Welsh Foundation Phase practice varies widely

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A review of the Foundation Phase, the curriculum for Welsh primary children, reveals a large variation in practice across settings and areas of learning.

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Researchers found that Foundation Phase practice varies across nurseries and schools

The Government-funded research, a series of reports into the effectiveness of the curriculum on children’s learning, highlights variances in the number of child observations being made by staff, the use of outdoor learning and child-initiated play.

The Welsh Foundation Phase was introduced in 2011 for children aged three to seven and has an emphasis on ‘learning by doing’.

According to Cardiff University, which interviewed and surveyed practitioners and teachers in nurseries and schools in Wales, staff in funded, non-maintained settings were found to be observing children less frequently than staff in schools.

Most commonly, the older the year group, the less often Foundation Phase pedagogies, such as child choice, physical activity, outdoor learning and continuous provision, were seen.

The authors of the report claim that some teachers appeared to be ‘afraid’ to let go of traditional formal pedagogies.

The only area of Foundation Phase pedagogy to increase across the year groups was reflection.

Researchers found that the variation in practice was partly due to staff attitudes towards the Foundation Phase and adult:child ratios.

While most practitioners felt that the learning through play curriculum had a positive impact on children, others believed it could make children overly-dependent on high adult: child ratios and leave them unprepared for exams as they got older.

In general, head teachers were often more sceptical than nursery and reception teachers about the positive impact of the Foundation Phase on children.

The research has been welcomed by the Welsh education and skills minister Huw Lewis.

Mr Lewis said, 'These reports published today are good news for young people in Wales.
 
'The message that we’re getting from these reports is that those delivering the Foundation Phase feel that our popular early years initiative is making a real difference.
 
'But there are lessons to be learned. The reports do tell us that we need to do more to ensure a consistent experience for all learners across Wales. At present there is too much variation for learners from class to class and from school to school. This must stop.  Consistency is key if we’re to deliver the same positive outcomes for our learners.'

In addition to the reports from Cardiff University, Professor Iram Siraj will publish a 'short-term stocktake' on the implementation of the Foundation Phase, with recommendations on how to strengthen the delivery of the curriculum, towards the end of the month.