
felt that they were more likely to have separation issues and not feel so safe in their
environment often coming across as 'a little bit lost'. They had difficulty understanding the
school culture ,being less compliant and not understanding the educators authority. Summer -
borns were seen as having less ability to concentrate for the required amounts of time and
were less engaged in topics thus impacting their learning.
Educators comments on summer -born children included:
Sophie feeling that " particularly if it is a first born child tend to be kind of babied." Mercy
describing them "coming to school in pushchairs"
Ruth describing summer- born twins " they were like toddlers who bounced through the
year." and described a summer -born child who was trying to copy her peers doing the
splits and felt that "she looked like a younger sibling trying to join in older children's
Ruth described them as being "more minxy" Beatrice described summer-borns as "not
understanding my authority" demonstrating a desire for a passive, compliant child and
added "all they wanted to do was play".
Curricula demands:
All schools emphasised learning through play. The two smaller schools provided a free
flow environment with access to the whole foundation stage unit and outdoor learning
experiences, after the whole class activities at the beginning and end of both morning and
afternoon sessions. The larger school had a more structured approach with four separate
classes and timed access to outside provision. Roisin said " We are bringing our children in
so young so that's why we fight so hard to keep it play based in reception because I think the
way the government's going is really running the risk of year one in reception."
Heads emphasised that in reception the curricula focus was on social and emotional
development but observations in the classes showed that the educator's focus of learning was
on literacy and numeracy in whole class activities and small focus groups which were
differentiated according to ability. Beatrice felt, " "Sometimes I feel sorry for the summer -
borns or the ones who are more unsure because we haven't got enough staff to keep
differentiating everything. Sometimes I have to sit them on the carpet and you have to do the
carpet session".
Educators felt pressured to focus on handwriting but find that many summer -born
children, especially boys lacked the skills and were not ready for writing. There was a greater
emphasis on the difference between the poorer developmental levels of boys and girls than
that of summer-borns and their older peers. Whilst some summer -borns coped well with the
academic demands it was stated that more of them were in lower ability or intervention
groups. Sally said " I hate that so called 'below' perception but it does tend more as a
generalization that the lower ability group tend to be the youngest."
Anne stated, " " Even though there is a lot that I don't agree with here I think we have to
work with what we've got. I'm not sure that the way we're trying to move forward is the way I
want it to go but I'm a cog in a wheel."
Support strategies:
Educators emphasis on using support strategies focused overwhelmingly on
intervention so that the child could catch up and reach good levels of development and were
mostly delivered by teaching assistants. The emphasis was on closing the gap in attainment
as soon as possible because higher up the school teachers only consider the whole cohort
rather than the age span of the children. Beatrice said, " " I do worry that sometimes they just
are on the carpet too long and I think that's when it becomes difficult for the youngest to be
in school."
Pre-teach and post -teach activities introduced and reinforced language and concepts that
arose in whole class activities and were conducted in small intervention groups. Whole class
carpet sessions were shortened and more access was given to outside activities. There was a
focus on the development of fine motor skills with activities in class and to take home. Boys
were encouraged to use white boards for writing so they could lay down to write. More boys,
rather than summer -borns or girls, were seen as needing activities to develop fine motor
To ease transitions home visits and school visits were employed with family members
encouraged to come in to class to facilitate as Roisin said " the boundaries between home
and school were more blurred." Educator and parent/carer meetings were held early in the
first term. To ease separation provision of a toy or allocation of a task were the strategies
employed along with a buddy system. When asked if there was an opportunity to do half
days for the child who was struggling to cope most educators were adamant that this would
be strongly discouraged, illustrating the pressure educators were under.
Ruth said, " What they miss outweighs the benefits of being taken home at lunchtime. They
are missing significant chunks of learning."
Roberta stated that " Because we race through honestly they would miss so much and being
apart from that routine would segregate them further."
A complex view of the child was evidenced in this research. A view of the child as
passive and constrained, was evidenced by the educator's comment on the child being babied
by coming to school in a pushchair was contrasted by educators expressing their desire for
the child, on entry to reception, to demonstrate a level of independence, be able to entertain
themselves and make choices. Choices, however, were limited to the periods not given to
whole class activities lead by the adult, which focused on literacy and numeracy activities, a
technical approach to teaching. All staff acknowledged that each child was different. Whilst
the discourse was of an individual child a behaviourist perspective was evident in the
educators expectations with children conforming to the culture of the classroom, following
the rules, controlling both behaviour and emotions, learning what the educator considered
most important and always being interested in the activities lead by the more knowledgeable
adult (MacNaughton 2003).
There is now an acknowledgement of the importance of the early years where it is
viewed as being the first stage of the educational ladder ( Moss 2013). In each school the
message focused on having high expectations of the children with emphasis being placed on
the fact that when children leave the early years future educators will look at the whole cohort
and have the same expectations of all of the children, an assimilationist approach that fails to
acknowledge developmental differences. The expectations of the educators reflected the
skills and dispositions listed in the U.S.A.'s Kindergarten readiness list ( Gister and Eberts
2005 cited in Grau 2006) and those set out in the Public Health England (2015) document.
Crucially the requirements set out in these documents lead to a skills-based educational focus,
epitomising the current neoliberal agenda, rather than a broad and balanced curriculum that
would help to develop essential creative thinkers ( Roberts-Holmes 2015).
Educators acknowledged that there could be big developmental differences between
summer- born children and their older peers with attainment gaps evident by the end of the
academic year, especially in some of the boys, but notably expectations were not
differentiated. The message that some boys are struggling to conform and meet expectations
is not an issue to be dealt with in depth in this paper, however the perceptions that boys are
not as competent as girls is supported by Connolly (2004) who states that boys development
does appear to be slower than girls but argues that established developmental stages did not
consider issues of gender which might account for the discrepancy. Although educators
acknowledged that many summer -borns met the expectations and demands required in the
reception class, educator perceptions and evidence showed subtle age differences in
cognition and physical skills which mirrored prior research findings (Crawford et al 2011,
Frazier Norbury et al 2016, Baker et al 2009, MacPhillips and Jordan Black 2009) . This
showed that age effects matter in the long term educational outcomes, with summer-borns
doing less well throughout their educational experiences therefore viewing summer born
children through the same lens and having the same expectations of them has equity issues
and demonstrated that educators were less sensitive to their needs (Smith 2010).
The focus was on children being 'ready to learn' demonstrating little understanding of
cognitive neuroscience that shows children learn from birth (Whitbread and Bingham
undated.) Children were viewed in terms of becoming rather than being ( Qvortrup 2008), an
instrumental perspective where children were passive agents whose behaviour and thinking
was regulated by adults who did not see them as having internal processes but rather viewed
them as blank slates to be filled with proscribed knowledge. The acquisition of this
knowledge was viewed as essential and drove the concept of both 'ready to learn and 'school
readiness'. In the' ready for school' discourse the question of the definition of 'readiness' is a
contested concept with Grau (2006) asking if it applies to the child's developmental or
performance levels. Does readiness consider the child's development of certain skills that can
be maturational and also taught or does it apply to thresholds that the child needs to reach in
order to achieve success in school?
Educators spoke of the child being 'ready to learn and 'ready for school' which
epitomised the discourse of 'school readiness' and demonstrated that some educators felt
disempowered by the demands of the top down curriculum. The focus on the acquisition of
defined cognitive, linguistic, physical and social skills leads to a conforming curriculum (
Moss 2013, MacNaughton 2003). A conforming pedagogical approach set high expectations
that children would achieve the learning outcomes and meet the proscribed good levels of
development ( DFE 2017, OFSTED 2014). This facilitated the production of measurable
results by which educators and school performances are judged. A conforming curriculum
epitomises the neoliberal agenda that needs education to produce citizens to meet national
proscribed goals thus fulfilling the needs of an unknowable future and exemplifies 'schooling
' rather than education. However education has not only been envisaged as a skill based
preparation for life but as a means for an individual to know him/herself and develop their
own full potential (Noddings 2007).
All educators emphasised that the reception class followed a 'play based curriculum'
however there was a mismatch between what was said by those in authority, the educator's
pedagogy and what was observed in the brief classroom visits. Both Hunter and Walsh (
2014) and Waters (2013) suggest that educators find the concept of play as a pedagogical
approach difficult and struggle with the ideas of child-led activities and choices because this
means relinquishing their power and control over children's learning. Power over educators
was not explicit but exercised through the unquestioning acceptance of dominant discourses
which controlled the views expressed by educators who all spoke of learning through play but
felt pressured by the 'school readiness' agenda. Apart from the two heads who emphasised
the importance of physical and personal and socio-emotional development, the concerns of
the educators were focused on the acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills, witnessed
during classroom visits, with adult directed activities that sought to fulfil specific objectives,
The focus on literacy and numeracy adult-lead activities does not epitomise play- based,
child-centred, child-directed learning but sets out to prepare the child for year one leading to
the 'schoolification' of reception classes evidence of a top down approach and the pressure to
produce assessment data.
The focus on language, literacy and numeracy resulted in ability grouping, with summer-
borns making up the largest percentage of those in the lower ability groups. The excellent
and varied strategies used by staff to support children not meeting the required levels focused
on closing the gaps in attainment putting pressure on both staff and children to conform and
disempowered educators who are unable to use their professional knowledge and judgement
about what is best practice in their work with young children. Whitbread and Bingham (
undated ) state that the early introduction of literacy skills at age five rather than age seven
makes no difference to children's reading levels by age eleven. Whilst Moore et al (2011)
and Fricke et al ( 2013) demonstrate the efficacy of language intervention groups with pre-
primary children, in Finland where formal learning does not begin until aged seven years,
children are among the highest PISA achievers in reading, maths and science. Crawford et al
(2011) and Frazier-Norbury et al (2016) have shown that attainment gaps for summer born
children are long lasting and that streaming and interventions that focus on literacy skills
could be detrimental and compound the problems faced by summer-borns.
There was a strong emphasis on the need for summer born children to catch up with their
older peers as in year one educators would only look at children in terms of the whole cohort
rather than focus on individuality, an assimilationist approach. Campbell (2013) finds that at
age seven more summer- born children are in lower ability groups designed to help them
'catch up' especially those with August birthdays which reflects the findings in this study.
The emphasis on 'catching up' gives summer-borns the message that they are failing. This
deficit view of the child highlights the hierarchical September / summer born binary which
categorizes summer- born children hierarchically lower in a system where all children are
expected to achieve the same with norms being set by older peers and has equity issues
which could have long lasting effects throughout their years in education ( Smith 2010).
This small scale research study reflects the findings of others in this field that there are
differences between summer-born children and their older peers and supports the findings of
my student that summer- born children are only viewed in the context of the whole class
cohort which could result in their needs not being met.
Educators are pressurised by the 'school readiness' mettanarrative and top down
curriculum approach with constant reference to being 'ready to learn and 'ready for school'.
Crucially, despite wanting to and believing that they provided a child-centred play based
curriculum evidence showed that educator's focus was on literacy and numeracy adult
directed, didactic activities. An instrumentalist view of the child was evident with pedagogy
of transmission where the adult sees the child as a blank slate to be filled with State defined
knowledge thus disempowering both educator and child. Despite the fact that staff questioned
the focus of the reception class curriculum they were constrained and disempowered by the
'school readiness' agenda.
Expectations of the children was uniform despite age differences yet educator perceptions
of summer-born children showing subtle differences in all areas of their development that
fitted with previous research in this area. There were equity issues at the root of the
expectations that all the children will reach the same levels of development by the end of the
academic year which set up the possible failure for some summer-born children.
Interventions focused on the children having to catch up with their older peers when in fact
their development was age appropriate.
This research raised the issues of respect for the professionalism of educators. It
highlighted issues of the right of the child to develop at their own pace rather than be subject
to the top down pressure to be school ready. Crucially it raised the question of the suitability
of school as the right environment for four year olds
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... Notably, more than one-third of teachers reported approximately ≥50% of students entered kindergarten with difficulties in following instructions, working independently, as well as a lack of academic skills and disorganised home environments. A small-scale interpretive study by Mitchell (2019) outlined similar themes emerging from eight reception classrooms in London, England with 18 corresponding faculty members made up of teachers, teaching assistants and newly qualified teachers. Reception classrooms are the entrance grade in school for children aged 4/5 where children are enrolled by age on start day (typically September), making summer-born children the youngest in their class. ...
Teachers are the single most important in‐school factor affecting student learning outcomes. As a result, researchers and policy makers are particularly interested in the ways that teacher‐level factors influence the learning opportunities that teachers provide in their classrooms. A growing body of research suggests that the expectations a teacher sets for individuals and groups of students can significantly affect the learning opportunities that are provided to them. This is highly problematic, especially since teacher expectations can be inaccurate evaluations of student abilities and teacher expectations differentially affect the learning outcomes of racialised students as well as children living in poverty. Much of the research base regarding teacher expectations has focused on upper elementary and secondary grades with little research focus on the ways that teacher expectations are formed and impact children in the first years of formal schooling. Given the potential impact of sustained teacher expectation effects, an in‐depth review of teacher expectation research in the early primary grades is warranted. This study uses a scoping review methodology (H. Arksey and L. O’Malley, ‘Scoping Studies: Towards a Methodological Framework, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 2005, 8(1), 19–32) to analyse research on teacher expectations in the early primary grades. Five themes encapsulate the scope of research published from 2000–2021: (1) teacher expectations of school readiness skills, (2) factors that influence the formation of teacher expectations, (3) teacher expectation effects, (4) stability of teacher expectations, and (5) intervention studies. This paper presents the current state of knowledge surrounding expectations in the early primary grades, as well as highlights challenges in need of further research.
Full-text available
This paper presents literature and findings on childhood transitions in public education. Set in the context of shifts in Canada to full day kindergarten, it makes visible the range of human relational and structural concerns that must be considered in the practice of researching and facilitating transitions for children. The paper draws upon a review of international literatures and a longitudinal, three-year qualitative study of 795 students, parents, and educators in 37 families of schools who conversed about the character and meaning of transitions. Such long-term enactments of transitions as they occur are scarce but important in making visible the complexity and nuance of childhood transitions. Findings include the importance of a critical praxis for transitions which gets at the roots of the social organization and inequality in research and educational practice. The paper addresses critical praxis as found in three early childhood education frameworks (Australia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, Canada). Attention to being, becoming, and belonging for all children and the fit between human and structural concerns at the levels of society, community, school, and family form core elements of critical praxis. Transitions are best understood and facilitated as over time, complex social ensembles.
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Education reform is increasingly portrayed as a means to improve a nation's global competitiveness as measured by its performance in international league tables of pupil achievement. This has created a demand for comparative research which identifies ‘what works’ in high-performing school systems. A diverse array of consultancies, thinks tanks, and entrepreneurs has emerged to satisfy that demand, portraying their approach as a pragmatic and objective form of evidence-based policy-making. However, the attempt to translate complex conditions into straightforward solutions (i.e. ‘what works’) leads researchers into a basic paradox. This paper identifies the strategies used to address this paradox and to advocate reforms. We demonstrate that, though they are persuasive, the strategies fundamentally fail to overcome the problems inherent in the enterprise.
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Background The youngest children in an academic year are reported to be educationally disadvantaged and overrepresented in referrals to clinical services. In this study we investigate for the first time whether these disadvantages are indicative of a mismatch between language competence at school entry and the academic demands of the classroom.Methods We recruited a population sample of 7,267 children aged 4 years 9 months to 5 years 10 months attending state-maintained reception classrooms in Surrey, England. Teacher ratings on the Children's Communication Checklist-Short (CCC-S), a measure of language competence, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire-Total Difficulties Score (SDQ), a measure of behavioural problems, and the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP), a measure of academic attainment, were obtained at the end of the reception year.ResultsThe youngest children were rated by teachers as having more language deficits, behaviour problems, and poorer academic progress at the end of the school year. Language deficits were highly associated with behaviour problems; adjusted odds ratio 8.70, 95% CI [7.25–10.45]. Only 4.8% of children with teacher-rated language deficits and 1.3% of those with co-occurring language and behaviour difficulties obtained a ‘Good Level of Development’ on the EYFSP. While age predicted unique variance in academic attainment (1%), language competence was the largest associate of academic achievement (19%).Conclusion The youngest children starting school have relatively immature language and behaviour skills and many are not yet ready to meet the academic and social demands of the classroom. At a population level, developing oral language skills and/or ensuring academic targets reflect developmental capacity could substantially reduce the numbers of children requiring specialist clinical services in later years.
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Following the election of the Conservative–Liberal Democrat UK coalition Government in 2010, there has been an urgent intensification and focus upon early years numeracy and literacy and promoting systematic synthetic phonics. This paper argues that the current narrowing of early years assessment, along with increased inspection and surveillance, operates as a policy technology leading to an intensification of ‘school readiness’ pressures upon the earliest stage of education. The paper suggests that this governance has encouraged a functional ‘datafication’ of early years pedagogy so that early years teacher’s work is increasingly constrained by performativity demands to produce ‘appropriate’ data. The article argues that early years high-stakes national assessments act as a ‘meta-policy’, ‘steering’ early years pedagogy ‘from a distance’ and have the power to challenge, disrupt and constrain early years teacher’s deeply held child-centred pedagogical values.
Following the election of the Conservative–Liberal Democrat UK coalition Government in 2010, there has been an urgent intensification and focus upon early years numeracy and literacy and promoting systematic synthetic phonics. This paper argues that the current narrowing of early years assessment, along with increased inspection and surveillance, operates as a policy technology leading to an intensification of ‘school readiness’ pressures upon the earliest stage of education. The paper suggests that this governance has encouraged a functional ‘datafication’ of early years pedagogy so that early years teacher’s work is increasingly constrained by performativity demands to produce ‘appropriate’ data. The article argues that early years high-stakes national assessments act as a ‘meta-policy’, ‘steering’ early years pedagogy ‘from a distance’ and have the power to challenge, disrupt and constrain early years teacher’s deeply held child-centred pedagogical values.
Boys' underachievement in education has now become a global concern, taxing the minds of governments across the Western world. Boys and Schooling in the Early Years represents the first major study of its kind to focus specifically on young boys and achievement. It makes a powerful argument for the need to begin tackling the problem of boys' lower educational performance in the early years. This book includes one of the most detailed and up-to-date analyses of national evidence regarding gender differences in educational achievement - from the early years through to the end of compulsory schooling. Together with original and in-depth case studies that vividly capture the differing experiences and perspectives of 5-6 year old boys, the book sets out the nature of the problems facing them in education and highlights a number of practical ways in which these issues can begin to be addressed. This is essential reading for all those working in the early years, who are concerned about boys' lower levels of achievement, and want to know what they can do about it.
To our knowledge, no previous literature review has focused specifically on the effectiveness of transition programs that target collaboration between primary school and pre-school teachers, parents and children. Hence, in this paper we sought to review the literature on this topic. The findings of published studies to date reveal that, internationally, the value of teacher collaboration across the early years of schooling has been recognised, with research acknowledging the benefits of creating meaningful relationships between the teaching professionals, the children they teach, and their parents. However, further research is needed both globally and within Australia to evaluate the effect that programs promoting collaboration between teachers and families can have on facilitating the transition to primary school for all preschool children.