Herts for Learning (HfL), working in partnership with three teaching school alliances (TSAs): Acorns Teaching School Alliance, The Wroxham Transformative Learning Alliance and West Hertfordshire Teaching Schools Partnership, celebrated the culmination of a successful project to improve outcomes for children in the Early Years in Hertfordshire.
16 schools took part of the programme from across Hertfordshire:
This programme of work aimed to improve quality first teaching in the communication and language skills of children in Nursery and Reception by introducing evidenced-based approaches to curriculum delivery. The programme raised Early Years practitioners’ understanding of strategies to develop a communication-rich learning environment, based on both nationally successful projects using current research and locally effective small-scale projects.
The Strategic School Improvement Fund (SSIF) project started in March 2017. Each of the participating schools completed four training sessions, three conferences and received four visits using specialist leaders in education (SLEs) and HfL’s Early Years Advisers, who were jointly responsible for running the programme.
At the ‘Communicate to Succeed’ celebration event, Mireille MacRaild, Education Services Director for Early Years at HfL, commented:
“Working on this joint bid with a clear focus on how to help teachers and leaders improve the life chances of young children through a sharp focus on communication and language has proved truly beneficial. The hard work, dedication and commitment of the SLEs, EYAs and teachers has been inspirational in improving learning experiences and opportunities for the children in the 16 participating schools.
“It has been a fantastic example of collaborative working between Herts for Learning and the TSAs with learning for all embedded through the project.
“At the celebration event it was fantastic to see the innovative examples of ideas to inspire early writing and promote mathematical thinking being shared amongst the schools.”
Dr Kaz Stuart; Associate Professor in Child, Adolescent and Family Studies and Principal Lecturer in Youth and Community at the University of Cumbria, gave a thought-provoking keynote address. Kaz talked about the importance of the project’s achievements, put into the context of the huge inequality that exists in education in the UK today.
Funded by the Department for Education (DfE), SIFF was a grant to support schools across all phases, however the funding obtained by HfL and TSAs was specifically focusing on Early Years settings. It was also the only successful Early Years bid in Hertfordshire.
The fund supported a broad range of school improvement activities, targeting resources at the schools where there was the most opportunity to improve school performance and pupil attainment, working within areas of disadvantage, to help them use their resources most effectively and deliver more good school places.
Exploring and sharing the learning and ‘wow’ moments
At the celebration event, practitioners had the opportunity to showcase the impact of the project and explore and share their learnings with the other participating schools. Later, the Early Years advisors and senior leaders in education (SLEs) also added their ‘wow’ moments; the greatest achievements by each of the participating schools. Initiatives ranged from use of signing, using natural, real-life materials to overhauling outdoor environments and forest school activities.
Improving Early Years outcomes
The project sought to support schools to improve children’s outcomes in writing and maths by underpinning their development with high quality interactions that improved children’s communication skills. Early results are very positive with most schools reporting improvements in adult:child interactions that have impacted positively on outcomes in maths and writing. As part of the project schools evaluated provision using the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scales (ECERS). In regard to writing, all schools ECERS scores improved, with practitioners scribing more and children having more purposeful writing opportunities in their everyday provision. In addition, the use of story maps is now in abundance in the environment. Early outcomes in maths are also on an upward trajectory; participating schools have seen significant improvements in the ECERS scores for shape space and measure, as well as number.
Talking about the project Karen James, Acorns Teaching School Consultant, said:
“Acorns Teaching School Alliance are very proud to lead this DfE funded SSIF project. It has been very exciting to see the early years practitioners and the leaders in our project schools embrace the strategies we have shared during training and conferences. Specialist Leaders of Education from the Teaching Schools and HfL Early Years Advisors on their visits to the schools have supported teams to put these inspirational ideas into practice.
“This celebration event shows that there is now some excellent practice in our project schools. They tell us how much they have benefitted from this project which has invigorated the passion and enthusiasm of the whole early years team. It has been great working in partnership with West Herts and Wroxham Teaching School alliances and HfL. We know that the DfE are very pleased with our Early Years project.”
Practitioners from participating schools resolve to continue to build on the good progress made and to continue to share their best practice within the network and other schools in their trusts.
The full impact of the SSIF DfE project on the outcomes for the pupils of participating schools will be included in a publication, which is due to be published in the autumn of 2019.