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Early years experts challenge recommendation for review of reception

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Tuesday, 8 November, 2016

Early years organisations and experts have expressed concern at a recent report on effective teaching in primary schools recommending that the Department for Education support a review of the reception year.  The open letter to the Teaching Schools Council  queried the basis for the recommendation in Dame Reena Keeble’s report, which was made despite having very limited early years expertise within its primary-focused advisory group, and drawing on a sample of only 20 schools.

Instead, signatories to the letter are calling on the Teaching Schools Council to commission an expert report on early years pedagogy which draws on relevant research and showcases how reception classes are delivering excellent teaching based on the principles laid out in the statutory framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage, with outstanding results for their children going on to KS1 and 2.

The report has caused a furore among reception teachers on social media and online. 

Beatrice Merrick, Chief Executive of Early Education which co-ordinated the sector response, said:

“This report has caused huge concern for seeming to imply that there are problems with the reception year because it is not sufficiently like year 1 of primary.  That appears to show a deep misunderstanding of the reasons why the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum is different to the National Curriculum, namely that it is based on well-evidenced pedagogical principles and research relating to child development as these relate to children under 5. 

The report said it had found confusion among teachers and heads; in our experience confusion among reception teachers tends to come from a conflict between their wish to deliver the EYFS in accordance with their professional training, and pressures from above for more formal approaches to be introduced.  This isn’t an issue only for England - in Scotland a recent report recommended that all headteachers should receive training on early years.  We would welcome a follow-up report from the Teaching Schools Council on early years pedagogy which might help primary colleagues better understand how they can work with foundation stage colleagues to achieve the best outcomes for children.”

Elaine Bennett, EYFS/Year One Leader at Friars Primary School and Nursery, Southend on Sea and founder of the Keep Early Years Unique Facebook group said:

“There is so much research and theory to show the power of the best early years practice, so why on do we end it in this country at the end of reception?  In higher achieving nations such as Finland, this stage extends to age 7, and in Scotland there is an Upstart campaign for a 3-7 Kindergarten stage. Why on earth would it be best practice to push Key stage one down into our Reception classes?   Surely instead we should review what is in fact a developmentally inappropriate KS1 curriculum and look instead to put tried, tested, researched and proven EYs principles into Ks1 classrooms and perhaps beyond?”

Helen Moylett, early years consultant and Vice-President of Early Education said:

“Reception teachers often find themselves at the receiving end of the top down approach enshrined in this report: an approach that disregards child development, relevant research and established effective practice and which wants to treat 4-year-olds as if they were in Year 1 or 2. So predictably there is what the report calls ‘confusion’.

Many headteachers recognise how the EYFS principles and characteristics, along with  the work of primary experts such as Guy Claxton and James Nottingham and researchers such as Carol Dweck, can help them ensure curriculum continuity through reception and into Key Stage 1 and 2. In these schools the early years appropriately influence the rest of the school. We know from much longitudinal research such as EPPSE, CfBT (2010) High Scope, McLelland et al (2012) that the short-term effects of formal  academic early years programmes wear off after a few years in primary school. However cognitive-developmental approaches emphasising children’s choice, autonomy and self-regulation have longer term  positive effects on both academic and social adjustment outcomes.”

Contact for further enquiries

For further information please contact Beatrice Merrick, Chief Executive, Early Education (07712 398672) or


Notes to editors: 

Early Education (The British Association for Early Childhood Education) is the leading independent national charity for early years practitioners and parents, campaigning for the right of all children to education of the highest quality. Founded in 1923, it has members in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and provides a national voice on matters that relate to effective early childhood education and care of young children from birth to eight. The organisation supports the professional development of practitioners through publications, training, conferences, seminars and access to a national and regional branch network. For more information on the work of Early Education visit

2. A copy of the text of the letter is below.  Signatories are still being added, and the most recent list can be found in the news section of the Early Education website.

Early Education is registered as a charity in England and Wales (Registered Number 313082) and Scotland (Registered Number SC039472).


Open letter to Andrew Warren, Chair of the Teaching Schools Council

7 November 2016

Dear Andrew Warren

Dame Reena Keeble's report for the TSC on “Effective Primary Teaching Practice” has caused a furore for venturing opinions about how the reception year should be taught, despite having very limited early years expertise within its primary-focused advisory group. Unfortunately this has led to recommendations which appear to show a lack of understanding of the distinctive and evidence-based pedagogy that underpins the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). 

We might agree with the report that “reception is the most important year”, and that “done well and properly invested in, it will provide pupils with a strong foundation for the rest of their time in school.”  However, abundant evidence shows that effective early years pedagogy is that which develops confident and able learners, and that pushing children into formal learning too early damages their achievement later on. Although the report does emphasise that it is not recommending formal drilling, and does reference Ofsted's extremely helpful definition of teaching in the early years, the tone of the report, in referring to "aimless" activity and centring its attention on expectations for phonics and number, reflects a very limited view of early years pedagogy. While the report suggests that planning in Reception should start “with the learning outcome in mind”, it would do well instead to adhere to its own earlier guidance on learning that emphasises focusing on children’s current understandings and how meaningful activities are to them: “We learn new things in relation to things we already know and new understanding is built on prior knowledge and understanding. Finally, we remember things better when we give things meaning”.

The report bases its recommendation for a review on an assertion that there is "confusion about expectations among teachers and heads” relating to the reception year.  Where there is confusion, this often arises from pressure to create practice that does not align with the statutory requirements of the EYFS.  Confusion may also arise when there is a lack of understanding and consensus on what constitutes effective reception practice.

The EYFS differs from the National Curriculum for sound, well-evidenced reasons relating to child development.  Good transitions do not come from diluting good early years practice with elements of primary practice: on the contrary, with a school starting age of 5 - one of the lowest in the world - KS1 needs to take on board key elements of early years practice, such as supporting the characteristics of effective learning. Indeed, any children who do not reach a good level of development in the reception year as measured by the EYFS Profile should be entitled to continue to experience the pedagogical approach required in the EYFS in Year 1.

It is regrettable that the report is based on visits to only 20 schools, and that it drew conclusions from this small and unrepresentative sample. This is not credible evidence of a need to review the reception year, or the requirements of the EYFS, and certainly not of the advisability of any such review being led by primary teachers and leaders alone.  Nursery teaching, while part of many primary schools, was not included in the report’s remit.  Reception teaching, which belongs firmly within the EYFS, should not have been addressed either without real dialogue between early years and primary colleagues.

We look forward to the Teaching Schools Council commissioning an expert report on early years pedagogy which draws on relevant research and the many excellent examples of reception classes using the principles laid out in the statutory framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage.  These achieve outstanding results for their children going on to KS1 and 2. All the signatories to this letter would support that. 

Yours sincerely


Beatrice Merrick, Chief Executive, Early Education (The British Association for Early Childhood Education)

Nancy Stewart, Vice Chair and Wendy Scott OBE, Primary School Governor/President TACTYC (Association for Professional Development in Early Years)

Melian Mansfield, Chair, Early Childhood Forum

Liz Marsden, CEO and Jan Dubiel, National Director, Early Excellence

Neil Short, Chair, National Association of Small Schools

Tony Bertram and Chris Pascal, President and Vice President of Early Education and Directors of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC)

Marion Dowling, Vice President of Early Education

Helen Moylett, Vice President of Early Education, PGCE and MA tutor at CREC

Peter Elfer, Principal Lecturer, Early Childhood Studies, School of Education, University of Roehampton and Vice President of Early Education

Laura Henry, Early Years consultant and Vice President of Early Education

Lesley Staggs, Vice President of Early Education and the first National Director for Early Years

Emeritus Professor Philip Gammage, Vice President , Early Education

Joy Reynolds, Headteacher/Head of Centre, Lanterns Nursery School & Extended Services and Patti Snook, Head of Centre, Bushy Leaze Children & Families Centre, Foundations Teaching School Alliance

Helen Ruff, Headteacher/Head of Centre, ACE Children’s Centre and Nursery School/ACE Teaching School Alliance

Maureen McGillicuddy, Lead of Birmingham Nursery Schools Teaching School Alliance (BNSTSA)

Donna MacDonald, Deputy Head, Tanglewood Nursery School/ Tanglewood Teaching School Alliance

Karen James, Head Oak Tree Children's Centre/Ludwick Nursery School/Acorns Teaching School Alliance

Leslie Patterson, Headteacher, Etherley Lane Nursery School/ Durham Primary Teaching School Alliance

Isabel Davis, Executive Head Teacher / NLE, Bedford Nursery Schools Federation and Peter Pan Teaching School Alliance

Helen McHale and Sarah Cottle, Co–Headteachers, Cookham, Maidenhead and The Lawns Nursery School Federation/Foundations for Learning Teaching School Alliance

Jane Pepper, Headteacher Childhaven Community Nursery School/Scarborough Teaching Alliance

Caron Rudge, Headteacher - Training and Partnerships, BEYA - Barnet Early Years Alliance
Sally Franklin, Acting Head Teacher, North Islington Nursery School

Panna Naggar, Headteacher, Northfleet Nursery School/Early Foundations Teaching Schools Alliance

Wendy Colebourne, Headteacher at Harrington Nursery School and Director of Derby Early Years Teaching School

Claire Quinlan, Head teacher, Highters Heath Nursery School

Steve Elliott, Headteacher, Overchurch Infant School, Wirral

Steven Badcott,  Executive Headteacher, Halberton & Uplowman Federation, Devon

Judith Twani, Regional Development Manager, Early Excellence

Ruth Swailes, Independent School Improvement Adviser

Julia Norman, Senior Teacher, Wells Primary and Nursery School, Norwich

Chris Currie, Primary Head, Dixons Allerton Academy, Bradford. EYFS Specialist Leader of Education

Binks Neate-Evans, Headteacher, West Earlham Infant and Nursery School

Kate Beaumont, Seven Kings Primary School, Essex

Su Yay-Walker, Headteacher, Burlington Infant and Nursery School

Elaine Bennett, EYFS and Yr1 leader, Friars Primary School and Nursery, Early Years consultant and author, Keeping Early Years Unique founder, Southend, Essex

Professor Julie Fisher, Early Years Adviser & Visiting Professor of Early Childhood Education

Di Chilvers, Advisory Consultant in early education and Early Education Associate

Ruth Moore, Freedom To Learn Network Ltd

Kathryn Solly, Specialist Early Years Speaker, Consultant, Trainer and Author

Kym Scott, Independent Early Years Consultant 

Pete Moorhouse, Early Years Consultant and Honorary Research Fellow, Graduate School of Education. University of Bristol

Jan White, Consultant for Learning Outdoors in Early Childhood

Anna Ephgrave, Early Years Author and consultant 

Rhian Fisk, EYFS leader, Writtle Infant School

Sue Allingham, Early Years Consultant

Leah Morris, Early Years Lead and Reception Teacher, Southend, Essex

Ant Hautler, Headteacher, Leigh North Street Primary School

John Wadsworth, Goldsmiths University of London

Dr Andrew Lockett, Early Years Consultant

Dr Jane Murray, TACTYC Executive

Helen Gillespie, Early Years Consultant

Jo Fenton, Head teacher, Collyhurst Nursery School and Children's Centre

Alexandra Law, Headteacher, Harry Roberts Nursery School

Janet L Cook, Headteacher, Sunny Brow Nursery School

Nicola Burke, Early Years Consultant and Early Education Associate

Anni McTavish, Early Years and Creative Arts Consultant

Lucy Waterman, Love Early Years

Theresa Lane, Headteacher, Rachel McMillan Nursery School and Children's Centre

Sarah Helm, Head Teacher, Old Church Nursery School

Oliver Wood, Reception Teacher

Jane Moore, Early Years Quality and Curriculum Adviser, Rotherham School Improvement Service/Early Years and Childcare Service