Right, if you know me at all, you will know that over the past couple of years I have developed a real hatred for the term acceleration and the way it is being used to undermine the progress that children are making in schools. I have been really saddened to hear, no, probably frustrated would be a better word, that ERO is still peddling this as a main focus with reviews focused on data. Not only that, but if a school has this area in their recommendations, there will be a 'return visit' soon after to check on the progress the school is making.
Now firstly let me qualify my position here. I believe schools should know their children, each one of them, inside and out and that it is good practice (and has always been) for a teacher to have support plans in place based on each individual regardless of their level. It is important that teachers actively reflect on their practice and what works, fostering strong relationships with their children. It is vital that management know who in their school may be struggling to meet their goals according to developmental, age related and curriculum based expectations. It is also vital that progress is viewed as progress and that while it is appropriate to keep close track on this progress, it is not appropriate to presume that by pushing a child through intensive teaching their progress will be accelerated and magically everything (particularly developmentally) will be ok. I look here to Piaget's stages of development and also the research of Nathan Wallis. While this series of development is obviously not perfect it does show how children will make progress through developmental stages at a different rate. Piaget himself would have said that this is not always as logical as this diagram would appear, but it is a useful representation.
Piagets stages of development:
It is incredibly sad to me that ERO are still referring to the recently abolished National Standards and seem not to be familiar with developmentally appropriate progress. While some schools talk about ERO's positive take on play-based learning and approaches like Mantle of the Expert, other schools are being criticised for their journey's into play. Why an earth are reviewers so far apart from each other, shouldn't they be speaking from the same hymn book?
The very ironic thing to me is this, if we are to embrace developmentally appropriate practice and take the time to develop strong, research based play-based programmes, the very notion of acceleration and the need for it would be obsolete. We are already seeing how our children are making progress within a climate that is based on slowing down, meeting individual needs developmentally and just allowing children to develop an interest and love for learning.
The very nature of accelerated progress does not mean that children will 'do better' in the long run. Actually I believe we do them a disservice when we push them into learning that they are not ready for, or fail to meet developmental needs, instead pushing academic learning straight away. In my experience children that do make rapid progress in the first few years are often not robust or resilient, they don't know what to do when learning is hard and often develop negative mindsets towards challenge. The opposite is true for those that chug along making progress appropriate to where they are at.
Getting it right in the first few years is crucial. Developmentally appropriate practice, and an approach the develops the whole learner, will mean that acceleration as a practice is not needed.
Perhaps a renaming of the word would help, perhaps it could be called strengthened learning, implying we are working on the foundations in order for later progress to be 'strengthened' and therefore more robust and meaningful.
Acceleration implies that the learning needs to be sped up and therefore that brain development can also be sped up...not a term I want to be throwing around when talking about learning.
Children are not data.
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