Supporting learners aged 3 to 5 - why Reception matters

Supporting learners aged 3 to 5 – why Reception matters

Giving children a high quality Reception experience can have a positive impact on their future development and achievement. Extensive research shows that high quality early education plays a significant role in promoting children’s development, both cognitively and socially. Although this isn’t a useful measure for...


Giving children a high quality Reception experience can have a positive impact on their future development and achievement. Extensive research shows that high quality early education plays a significant role in promoting children’s development, both cognitively and socially. Although this isn’t a useful measure for individuals, there is a correlation between achievement and learning outcomes at age 5 and later GCSE results – and by extension, later achievement as well. ​

Why does Reception matter?

Reception / Early Years is where children learn how to learn, how to interact with the world – and with others – in a supportive environment but without the safety net (or sometimes lack thereof) provided in their home life, and with many more variables than a typical home can provide. ​

Effective education at this age ensures students are ready and able to access the curriculum from Year 1 onward, and are prepared for the increased requirements of many modern teaching programmes. It ensures young children are equipped with the building blocks of the skills they will need to engage with the world around them. ​

What does good practice look like at this age?

In order to better understand how Pearson can help teachers and learners in Reception / Early Years, we conducted research(1) in 2020 to help uncover answers to three main questions and help shape our new iPrimary Reception / Early Years programme:

  1. What does good practice look like at this age – and what impact can it have? 
  2. What is required to effectively support this good practice? 
  3. What works for teachers and learners? (and for potential teachers and learners?).

And to help us answer these questions, we consulted extensively with three main sources:

  1. Reading and reflecting on current academic research (see further reading below)
  2. Conversation, questioning, observations and commissioned work and research with Early Years practitioners and experts
  3. Conversation, questioning and observations with iPrimary and Lower Secondary and English Curriculum teachers and school leaders.

At every stage of this research, and of the development of our new programme for Reception / Early Years, we included a review and revision cycle, keeping our stakeholders (pedagogical and subject experts, teachers, students and school leaders) involved and ensuring that their feedback was incorporated in the resources and curriculum we produced.

The key findings from our research

The majority of sources identified the importance of this phase of education and identified the highly positive impact an outstanding Reception (Early Years) experience has on later achievement.

  • Subject experts and teachers showed a clear preference for a UK curriculum style experience and identified that this would and should be different to later, more formal settings
  • Over 80% of school-based stakeholders placed preparation for ‘formal’ education in Year 1 as their top requirement for a Reception / Early Years programme
  • 90% of school-based stakeholders, as well as all subject experts, identified ‘current UK best practice’ as their preference in designing any teaching or supporting materials – including professional development
  • School leaders and teachers placed a high value on a clear, structured progression and an equally high value on being able to assess where a child is in their development
  • All sources identified English, closely followed by Maths as their number one subject priority at this age
  • All sources identified the importance of supporting general cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development as well – and agreed that supporting development in these areas contributes significantly to later achievement (and happiness!)

Despite the agreement and the similarities above, international Reception / Early Years settings varied hugely in terms of:

  • Staff training and confidence
  • Class size, and level of adult support available
  • Availability of digital resources (including but not limited to, interactive whiteboards, iPads, computers)
  • Availability of physical resources
  • Perceived understanding of Reception / Early Years settings techniques and methodology amongst colleagues and parents

This variance occurred not only across but within countries.

Creating materials to support learners aged 3 to 5

Working closely with school-based stakeholders, as well as pedagogical and subject experts, the above research informed the development of our new iPrimary Reception / Early Years programme.

At each stage of development, for each item in our programme, we utilised the research and went back to those stakeholders to ensure that the materials produced are appropriate, rigorous and engaging for both teachers and learners. Making certain that review and revision happens throughout the development process, rather than just at the start, ensures that we are creating truly supportive materials that are usable for teachers and help to support identified best practice.

Our new iPrimary Reception / Early Years programme

We used this research and development cycle to create a programme designed to give children the best possible start to their school career – and to support teachers in delivering this. The materials cover two years of teaching and are expected to be accessed by children between the ages of 3 and 5. They include:

Curricula – each provides explicit preparation for Year 1 of iPrimary (or effective preparation for any English language curriculum) for:

  • English – supporting communication and language, developmental writing and mark-making and early reading
  • Maths – supporting mathematical development and understanding, including counting, addition, subtraction, shape work, pattern recognition and chronological sequencing
  • The World Around Us – explicitly supporting the development of questioning, investigative, and problem-solving; as well as supporting social, emotional and physical development

Schemes of Work – each provides suggestions for teaching and activities suitable for each subject adaptation to a wide range of settings. Teaching is arranged around short engaging topics designed to appeal to children around the world.

Lesson planning – complete ‘pick up and go’ planning covering every lesson for every subject for every year, providing a structure and progression that ensures all objectives are covered and learning progresses in a clear and supportive way, with a huge range of options for teachers, regardless of the resourcing of their setting.

Progress tests – designed to sensitively check on children’s progress against each curriculum. We have designed these tests to consist of information-rich illustrations designed to stimulate discussion and have included a marks scheme and script for the adult linking this clearly to curriculum points.

Workbooks – designed to work alongside iPrimary Reception / Early Years or work as a complete stand-alone resource. Informed by our research, these books have been designed with clear, adult-facing explanations of the learning so it’s easy to help the child – and with activities designed to support and engage the child as they learn.

Professional development – we’ve also designed bespoke, high quality professional development to give teachers the confidence and skills required to use the course materials and to ensure children receive the best possible experience.

Further reading

Find out more about our new iPrimary Reception / Early Years programme.

(1) Research references

Exploring effective pedagogy in primary schools: evidence from research, Iram Siraj and Brenda Taggart

Bold beginnings: The Reception curriculum in a sample of good and outstanding primary schools, Ofsted

Closing gaps early: The role of early years policy in promoting social mobility in England, Kitty Stewart and Jane Waldfogel

The long-term impact of effective teaching, Peter Tymms, Christine Merrell & Katharine Bailey

Early childhood brain development has lifelong impact, Arizona State University

Early Years Matters: Transitions

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