By Rebecca Bierton
14 November, 2022
This article was originally written for and first published in Schools Week, Friday 11 November 2022.
Working with early years setting to develop consistency and familiarity benefits children, families and providers, explains Rebecca Beirton, OAT’s primary director.
Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner, recently published a report calling for underused primary school space to be repurposed for early years and childcare provision. Already, school sites are increasingly being used to that end. As this trend looks set to continue, leaders should consider how they can help ensure these partnerships are a success.
Ormiston Meadows Academy has set the blueprint at Ormiston Academies Trust (OAT) for how these relationships can work in practice, offering an example of the benefits they bring to children and staff alike.
Working together with providers in the early years sector is key to ensuring that pupils are as ready for the move into full-time schooling as possible. A major element of this is enabling them to be comfortable in the environment they will move into.
Where staff members make the most of the opportunity to closely collaborate, shared sites can make the transition process as smooth as possible. This includes understanding and adapting to each other’s structures, such as snack time and food routines, morning and afternoon routines, and the use of structured times, such as carpet or reading periods.
Similarly, ensuring children can attend key events such as shows, assemblies or school fetes, and that these are included within the school day when appropriate, helps to get them ready for the move. At Ormiston Meadows Academy, the preschool joins the early years foundation stage (EYFS) class regularly during free time, meaning pupils are used to playing together.
Consistency within the curriculum and the understanding of pupils’ developmental needs can be achieved far more holistically if the two provisions work together on a regular basis, not just at the point when ‘transition’ needs to take place.
This can include linking topics and areas of development within the curriculum, and the use of intervention and support when needed. For example, linking areas of learning, such as the books pupils read, considerably helps them make sense of new topics.
Paramount to consistency is the use of language to ensure a meaningful contextualisation for pupils across settings. This builds on previous understanding and provides a clearer perspective for practitioners to quickly get to know pupils in their care. For example, if free-flow learning time is called ‘busy time’ in school then the same language being adopted in the preschool means pupils already have a clear understanding of how this time is spent and do not have to re-learn what it means.
The use of similar processes to assess, record and feedback on pupil progress and outcomes can make information far more worthwhile for staff at transition points. SEND pupils benefit the most from a holistic approach to provision as this ensures their needs can continue to be met in the ways that have already proven to be beneficial, and built upon appropriately.
Settings should ensure they are capitalising on the connections between their provisions to further integrate and thus strengthen their communities. This in turn helps facilitate positive learning environments for all children.
Diary planning and sharing key events across settings can significantly help communities feel connected, while supporting parental engagement from the beginning of each child’s educational journey. Meanwhile, ensuring parents and pupils can either join events in both settings, or for these to be planned together (sports day, for example), means communities come together and enjoy experiences in a way that enriches them for all.
At the heart of making a success of shared sites across early years and primary provision is collaboration that recognises and builds on the best practice across settings. This can benefit academy trusts more widely: through our relationship with an early years provider, OAT has shared best practice and expertise between settings to improve how we support children to transition to primary school more broadly.
Whether you share premises or not, this kind of collaboration across phases benefits everyone.