The report refers to Reception as ‘a unique and important year’ and talks about how good and outstanding settings recognise that the smooth transition from the Foundation Stage to Year 1 is crucial – but also not easy because the Early Learning Goals [ELGs] are not aligned with the now increased expectations of the National Curriculum. Mathematics was seen as ‘particularly problematic’ in terms of continuity and progression. Somehow, the broad and cumbersome target areas must morph into a stream-lined much more rigorous and formal approach to learning
The report identified settings where staff devised tasks to enable them to ‘tick-off’ elements so that there was evidence that children were making progress: settings where (understandably one might say) the tasks and the process of evidencing had actually become the Reception curriculum.
The report then goes on to describe how ‘the strongest performing’ schools had devised ways in which to improve and strengthen their assessment process and support the all-important transition to Year 1. Reading, writing and mathematics were subject to daily direct teaching and frequent opportunities for consolidation and practising new skills were in-built.
So ….why are speech and language therapists interested in ‘Bold Beginnings’?
Key findings of the report included numerous references to the importance of language not only as a cornerstone to literacy acquisition but also for a range of other essential aspects of all-round language strength: comprehension, vocabulary building, concentration, ability to follow instructions and – interestingly (and encouragingly) specific mention is made of language, communication and social skills in terms of asking questions and engaging in conversation. Reference is made to the re-introduction, in one setting, of a more formal snack time (planned and timetabled) as an excellent way of ensuring the use and practice of the more social aspects of language development.
It is extremely heartening to know that the importance of language is made absolutely explicit: this is not just about children ‘learning to talk’ but is far more wide-ranging. For example, the report recognises that children must be able to put together oral sentences before being expected to write them: children will only be able to write stories when they have developed sufficient oral narrative skills. Listening and attention feature too – both in terms of developing concentration and to build resilience and perseverance – pivotal to children becoming independent learners.
The continued importance of play is also mentioned. The authors identify how some children need to be taught how to maximise opportunities in different play areas. Structured play and role play continue to be key in developing language skills.
In the best settings, by the time Reception children embark on Spring 1, we should know where there are additional needs and interventions will be underway. Children with significant language problems will hopefully be receiving the specialist advice and support they need.
However, the role of speech and language therapy extends further than the provision of intervention strategies alone. There will be many children who do not meet the threshold for any kind of tier 2 or 3 intervention – with the right focus on language skills early on, this population has the potential to make greater strides later. Boosting language skills will raise attainment in all those areas identified in ‘Bold Beginnings’.
Use our checklist to adapt and/or add to your Reception curriculum