Time to Trust the TeacherDr. Pam Jarvis The arena of early years practice has, over the past decade, been pitched into a situation where we seem to constantly swim against a relentless tide of inappropriate policy ‘initiatives’. This situation appears to have developed because those charged with policy development are not child development specialists. They have learned the lessons of the impact of early environments upon neuronal development, but appear to think that the way to respond to this is a fast pace of adult-directed activity at the earliest possible age. Nothing could be further from the truth; there is no empirical or theoretical evidence to support earlier adult direction of children’s activities. In fact, research in the fields of anthropology, neuroscience, psychology and education tells us that play-based learning is far more effective in developing the core skills upon which later academic achievements are based However, the orientation of government policy is relentlessly ‘top down’- what is expected in later development dominates the input in earlier development; skills that used to be constructed as ‘milestones’ instead become ‘goals.’
.....So what is the evidence for the requirement for learning through play in early childhood, birth to seven years? Internationally renowned psychologist Alison Gopnik’s research indicates that direct instruction from adults at such an early stage in a child’s development ‘leads children to narrow in, and to consider just the specific information a teacher provides’. Without didactic input from an adult, however, ‘children look for a much wider range of information and consider a greater range of options.’
We need to make it very clear to the government that as a profession we are not ‘against assessment’ and that indeed, trained teachers are able to use a vast range of informal assessment techniques to understand where each of our pupils are located in their learning journey, and to consider a range of inputs that might most effectively trigger their ‘next steps’. What we are against is a monolithic national surveillance system that simplistically ‘rates’ children at earlier and earlier ages, thence additionally simplistically exports the products of this exercise to ‘rate’ their teachers...Teachers, children, and parents must no longer be left to the blundering, politically driven manipulations of ministers who have no inkling of the skill, art and above all, vocation and humanity involved in teaching.