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Reception class - is this normal?

(27 Posts)
fabhead Tue 16-Jun-09 19:28:40

Went to a classroom visit at the school ds1 is due to start at in September. I was somewhat underwhelmed, bordering on horrified, but I fear I have lost perspective on the whole school thing (long story, had no place initially, got this one from waiting list, was third choice). Can someone tell me if they think this is usual/normal/appropriate?

Basically there were childen running about all over the place, I thought we'd arrived at playtime but apparently not. Lots of stations, some doing painting, some dressing up, others on the bikes, but there just seemed to be no formal structure at all. Both classes just intermingle between the joined classrooms and outside. There will be 3 classes doing this is september. I know they are only little, learning through play etc but I expected to see a bit of group activity or sitting doing something with a teacher (there were maybe 3 children drawing a picture with a TA). All very nice but it seemed more like what my ds was doing last year at his day nursery rather than a school class. I really think he has gone beyond the dressing up/sand and water table type of thing and is ready for a bit more. I am not expecting lines of immaculate robots sitting at desks raising their hands, of course, but it wasn't the step up from nursery/pre-school I was expecting.

I know it has all changed since our day and things are done differently but I was a bit dismayed. The kids seemed well behaved but very dishevelled / chaotic, lot of noise, toilets were dirty and no soap in the hand dispensers.

I don't rememeber the other reception classes we looked at being quite as chaotic-looking and disorganised - though I do remember thinking the same thing about this one at the time.

Do I give them the benefit of the doubt? - would they do more structured acvtivities at other times? Is the fact that I didn't choose/want this school clouding my judgement? It has a good ofsted (other 2 in area outstanding) but it mentions that the children come out at ks1 lower than average but have caught up by ks2.

I am really not sure about sending my son to this school. Am I expecting too much?

katiestar Tue 16-Jun-09 19:35:27

As well as free play they will do lots of group activities,and structured work, but it really is not the best time to do it when little chikldren are visiting !!

Tambajam Tue 16-Jun-09 19:37:30

Sounds pretty standard to me for an Early years foundation stage classroom.
It won't be all day long. At other times in the day there will have been whole class teaching 'on the carpet'/ 'on the interactive whiteboard'. The teacher would have led the initial input and then group work would have followed.

In the afternoons perhaps, there will be very little to distinguish a Reception class and a preschool. And don't underestimate the value of what you were seeing. We know that overly formal learning too early actually doesn't do many favours. Our results as a nation compared to other countries that start formal learning later bears this out.

Dirty toilets and no soap was a shame but it could have also been the end of a long day.

Perhaps you could ask to go back another time if you are really worried.

gingernutlover Tue 16-Jun-09 19:40:02

how long were you there for?

Sounds like you witnessed child initiated play which can look like total chaos to an outsider

ask what their timetable is like. I teach reception and Year 1 and we have 2 hours of child initiated every day but also have 4 seperate carpet times where we do whole class/big group teaching and also times for groups activities.

were the adults interacting with the children? Thats important

also, was this a day when lots of new entarnts were visiting? If so that may explain why it was all a bit chaotic. Genreally by this point in the year child initiated play would be the most producitve part of the day in my room, where the children are totally absorbed in what they have chosen to do.

fabhead Tue 16-Jun-09 20:07:30

that's reassuring that you think it sounds usual, thanks. We were there for about an hour and a half. there was not much interaction with the visiting children, the teacher looked very rushed and harrassed (was a boiling hot day to be fair and he looked like he had just come from a PE class or someting, sweating) but I think the others who weren't playing in a large group of children were interacting with TA's, yes. Was a couple of parents listening to reading I think too.

How does the child initiated play work? Don't they just choose to spend all their time doing the thing they like the most i.e I think my son would probably spend all day on the bikes if allowed! I am sure you are right and that they do carpet time (they certainly had those areas in front of the whiteboards), but I have been there 3 times now (2 school tours and classroom visit today) and have never seen any.

The other complicating fctor in my ds's case is that, due to dire circumstances with school places where we live (couldn't get a state pre-school place and initially had no reception place) he is currently at pre-school in a private school. We therefore have to choose whether to send him to this school today (state school was always our preference as we are not entirely comfortable with the concept of private schools, or weren't) or leave him where he is, until juniors at least. Whilst I am not really comfortable with the private school ethos and it wasn't what we wanted, I can't deny that he has been very happy there and seems to be doing very well. They do things very differently, of course, only 15 in the class and much more structured learning. I am completely aware of the idea that this isn't a great way for small children to learn, according to some research, scandinavian countries etc, and the way they are teaching him to read worries me (more rote learning/memory rather than much phonics etc) - but I can't deny that he can now read and is loving reading.

I guess what I wanted to know is what I saw today the philosophical difference between state and private education in this country, in a nutshell, or evidence of it not being a very good school. Your views sound like it might be the former. Keep them coming. I am in such a state about this whole school thing I just can't think straight anymore and don't know what to do for the best for my son (pfb I know!). I knew this would happen and feel very resentful that we were forced into the situation where we now have to choose between the 2 systems - I was quite happy for him to go to pre-school then reception and never know what the differences were (we moved to the area specifically for this reason - very good state primaries - just can't get in them even though all less than a mile away). But you can't unknow things.

All advice and experiences greatly appreciated.

Sidge Tue 16-Jun-09 20:14:59

I can't imagine that a teacher would schedule some whole class teaching when there are visiting pre-schoolers - the school children wouldn't pay any attention at all!

Reception class IMO often looks like chaos (I'm not a teacher) but when you spend time in there over the course of a day and week you will see the structure and routine more clearly. Remember small children have the concentration span of gnats so whole group work is often short and to the point then followed with 1-1 or small group work.

I think for you, the problem is you have experience of a very different set up in your private school, coupled with resentment at not getting the school place you wanted (understandable) and you may be going in even subconsciously with a negative eye.

Wait and see how things go in September - you may be pleasantly surprised, and if it's really not the place for your child (and different schools suit different children) then you can have a rethink.

saadia Tue 16-Jun-09 20:22:48

fabhead have you visited other schools to compare this one to? When I was looking at schools for ds1 I visited several and there was one which just seemed a lot more chaotic than the rest, so even though it is true that in YR it is mainly learning through play, there is IMO still a sense of order and the teacher should still have some control over the class.

blithedance Tue 16-Jun-09 20:35:53

Being a 3 form entry might mean the sheer number of YR kids looks chaotic, especially on a hot afternoon. It is possible you caught the teacher at a difficult moment.

Dishevelled is normal, particularly if the children had just dressed themselves after PE. Wrong foot shoes and inside out clothes are my DS1's speciality, not to mention signs of spending a lot of time on the Trim Trail/sandpit.

If it helps, my DS2 will be exactly 4 when he starts reception in Sept and I have the opposite problem, keep asking school for reassurance that he will be allowed to play and go at his own pace as he's so little!

I think I'd go for state rather than private as long as it wasn't dire - do you know any parents with children already there? Is it your nearest school?

fabhead Tue 16-Jun-09 20:42:00

thanks guys, it is good to hear your views. I have visited every school within a 20 mile radius at least twice in the last 9 months or so and, tbh, it is all starting to blur a bit now. But I think it always has seemed a bit less structured than others in the area. You are right, I am also worried that my resentment, disappointment, confusion etc is clouding my judgement. And of course, none of that matters, it is about where my ds would be happy and healthy and get a good start in education. I just can't work out whether I can take the leap of faith and accept that this school, which is clearly not the best, most well-regarded, whatever in the area but is by no means the worse either is good enough (though I also know that other parental perception is often more about snobbery that the real facts and even ofsted reports seemingly don't tell the whole story). He was really withdrawn on the visit wheras normmaly he is the centre of attention and loves school but I suppose that could have just been nerves. I guess I just have to decide whether to accept good enough for my son, and hope for the best.

We would have the opportunity to move him to a different junior school at Y3 (ironically, this is the one everyone wants in the area and we are next door to it) rather than stay at this school for juniors. Surely it couldn't damage him compared to his peers from other schools in just 3 years even if standards aren't top notch? They are so young, can't we influence a lot still at this age at home?

I wish I had a crystal ball!!

fabhead Tue 16-Jun-09 20:42:54

its 2 form entry at the moment - they have added an extra class for this september due to the school places crisis in the area (did the same last year for a different school).

TripleTroubleMuffin Tue 16-Jun-09 20:44:18

Of course it is normal.

They are only 4 and they learn through play.

bigstripeytiger Tue 16-Jun-09 20:47:05

If you are much happier with the private school, and you can afford it, would it not be easier to keep him there , and then go for the good school in Y3?

fabhead Tue 16-Jun-09 20:51:11

we know noone really in the whole bloody town with school age children as have never been part of it since we moved here as couldn't get in to anything! Do know another family whose child would be starting at the same school with mine, different class.

It is not very near, couple of miles away, as didn't get into the 2 nearest, but is at least in the same town. The private one is in a different area, where we used to live. Can't afford the private ones where we are now.

Our thinking too was go state unless dire but at one point looked like we would get dire so had to have a plan B (the private school) as ds was really getting bored at his old day nursery (was 3/4 in room with 2/3 year olds).

I know what you mean about the little ones - tbh a year ago I would have thought this was just what my ds would love and be up to - I am just worried that we have forced it or put him beyond that somehow by the experience we have given him this year at the private pre-school. Don't get me wrong, he still loves playing but he does also seem to enjoy a bit more structure now. He is an October baby mind you so he will always be a little bit older in a class I suppose.

what a mess! Will have to go through all this again with ds2 as well as we won't get a sibling place as he starts the year ds1 would go to the junior school. Sigh .....

fabhead Tue 16-Jun-09 20:54:44

tiger that is what I am trying to decide. We could afford it for infant/junior but not secondary I don't think, well not without me continuingto work ft. Is it a good idea if you won't stay in the system? Though who knows what would happen I suppose. Also I have now seen the implications of trying to mix systems and the questions it throws up - isn't it better to choose one and go with it?

fabhead Tue 16-Jun-09 21:03:43

thanks for all the advice everyone, I appreciate it, will sleep on it I think and see how it looks tommorow.

blithedance Tue 16-Jun-09 21:09:45

Poor you! All that visiting! good luck with your decision but TBH I think that place will be OK. And go with what's easiest for you to manage in travelling etc - no point having a tidy perfect education if your DS does a lonely 10 hour day of commuting and wraparound clubs. You have to cope as well!

Tambajam Tue 16-Jun-09 21:12:08

I am going to contradict myself a bit here based on what you have said. I think that while for the majority of children learning through play/ Scandanavian model is by far the best option, it is not vital for every child. Some do flourish in a more academic environment and it is possible your DS is one of those children.

If he is currently happy and doing well in a class of 15 and you can afford him to be there then I would not move him based on philosophy.

Is he really happy? Does he have friends? Does he have a chance to play and get messy and explore?

TBH you can opt out of the private system anytime you fancy but right now is a tough one. If he is currently reading and used to formal learning it is possibly a bit of a switch for him to be then thrown into a typical Reception Term 1. Although a good school will cater to the more able there is no way of avoiding the fact he will be sitting there for many many hours learning his initial sounds and 'starting from scratch'. If he has skipped phonics as you suggest then perhaps that isn't such a terrible thing. But if he is a confident reader and used to more structure he may not be up for the shift now. It may be better to switch him to State school for Key Stage 2 perhaps.

bigstripeytiger Tue 16-Jun-09 21:16:13

IME I think the school is more important than the system.

I dont have any ideological problem with private schools, so looked around a selection of state and private. I think that we were really lucky, because the best school we looked at was a state school. Knowing what is availible locally I expect to use a private school for secondary.

So I think that in my case my DD will be better off going to the best school that she can at each level, I dont see any advantage in picking 'private' as the option if that means that she doesnt go to the best school she can. There is so much variation within schools I dont know if there really is a consistant state of private ethos.

noideawhereIamgoing Tue 16-Jun-09 21:29:14

Makes me think of one of my friends who's an ex-teacher with a science degree - she used to organise rotational experiments for her Year 2 class to do one morning a week. She told me that she was sure it would look like absolute chaos to a casual observer but all those children were playing with a purpose and the reports the children produced (at every ability) demonstrated as much, I so wish she'd go back to teaching.sad

Smithagain Wed 17-Jun-09 12:08:32

It sounds very, very similar to the foundation unit at our school, which has an Outstanding for its work with nursery/reception. Nursery and Reception are in together. Free access to all activities - free movement between indoors and outdoors. Staff observe what they are doing, engage with the children, stimulate their interest in range of activities.

And yes, they also have structured times as a whole class, learn phonics etc. But it's a short proportion of the day.

DD1's Reception teacher claimed that they just set the classroom up and let the children get on with it. But, judging by the things DD1 came back with, I'm sure the adults also put a great deal of input into their learning, without interrupting the feel of "play".

And yes, having discussed different approaches with my friend, whose children are at a private school, I do think you may be observing the philosophical difference between the sectors - certainly for the youngest children. Her children were doing much more formal learning at Reception (and even in Nursery) than mine. But now the oldest are in Year 2, they are doing rather similar things.

ICANDOTHAT Wed 17-Jun-09 12:34:02

Fabhead This is normal for reception. You arrived at the time where the kids can choose an activity or each group is taking turns at a different 'station'. The only 'structured' times would be for numeracy and literacy and any 'carpet time' when the teacher addresses the whole class. The curriculum will be changing soon to allow even more choice from the child and hence probably making the transition from rec to yr1 even more difficult for some kids than it already is ... doesn't make sense to me hmm

smee Wed 17-Jun-09 12:34:23

I'd echo what lots have said on here about reception being more structured than it appears. Why not go back and talk to the teacher and explain your worry that he's at a relatively structured private school and that you're worried about the change. Ask about how the day's structured/ how they teach. I'd bet it's far more controlled than you'd imagine and totally worked out in terms of how to progress the kids.

LovingTheRain Wed 17-Jun-09 14:53:06

Fabhead - i've taught reception in the past and what you saw is normal yes! grin

I think each class you visit will be rather different in the teacher's approach to noise. We did all our structured work in the mornings in my reception class, with free play most of the afternoon. Your Ds will love it!

Also, i read you weren't sure about whether to keep him where he is till juniors etc or move him now?

If i were you, i'd move him now while he's very young as i think he'd find it very hard to adapt once they hit juniors and the children have been together a long time. The structure and class size etc is so different, best to move him while young.

msdevine Thu 18-Jun-09 08:52:54

im sure you have made your decision already but just to comment on something you said, my dd was at a private montessori nursery, no toys complete structure and discipline. I then moved her to the state school nursery when we moved which when i went to visit had the exact same feeling as you. Instead of seing children sitting quietly hands on laps there was no stucture just free play.

However when she did start she loved it i think she was relieved she could be a normal 3 year old again, she is now moving on to reception in september and although she would be capable of sitting for a whole day learning, I am so glad thats not the case.

Reception is like an extention of nursery still free play inside and outside but a bit more structure.

what did you decide on???xxxx

fabhead Thu 18-Jun-09 15:15:32

thanks all this thread has really helped me think it all through, still haven't actually decided but am thinking now leave him where he is for and move at juniors. I think it was what stripeytiger said about choosing the best school at the time rather than comitting to one system or the other that made me think. I am convinced, I think, that children are absolutely fine starting off in the "extension of nursery, free-play" mode - and possibly also are fine with a bit more structure - sounds like they all get to roughly the same point down the line from what you are all saying. I think it may just feel like too much of a backward step to him (even though it wouldn't be, age-wise) as he has had that slightly different approach now. I don't think the difference between the 2 is as stark as what you described about the montessori nursery (they have always seemed a bit extreme to me).

Still v confused!

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