BERA’s 2019–2020 research commission on the early years – entitled Competing Discourses of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC): Tensions, Impacts and Democratic Alternatives across the UK’s four jurisdictions – is focussing the first of its four seminars on school readiness. The research commission and seminar build upon the BERA-TACTYC Early Childhood Research Review 2003–2017, which stated that ‘ECEC is used for preventative, reparative and restorative purposes, in ways that are linked to outcomes measures, whilst fundamental structural inequalities remain’ (BERA & TACTYC, 2017, p. 111). The seminar expands upon this critique by exploring the assemblage of policy initiatives around the concept of school readiness, and this blog introduces some competing arguments surrounding school readiness.
Internationally, school readiness is presented as ‘a viable strategy to close the learning gap and improve equity in achieving lifelong learning and full developmental potential among young children’, and is discussed as having three dimensions: ‘children’s readiness for school; schools’ readiness for children; and the readiness of families and communities to help children make the transition to school’ (UNICEF, 2012). Arguments framed within discourses of equality and human capital are also evident in UK documentation. To take one example: ‘for too many children, especially those living in the most deprived areas, educational failure starts early’ (Ofsted, 2014, p. 4). The DfE and Ofsted (2014; 2017) state that young children’s school readiness is critical for ensuring ‘equality of opportunity’ and the mitigation of ‘failure’. School readiness thus ensures a level playing field for all children, and is central to closing the attainment gap between different socioeconomic groups. School readiness measurements provide early years professionals with information with which to identify children’s needs early on, enabling them to make pedagogical interventions leading to ‘equality of opportunity’.
‘Concerns have been raised about a narrowing of the early learning goals to “ready” young children for success in primary schools’ accountability culture.’
On the other hand, Early Education (2018) has raised concerns about a narrowing of the early learning goals to ‘ready’ young children for success in primary schools’ accountability culture, particularly the phonics screening check in year 1 and SATS in year 2. TACTYC (2017) notes how primary schools’ test-based culture, and their inappropriate pedagogy for young children, have cascaded down into the early years in the form of ‘school readiness’. For example, recent policy shifts towards formalised school-readiness include narrowed early years foundation stage early learning goals emphasising numeracy and literacy, a greater emphasis on preparation for the phonics screening check as exemplified by Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings report (2017) and the proposed reception baseline assessment, which is focussed on numeracy and literacy. A BERA-convened expert panel has described RBA as ‘flawed, unjustified and totally unfit for purpose’ (2018), and the More Than a Score coalition has stated that the early years ‘should not include tests that ignore all that four-year-olds can do and turn them into data points’. All this has been exacerbated by the Ofsted inspection framework that focusses on reductionist and datafied school readiness ‘outcomes’, leading to a narrowing of the curriculum, ‘ability’ grouping at ever earlier ages, and ‘gaming’ the required outcomes (Bradbury & Roberts-Holmes, 2018).
Given these contested discourses surrounding early years school-readiness, this seminar – which will be held at the University of Manchester on Thursday 9 May – asks, What is understood as ‘school readiness’, and what might be its benefits and drawbacks? The seminar also intends to explore the extent to which school-readiness outcomes shape early-years education, curriculum and pedagogy, and what alternatives and possibilities there might be. The discussion, ideas and analysis generated by the seminar will form part of the BERA research commission’s early childhood report, which will publish in 2020.
Bradbury, A., & Roberts-Holmes, G. (2017). The Datafication of Primary and Early Years Education: Playing with Numbers. Abingdon & New York: Routledge
Early Education (2018, January 30) What’s wrong with Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings report? [briefing]. London. Retrieved from https://early-education.org.uk/news/whats-wrong-ofsteds-bold-beginnings-report
British Educational Research Association [BERA] & TACTYC (2017). BERA-TACTYC Early Childhood Research Review 2003–2017. London. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/BERA-TACTYC-Full-Report.pdf
Goldstein, H., Moss, G., Sammons, P., Sinnott, G., & Stobart, G. (2018) A baseline without basis: The validity and utility of the proposed reception baseline assessment in England. London. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/A-baseline-without-basis_BERA-report_July2018.pdf
Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills [Ofsted] (2014) Are you ready? Good practice in school readiness. London. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/are-you-ready-good-practice-in-school-readiness
Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills [Ofsted] (2017). Bold beginnings: The Reception curriculum in a sample of good and outstanding primary schools. London. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reception-curriculum-in-good-and-outstanding-primary-schools-bold-beginnings
More Than a Score (2019). What we do [webpage]. Retrieved from https://www.morethanascore.org.uk/what-we-do/baseline/
TACTYC (2017, December). Bald Beginnings: A Response to Ofsted’s (2017) report, Bold beginnings: The Reception curriculum in a sample of good and outstanding primary schools by December 2017. Retrieved from http://tactyc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Bold-Beginnings-TACTYC-response-FINAL-09.12.17.pdf
United Nations Children’s Fund [Unicef] (2012). School readiness: A conceptual framework. New York.