Leader Julian Grenier says he often acts like a hamster in a wheel when it comes to change – but calmness is key now
The revisions to the Early Years Foundation Stage become statutory in September. As a result, we’re seeing a familiar reaction.
I know where I go wrong as a school leader responding to change, and it’s symbolised by the image of a hamster on a wheel. The team are all pumping more and more effort in, yet we’re going nowhere.
If we took more time to stop and reflect, the change would go so much better. Rather than start with what’s new, why not start by thinking about what we already do well? How can we protect the best of what we do?
Then consider the opportunities. What do we know needs improvement? Can we use the new EYFS framework as an opportunity to make positive changes?
The new EYFS: Rebuilding the right culture
As we have those conversations with team members, governors and others, we’ll be getting a clear sense of how ready, willing and able everyone is to make changes. This will be crucial, especially after the year we’ve had.
We’ll need to pay more attention to school culture than anything else. How can we rebuild morale and confidence? There is no point in having a great plan to make changes if we don’t have the right team culture.
Next, check out a reliable source of evidence like the Education Endowment Foundation’s Early Years Toolkit, which gives us a thumbnail guide to the changes that will have the most impact. The revised EYFS puts a stronger focus on early communication. The toolkit says that communication and language approaches have “high impact for very low cost, based on extensive evidence”. So this seems like a good place to start.
We shouldn’t plan to change everything all at once. The first week of September should not feel like yet another “Year 0” for the early years. It’s much better to have a credible plan to meet the new requirements in steps. Let’s think about having an “implementation year”.
The ‘progress map’ myth
There are currently some concerns about these changes. Some consultants have taken the new framework as a chance to expand their businesses on the foundations of anxiety.
Myths have zipped around about Ofsted wanting to see lengthy “curriculum progress maps”, prompting the inspectorate to produce myth-busting documents in response. It’s all very tiresome.
There is another way forward: go straight to Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework. Inspectors will check that schools have a curriculum that they can articulate and show in action, and that will cover all the ages on a roll. But there are no requirements about the format or the length.
Let’s be confident, avoid the myths and go to the evidence about what works best. Then think hard about how to put that into action.
As a headteacher, I know that my worst habit is to try to implement too much, too quickly. I’m doing my best to stop my hamster-wheel syndrome and slow down the cycles of change in school. Next year needs to be about doing fewer things, and doing them better.
Dr Julian Grenier is the headteacher of Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre. He co-leads the East London Research School