Bold Report Reading

Here are seven things I’ve learnt from watching the debate about the Bold Beginnings report this week. They are not a critique of any one individual, but rather a reflection on the errors I think we can make in responding to official education reports.

I saw the opposite of each of these things being done by different people in reaction to the Bold Beginnings Report, but I think they are applicable to the way school leaders and education experts interact with official reports more generally.

  1. It’s probably best not to assume the whole of a report is about the part of the education provision for which you are personally responsible – this applies to the positive and negative aspects.
  2. If something is mentioned as a positive in the key findings or executive summary, it’s less likely (though not impossible) for it to also be mentioned as a recommendation.
  3. If the report writer doesn’t mention a strength as a recommendation, then it doesn’t mean they’d like everyone to immediately stop doing that thing.
  4. If you read a recommendation and think to yourself, I do that already, it doesn’t mean everyone else does it.
  5. Exemplification is just that. Exemplification is not the same as a further recommendation.
  6. Some people will use extreme readings of recommendations in a report to further their own careers. Read the whole report from start to end yourself before making decisions based on it. The business of school leaders is being strong enough, knowledgeable enough and confident enough in their own vision to make decisions about what will benefit the students in their context.
  7. It is worth considering how recommendations which challenge your current beliefs may be beneficial to some or all of the students you work with.

6 comments

  1. Rebecca · January 18, 2018

    This report was full of lines like ‘All schools should make sure that…’ and ‘All schools should attach greater importance to…’ Do you not feel like that’s less recommendations than directives?

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    • nsmwells · January 18, 2018

      Thanks for the comment Rebecca.

      Given the report only has five recommendations, I’m not convinced it is “full” of sentence openers like the ones you’ve listed.

      I read the first one, “make sure that the teaching of reading, including systematic synthetic phonics, is the core purpose of the Reception Year” as a recommendation.

      The second one, I think, could have been worded better. However, I think it still links to numbers five and six in my list of thoughts.

      Either you read a recommendation like that as a school leader and say to yourself, “Actually we’re doing ALL we possibly can to address that already and our children are doing just fine, we need to focus on something else,” or you take the challenge on the chin and do something about it.

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  2. Rebecca · January 18, 2018

    Thanks for the reply. OK, not ‘full of’ lines like that… They are pretty key to it, though.

    The report is actually full of anecdotes that present things that one headteacher or one school or a handful of schools think or do as good practice. Like those headteachers who don’t believe in free play, and those whose poor, barely four year olds are sitting in assembly each day and dropping their purposeful learning in class to go out to break, interrupting vital extended periods of learning. What are they earning, sat there on a hard floor being talked at for twenty minutes? Children at that age can be made a part of the whole school without getting a cold bum and being forced to sit still when your body is just not designed to do that at that age.

    And you can say until you’re blue in the face that it is only showing one type and that of course Ofsted judge other styles of school as good or outstanding, too… But this piece was very deliberate in what it presented. This is political.

    In fact, the core purpose of the Reception year is absolutely not to learn to read. It just isn’t. It’s a key part, it’s super important, but to say that it is the core purpose is contrary to the government’s own EYFS framework, which sets out as prime areas communication and language, physical development and personal, social and emotional development. These must come first. Obviously it is vital that, in order for children to be able to reach the end of year targets for year one (which are questionable themselves) they can read simple sentences when they leave Reception. It’s also a very empowering thing for children to be able to read. It’s amazing. It is one of the early learning goals.

    But it is ONE of seventeen. Saying it must be the core purpose for all school reception classes risks desperate schools, under enormous pressure, focusing all they have on getting all their Reception children to read by the end of the year at the expense of so much else.

    I am tired of hearing that schools need to be strong, leaders make own decisions etc… This was dangerously worded and presented and people under enormous pressure will see it as instruction. They won’t want to take risks and will do what they think Ofsted want to see. Also, many heads are unfamiliar with EYFS and want it more formalised, not understanding how young children learn best. This gives them the excuse they need to insist on bums on seats and formal learning.

    Responses that say things like ‘they’re only listing some examples of good practice, it doesn’t mean others aren’t good’ seems wilfully ignorant. When I list the features of my house when I come to sell it, I only list the ones I think will sell. We select things for a very good reason.

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    • Rebecca · January 18, 2018

      *Learning

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  3. nsmwells · January 18, 2018

    I am not an expert in EYFS – my only experience of reception year is my own and that of my two children. My youngest is currently in reception with what we believe to be a fab teacher. There are desks that he sits at for some of the time and a lovely carpet he has a spot on as well as a great outdoor space and even some welly walks too.

    Though I lack any expertise in EYFS, I’ve read my fair share of reports relating to secondary education and at times, in retrospect, reacted vehemently to them – both positively and negatively.

    My blog was a reflection on the process of reading a report – in this case outside my sphere of knowledge. I think my suggestions, on this basis, are sound.

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  4. teachingbattleground · February 7, 2018

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

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