Play-based Foundation Phase improving outcomes

The play-based Foundation Phase for three- to seven-year-olds in Wales is improving children's educational achievement, well-being and involvement, according to a three-year evaluation.

The research team from a number of different universities and the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research also found that the improvements have the potential to lead to even greater educational success as the children grow up.

They urged the Welsh Government to continue to develop and enhance the Foundation Phase and said settings should do more to implement pedagogies and curricula.

The evaluation found widespread support for the Foundation Phase, but also 'a tension and possible contradiction' with the recent introduction of the Literacy and Numeracy Framework and national assessments for Year 2 pupils in particular.

About 20 per cent of head teachers believed that literacy and numeracy levels were worse following the introduction of the Foundation Phase, and some teachers said that these had declined because of too much emphasis on child choice at the expense of basic skills.

There was also a split of opinion about the effect on socioeconomically disadvantaged children, with some saying that experiential learning was beneficial and others that lack of structure hindered basic skills.

Nearly all head teachers and lead practitioners said that they had made changes to their indoor and outdoor environments.

Key findings

  • Children who attended schools with greater use of Foundation Phase pedagogies were more likely to achieve the Foundation Phase Indicator (FPI).
  • Schools with greater use of Foundation Phase pedagogies had greater levels of pupil involvement and well-being.
  • Pupils were more likely to achieve Level 4 or above in Key Stage 2 English.
  • Pupils eligible for free school meals showed improved attainment, but there was no evidence to suggest it has had an impact on reducing inequalities in attainment at the end of Key Stage 2.
  • Overall school attendance improved.
  • The majority of practitioners believe the Foundation Phase has led to improvements in literacy and numeracy.


The report recommends disseminating the evaluation findings; giving guidance on the importance of developmentally appropriate practice; and giving parents and carers more information about the role of statutory literacy and numeracy assessments in Year 2 alongside the emphasis on more first-hand, enjoyable experiences.

Practitioners, too, need advice on implementing the Literacy and Numeracy Framework within the Foundation Phase, and on using pedagogies in Year 1 and 2.


  • Foundation Phase training modules should be revised.
  • Materials need more emphasis on observation and assessment; effective use of outdoors; delivery of enhanced provision; and the roles of teachers and additional practitioners.
  • Specific training should be provided for Key Stage 2 teachers to help with continuity.


  • Funding is needed to improve environments, especially for outdoor access and 'learning zones'.
  • Settings should be supported to redesign spaces.
  • Practitioners should be encouraged to use a variety of 'learning zones' more often.
  • Advice is needed on how to embed traditional subjects such as science and geography within Areas of Learning.
  • There should continue to be support for higher ratios.
  • Guidance is needed on the most effective method of Welsh language immersion.

Claire Protheroe, direct services manager for PACEY Cymru said, 'These findings support PACEY's view that play and active learning is one of the most important factors in developing the skills children need. The ethos and philosophy of the Foundation Phase has been well received in Wales and it is something we should be proud of. It is clear there is work that can be done to further develop the Foundation Phase.'

National Day Nurseries Association chief executive Purnima Tanuku said, 'It is encouraging to see recognition of good practice within the funded non-maintained sector for increased use of the outdoors and the involvement of children in the planning process.'

What is the Foundation Phase?

The Foundation Phase is the statutory curriculum for all three to seven-year-olds in Wales, in both maintained and funded non-maintained settings. It was designed to provide a developmental, experiential, play-based approach to teaching and learning, drawing on evidence from good early years programmes in Scandinavia, Reggio Emilia and New Zealand (Te Whariki) that indicate the adoption of an overly formal curriculum and extensive formal teaching before the age of six or seven can result in lower standards of attainment in the longer term.

The approach emphasises the centrality of the child and the significance of children's well-being and advocates a balance of child-initiated and practitioner-directed (or practitioner-initiated) activities within stimulating indoor and outdoor environments.

The Foundation Phase includes seven Areas of Learning:

Personal and Social Development, Well-Being and Cultural Diversity (PSDWCD)

Language, Literacy and Communication Skills (LLC)

Mathematical Development (MD)

Welsh Language Development (WLD) (in English-medium schools and settings)

Knowledge and Understanding of the World (KUW)

Physical Development (PD)

Creative Development (CD).

The evaluation identified 12 pedagogical elements to the Foundation Phase, including child choice, exploration, first-hand, practical, stage not age, open questioning and physical activity.

Adult:child ratios are 1:8 for threeto five-year-olds and 1:15 for fiveto seven-year-olds.

The Foundation Phase was implemented in three stages: the Pilot stage of 22 schools and 22 funded non-maintained settings in 2004/05; the Early Start stage of a further 22 schools and 22 funded non-maintained settings in 2006/07; and all remaining schools and funded non-maintained settings during the Final Roll-Out stage in 2009/10.

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