In our Early Years at Elm Academy, we aim to provide pupils with the foundational knowledge and skills they need to succeed as they progress through their school journey. “No job is more important than working with children in the early years” – Development Matters 2021, this is a statement support why, as school, we ensure we have the highest expectations of staff, pupils and the learning environment across our Early Years setting. We consistently reflect upon our practice to ensure it reflect the ‘Seven Key Features of Effective Practice’ (Development Matters 2021), as well as taking into consideration the EEF Early Years toolkit to ensure our provision is based around strategies that are evidence based and have been shown to have a high impact.
- The Best for Every Child – We truly believe that all pupils have an equal chance of success and do all that we can to combat any disadvantages pupils may face when they join our Early Years. To try and overcome the fact that the pupils that join us from disadvantaged backgrounds are, on average, 4 months behind their peers (Education Policy Institute: Education in England Annual Report 2020), we ensure that all pupils are assessed swiftly on entry which is then used to address any gaps. We offer as many real-life opportunities as possible to widen pupils’ experience and therefore vocabulary. Along with running WellComm and NELI, we carefully plan the vocabulary that is taught to pupils to try and diminish the vocabulary gap. With a focus on developing pupils’ vocabulary, pupils are encouraged to develop a love of learning through daily singing, learning nursery rhymes, exposure to high quality texts and discussions around books pupils enjoy. We have an overview of books the pupils will hear as they progress through Early Years to ensure they are exposed to a wide range of styles and genres; widening their knowledge and understanding. We also know that high quality early education is fully inclusive and therefore ensure that any education needs and disabilities are identified quickly to enable any extra support that is needed to be put in place promptly, this safeguards that they can progress well in their learning.
- High Quality Care – The child’s experience must be central to the thinking of every practitioner and therefore we ensure that all practitioners enjoy spending time with children and supporting them to progress. High quality care is consistent across our Early Years setting and is something that is carefully monitored at all levels of leadership whilst being prioritised by all staff across the setting. Giving pupils a ‘Key Person’ when they move to a new environment supports them to feel sheltered and ensures they have someone to talk to at all points. To ensure pupils feel safe and secure they are given a thorough transition period into Nursery and Reception with Stay & Play opportunities, Home Visits, Parent Workshops and ‘All About Me’ home learning. This ensures that pupils feel safe, secure and stimulated throughout their time in Early Years. We then carefully consider the transition requited for pupils on an individual basis as they progress into Key Stage 1, considering the curriculum and the pastoral support pupils will need to be successful.
- The Curriculum: What We Want the Pupils to Learn – We have a Curriculum Overview that starts when pupils join Nursery and plans through our whole Early Years at Elm Academy. This document highlights how the pupils develop, build upon and deepen knowledge progressively. We aim to support pupils to know more and remember more. Pupils are supported and challenged to make progress relative to their starting points, across all areas of learning. Our Curriculum Overview is supported by Skills Progression documents which show how skills progress across all areas of learning and across our continuous provision. Practitioners use these documents, alongside pupil interests, their ongoing assessments and their highly in-depth knowledge of each child to plan the pupils’ learning. This leads to pupils being engaged and challenged throughout adult lead and child-initiated learning which then promotes rapid progress. In Reception, the Educational Programmes of Study help to inform adult support but do not make up the curriculum.
- Pedagogy: Help Children to Learn – We fully believe that effective pedagogy involves a mixture of approaches including; learning through play, by adults modelling, by observing each other, through guided learning (e.g. group work) and direct teaching. We carefully plan our timetables to ensure that pupils receive a balance of all approaches, with precedent being given to different approaches at different stages of the pupils’ development. For example, during Nursery pupils receive more support and challenge with their learning through child-initiated learning, whereas in Reception, pupils receive more direct teaching whilst being given the opportunity to apply their learning in child-initiated time. All areas of learning are carefully planned to create enabling environments where pupils can progress their learning independently or with adult support. Our Continuous Provision Progression Map highlights how each area of learning becomes progressively more challenging as pupils move through Early Years with practitioners then targeting specific pupils in precise areas based on their knowledge of how to move that child’s learning forward. Through our knowledge of the pupils, our continuous provision is then enhanced to link to the adult directed learning the pupils have received or based around their interests to ensure the learning environment is not only purposeful, but looks irresistible to the pupils to support high levels of engagement.
- Assessment: Checking What Children Have Learnt – All adults in our setting our highly experience Early Years practitioners which supports their knowledge of child development. The school’s leadership also ensures that staff are supported with continuous professional development e.g. through completing courses such as NPQSL & NPQEYL, as well as Early Years Moderation sessions with the local authority. Assessment in Early Years at Elm Academy does not take the practitioner away from the child as we do not insist on arduous recorded observations, the priority is always placed on the practitioner supporting the pupils’ learning and moving them forward. Through skilful questioning, engagement and ongoing assessment, practitioners make sure they are clear about what they want the children to know and be able to do and guide the pupils to this point through a range of approaches. We are aware that every child is unique and therefore, knowledge of each individual pupil is vital to supporting their progress. Observations of pupils support the ongoing assessments which then informs the planning of what they pupils will be taught/supported with next. At the end of Early Years, practitioners use information from the child’s whole time in the provision to complete the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile while is then shared with parents.
- Self-Regulation and Executive Function – As we know that language development is central to self-regulation, this is an area of learning that we prioritise. As mentioned above, we assess pupils’ Communication & Language skills swiftly on entry and then use targeted interventions to address any gaps pupils may have. If we equip them with effective C&L skills, we know this will support them with other Prime and Specific Areas of learning, as well as support them to learn and apply Characteristics of Effective Learning. To continue to develop pupils as effective learners, we promote the Characteristics of Effective Learning which highlight key skills pupils need to develop to be able to learn and flourish throughout their school life. These are referred to with the children to ensure they are confident with how to become effective learners. All classrooms have a Zones of Regulation board which pupils are taught to use to support them to self-regulate whether they are able to communicate verbally effectively or not.
- Partnership with Parents – At Elm Academy, we promote highly effective and professional relationships with parents as we know the huge impact this can have on pupil progress. We give parents the opportunity to have daily conversations with practitioners in the setting to ensure all adults have key information that supports pupils to thrive throughout their time in Early Years. By knowing and understanding all our families, we are confident with the differing levels of support our pupils receive and can therefore target support to pupils appropriately. Practitioners seize all opportunities such as; Stay & Play sessions, parent workshops and other engagement opportunities (e.g. Nativity performances, celebrations of pupils’ work etc.), to promote the importance to key adults in the pupil’s lives of chatting, playing and reading to their children regularly. In Nursery parents are sent half-termly, in Reception weekly, Learning Journeys which informs them of the learning their children will be doing in the following week, as well as any resources that could support them to develop their child’s learning further at home. In Reception, Tapestry is used to share observations with parents and to also give parents the chance to share observations of their children outside of the setting with the class teachers,
We ensure that everything we do is evidence based and keep up to date with the most recent publications to ensure we are offering pupils the highest quality provision. Here is some of the research we use to inform our practice: