Cover story - January 22, 2018

'Withdraw reception report' urge nearly 2000 in open letter

A group of more than 1800 individuals, including teachers, headteachers, governors, school support staff and parents, have backed an open letter calling for Ofsted’s latest report on teaching in the reception year to be withdrawn. The signatories also include Lord Robert Winston, professor of science and society at Imperial College London, as well as the joint general secretaries of the National Education Union (NEU), Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney.

The Ofsted report in question, Bold Beginnings (Greensheets cover story, 4 December 2017), was published at the end of November 2017 and suggested that often the reception year was a ‘false start’ for children. Among the recommendations it made was that teaching reading should be the ‘core purpose’ of the reception year, that schools should ‘devote sufficient time each day to the direct teaching of reading, writing and mathematics’, and for there to be better alignment between the early learning goals (ELGs) at the end of reception, and the national curriculum in Year 1. In preparing the report inspectors visited a selection of schools in which children, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, were considered to have achieved well.

The letter, which was coordinated by the pressure group Keeping Early Years Unique (KEYU), has been sent to Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, and the new secretary of state for education, Damian Hinds. In it the signatories say they are ‘alarmed’ by the Bold Beginnings report, and express their concern that the government might introduce ‘developmentally inappropriate practice’ into reception teaching. Among the criticisms made in the letter is that Bold Beginnings fails to properly recognise the value of play in the reception year, and that it appears to imply that the approach to teaching in reception should be changed to be closer to that taken in Year 1. The letter also suggests that the schools visited in preparing the report make up too small a sample to draw wide-ranging conclusions from, and that they were selected because they were ‘congruent with the recommendations the report would later make’. The letter concludes by calling for the report to be withdrawn.

Reacting to the letter Gill Jones, the early education deputy director at Ofsted and one of the authors of Bold Beginnings, denied that the schools visited had been pre-selected because of their teaching methods, ‘The report drew on evidence from high-performing schools around the country which are delivering the best start for young children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our inspectors found that they offered a wide curriculum. What they had in common was that they taught reading, writing and maths exceptionally well’. She also suggested that the report’s recommendations had been misinterpreted, saying ‘There is nothing in the report to suggest that reception should be taught like Year 1. Rather, it makes clear that the schools achieving the best start for their pupils planned a good balance of class teaching, partner work and play.’

To read the full KEYU letter go to: https://tinyurl.com/yattd6oo

The Bold Beginnings report is available at: https://tinyurl.com/yab2a3zh

Cover story - January 15, 2018

Mental health: findings from major surveyed published

Girls are more than twice as likely to experience emotional difficulties as boys, but boys are more likely to experience behavioural problems, according to newly released research looking at the mental health and wellbeing of secondary school children.

The findings come from a detailed survey carried out by University College London (UCL) and the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families (Anna Freud Centre) as part of ‘Headstart’. ‘Headstart’ is a five-year programme which aims to improve the mental wellbeing of ten to sixteen year olds, and prevent serious mental health issues before they develop. A total of 30,843 young people in years 7 and 9 in 114 participating schools in Blackpool, Cornwall, Hull, Kent, Newham and Wolverhampton were surveyed. They completed the Wellbeing Measurement Framework (WMF), an online questionnaire developed by the Anna Freud Centre and UCL, which asks children about their mental health and wellbeing. The research will be ongoing, with the surveyed Year 7s repeating the survey annually until they are in Year 11, and data collected from students in Year 9 every year.

This initial round of research found that 25 per cent of girls said they had experienced emotional problems, compared to 11 per cent of boys. In contrast, 23 per cent of boys said they had experienced behavioural problems, against 15 per cent of girls. Overall around a fifth of those surveyed said they experienced emotional problems, with a similar percentage for behavioural problems. The survey also found that students in Year 9 were more likely to report mental health problems than those in Year 7.

Other findings from the survey included that students from Asian, Black, Mixed and ‘other’ ethnic groups were less likely to indicate they were experiencing emotional problems than young people from the White ethnic group. It also found that those with special educational needs, those eligible for free school meals and those classified as a ‘child in need’ who completed the WMF were more likely to say that they were experiencing both emotional and behavioural problems. The researchers conclude that there is a consistent association between deprivation and mental health problems. They also note that the sample of children surveyed was not fully representative of children nationally – having marginally higher levels of deprivation, and marginally lower incidences of special educational needs – but that the survey results do corroborate a number of findings from research of other cohorts on this topic.

Commenting on the findings the lead researcher, Dr Jess Deighton, deputy director of the Anna Freud Centre and reader in child mental health and wellbeing at UCL, said ‘There is so much rich data in this survey which can help us understand and respond to the mental health needs of children and young people. What is particularly exciting about this research is that we have the opportunity to follow up with these young people for a long period of time to see how their mental health and well-being changes throughout this programme.’

The full report of the research findings can be found at https://tinyurl.com/y7bodw97


 

Cover story - January 8, 2018

Social media support needed says children's commissioner

Many under 13s are using social media, and are often ill equipped to deal with the challenges which such platforms present, according to a new report from the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield. The report, Life in ‘likes’ examines the use of social media by eight to 12 year olds, and makes a number of recommendations as to how children might be better supported as they make the transition to secondary school.

Although most social media sites – including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – have an official minimum user age of 13, the report estimates that around three quarters of children aged 10-12 will have some kind of social media account. The report, which was produced following interviews and focus groups with eight to 12 year olds, suggests that children’s social media use evolves throughout this age range. While children in Years 4 and 5 tended to use social media to play games, or as a platform to be creative, by the time children reached Years 5 and 6 their use was focusing more on cementing friendships or receiving emotional support. As children grew older they also became more concerned about the popularity of their social media posts – for example the number of ‘likes’, ‘shares’ and comments they received. They also often felt greater pressure to ‘fit in’ and to be online frequently.

Life in 'likes' also highlights that while the children interviewed had a good understanding of basic safety messages, such as being aware of the potential danger of strangers/predators online, their understanding of how social media might affect their moods and emotions was less developed. The role of family in influencing children’s social media use was also examined, with many children taking cues from the way in which their parents or siblings used social media. Older siblings in particular seemed to play a role in introducing younger children to new or different features on social media platforms, and in warning of potential dangers or pitfalls, often based on their own experience. One concern mentioned by a number of the children interviewed for the report was around ‘sharenting’, where parents shared photos or videos of their children on social media without their permission. Children could often be concerned that such posts could be ‘embarrassing’ for them, while feeling somewhat powerless to ask parents to remove such content.

The report makes a number of recommendations to better equip children in the eight to 12 age range to use social media, and to mitigate any risks they might face. For schools these include having a greater focus on ‘the subtler impacts that social media can have on wellbeing’ when educating pupils about life online. It also suggests introducing a ‘peer-to-peer’ element to digital literacy education, in order to build on the influence which peers and siblings already have on children’s social media use. The main recommendation for social media companies is that they should acknowledge that many children under the age of 13 are using their platforms, and therefore either incorporate their needs into service design, or more rigorously address this underage use through moderation. The report also suggests better information and support for parents to help them understand their children’s social media use, as well as the ways in which their own online behaviour can influence and impact upon their children.

Commenting on the launch of the report, Anne Longfield said “While social media clearly provides some great benefits to children, it is also exposing them to significant risks emotionally, particularly as they approach year 7”, adding, “I am worried that many children are starting secondary school ill-equipped to cope with the sudden demands of social media as their world expands. It is also clear that social media companies are still not doing enough to stop under-13s using their platforms in the first place”.

The full Life in ‘likes’ report can be viewed at: https://tinyurl.com/y9h23ngy