Plutarch, the great Ancient Greek philosopher, once said: ‘the mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled’. There is much in this ancient wisdom. Whilst we now know that children construct new learning through the prism of things they already know, this sentiment highlights the importance of ‘how’ we teach our children rather simply focussing on ‘what’ we teach. Igniting the spark that fosters a life-long love of learning or engagement with a subject is surely the long-term goal of all educational endeavours, and this is as true at the start of a child’s schooling as it is at any other point.
At ESMS, we believe that the early years is the most crucial part of a child’s educational journey. Whether focusing on early reading, numeracy or physical development, this is the point at which we lay the foundations for all future success. This is why we place such focus on ensuring we support all of our children to make the best start possible, ensuring that they thrive within our rich early years setting.
Our philosophy to early years blends a play-based approach that allows children to foster their natural curiosity alongside short, focused teaching that introduces children to foundational knowledge and understanding across all of the school subjects. Whilst our classroom teachers are experts in early education and childhood development, we feel that offering specialist teaching in PE, Music, Drama and Digital Learning enhances the overall opportunity for children to make the strong start needed across the full range of the curriculum. This is different to many Junior schools who do not provide specialist teaching in the early years, but we believe that this is just one of many ways in which our children are advantaged.
Being a specialist teacher is very different to being a class-based teacher in the Primary school. Whereas a class teacher will ostensibly teach the same group of children for the whole year, our specialist teachers will teach different children in every period of the day. This offers them a very different perspective on how our children are developing, and they are able to provide invaluable insight to support class teachers in providing the high level of pastoral care every child deserves. It is fair to say that our specialist teachers form a vital part of the pastoral team around our early years children.
One of the ways that having specialist teachers in early years can have a positive impact is that they have the in-depth knowledge of their subjects’ learning continuum, understanding how their subject develops from novice to expert level. They understand the key knowledge and skills that will be required for children to be successful in Secondary school and beyond, and this ensures that the learning experiences that are planned for our early years children are the correct ones that will lay secure foundations for future success. Put simply, there is a coherent and planned pathway from early years to sixth form.
Moreover, when this deep content knowledge is combined with pedagogical content knowledge (an understanding of the best ways to teach specific topics), we can be sure that both the content covered – and the approach taken to deliver it – is likely to kindle the fire of enthusiasm for the subject. We often say that the sign of understanding something deeply is when you can explain it very simply, and this is what our specialist teachers are so expert at doing in their fields. Due to their deep subject knowledge, they have a range of explanations and teaching techniques to ensure that the children understand the learning of the day and, crucially, what to do if they don’t.
Beyond the educational and pastoral benefits to deploying specialist teachers in early years, there is the simple joy that the children gain from accessing their learning in a range of environments and form a range of staff. Whether being supported on the sports field by our dedicated PE team, or taking part in Music lessons in the Music rooms with our specialist staff, children are highly motivated to learn and do well. In fact, the change in learning environment and staff can often add a welcome variety to a child’s day that enables them to stay fresh and enthused for the challenges of a days’ learning. In our experience, the children love their specialist teaching.
In summary, we believe that by combining the security of a ‘main’ class teacher with specialist teachers in the early years, we are able to offer something a bit ‘special’ that truly enriches our children’s experience.By Chris Watson
Senior Deputy Head (Teaching & Learning Primary 1-7)