“The National Curriculum lies at the heart of our policies to raise standards. It sets out a clear, full and statutory entitlement to learning for all pupils. It determines the content of what will be taught, and sets attainment targets for learning. It also determines how performance will be assessed and reported. ” (The National Curriculum, 1999, p. . ) This essay will examine both the National Curriculum and Foundation Stage Curriculum guidance and how they outline good practice. It will explore the needs of children of different ages and how the curriculum is set out to encourage their learning. It will look at the role of the adult in the early year’s curriculum and how they plan and implement the curriculum. This essay will also explore into relevant research such as EPPE and its findings on early years provision.
The studies of theorists such as Piaget, Froebel and Montessori will be looked at in relation to good practice and their influences on current beliefs relating to the way children learn. This essay will also explore government strategies and how they have influenced the way children are educated. Overall this essay will examine the National Curriculum and the Foundation Stage Curriculum and how they are designed to encourage good practice. In 2000 the government formally introduced the Foundation Stage Curriculum as a distinct phase of education for children aged 3 to 5 years.
This was to follow up the introduction of The Early Learning Goals in October 1999 and was to give practitioners guidance on how to help children make good progress and to help the practitioners understand what the goals mean. The guidance was formed through the QCA working with early year’s practitioners and experts. “The purpose of the guidance is to help practitioners provide learning and teaching experiences of the highest quality throughout the foundation stage, while allowing them to respond flexibly to the particular needs of the children, families and community with whom they work. (Foundation Stage Guidance, 2000, p. 3)
The Foundation Stage guidance sets out in detail what can be reasonably expected of children at different stages in their development, it also gives examples of activities that will help the children to learn. The guidance also discusses the role of practitioners and introduces the good practice that helps towards effective education. The guidance is set out in an easy to use structure and is organised into six main areas of learning.
It also sets out ‘stepping stones’ to help practitioners know how to help children achieve the main early learning goals step by step. The Foundation Stage guidance clearly sets out principles for early years education; these principles have been drawn from good and effective practice in early years settings. The principles clearly set out how settings and practitioners can carry out good practice and effective education. The principles for good practice as set out in the Foundation Stage curriculum is as follows • Parents and practitioners should work together •
No child should be excluded or disadvantaged Early years experience should build on what children already know and can do • Practitioners should ensure that all children feel included, secure and valued • Effective education requires both a relevant curriculum and practitioners who understand and are able to implement the curriculum requirements • There should be opportunities for children to engage in activities planned by adults and also those that they plan or initiate themselves • Practitioners must be able to observe and respond appropriately to children •
Effective education requires practitioners who understand that children develop rapidly during the early years • To be effective, an early years curriculum should be carefully structured • Well-planned, purposeful activity and appropriate intervention by practitioners will engage children in the learning process • For children to have rich and stimulating experiences, the learning environment should be well planned and well organised” (Foundation Stage Guidance, 2000, p. 11,12)
These guidelines clearly show what is expected from practitioners to provide an effective learning environment and when put in practice with the curriculum guidance the setting should be very successful in helping the children learn effectively. The Foundation Stage Guidance also promotes play as a key way in which young children learn, this was also the theory of Friedrich Froebel. Froebel believed that children are able to develop their unique capacity for learning “unfolding” through play. He also thought that play should be structured and should be guided by adults and taught, matched to the child’s readiness to learn. He also believed it was important for the early childhood teachers to be trained, and developed the idea of ‘kindergarten’ as a means of educating children.
It would seem that Froebels approaches have had some influence on current practice as the Foundation Stage promotes play and structured learning and also requires the practitioners to be trained. “Through his observations of children, Froebel learned how important it was for children to have real experiences which involved them in being physically active. Froebel’s ideas are now very much part of everyday thinking about the integration of early years services. ” (Bruce T and Meggitt C, 2006, p. 246) Another theorist who has influenced current beliefs on the way children learn is Jean Piaget. He believed that children do not think in the same way as adults and they gather and process information in ways only young children can.
The main theory he had was that children’s cognitive development occurred in stages. Piaget also proposed that children construct their own knowledge through their experiences of the world and that they learn by doing this rather than being told or given information. The results of Piaget’s experiments found that young children develop basic concepts through play, as it is a meaningful way for children to interact with the environment surrounding them. He also found that certain experiences are necessary for children to develop, adapt and refine concepts for example a stimulating environment and repetition, he also found that children need hands on experiences with a wide range of different materials and activities.
The Foundation Stage Curriculum has a lot of these points incorporated within its structure as it promotes play and activities linked to helping them achieve their early learning goals. The Foundation Stage also encourages early years settings to provide a stimulating environment and a wide range of materials and resources, as well as planning to include hands on experiences for the children but it depends on the setting as to how well this is put into practice. “An understanding of Piaget’s work has implications for good practice with young children. Clearly, experiential learning, or play, is the best practice in order to meet young children’s needs. In addition to this, certain experiences are particularly significant at different stages of development. ” (Neaum S and Tallack J, 1997, p. 24)
Maria Montessori was also another theorist who believed in the importance of a child’s learning environment and play. She believed that children needed the opportunity to be able to decide for themselves and follow their own choices. She also believed that children learn through their own spontaneous activities. Her ideas came from observations she carried out that children have a natural inquisitiveness and an eagerness to learn; from this she argued that children reached a sensitive learning time where the children become more readily to learn new concepts and skills. She therefore believed that the opportunity to develop these concepts and skills should not be missed and that a planned environment was necessary, she believed play is a child’s work.
A Montessori classroom is always based on a child’s scale with small chairs and tables, low cupboards so that children can select their own materials, low blackboards so that the children can use them and rugs for the children to sit on. The classrooms are always bright with lots of pictures on the walls and flowers. The Foundation Stage Guidance also encourages settings to promote an effective learning environment and most settings are designed in the same way as a Montessori classroom but as stated before it depends on each individual setting as to how they are run. “These principles require practitioners to plan a learning environment indoors and outdoors, that encourages a positive attitude to learning through rich and stimulating experiences and by ensuring each child feels included. ” (Foundation Stage Guidance, 2000, p. 14)
The National Curriculum was introduced into schools following the Education Reform Act in 1988; its purpose was to ensure that pupils covered certain basic material. Over the following years the National Curriculum has grown to fill the entire teaching time of most state schools. The main aim of the curriculum when it was introduced was to provide opportunities for pupils to learn and to achieve, and to also promote pupils spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and to prepare pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life. The National Curriculum has developed overtime and now is more focused on effective learning and making sure the children are given the chance to achieve.
The focus of this National Curriculum, together with the wider school curriculum, is therefore to ensure that pupils develop from an early age the essential literacy and numeracy skills they need to learn; to provide them with a guaranteed, full and rounded entitlement to learning; to foster their creativity; and to give teachers discretion to find the best ways to inspire in their pupils a joy and commitment to learning that will last a lifetime. ” (The National Curriculum, 1999, p. 3) The National Curriculum sets out much more structured learning for children and includes attainment targets. It is also designed to build on top of the early learning goals so children who achieve beyond the goals can be described using the level descriptions of the National Curriculum. The National Curriculum also sets out general teaching requirements, which illustrates to teachers what is expected as good practice.
Its main point is providing effective learning opportunities for all pupils, the three principles of this is setting suitable learning challenges, responding to pupils’ diverse learning needs and overcoming potential barriers to learning and assessment for individuals and groups of pupils. Although it is not stated as much in the National Curriculum a school that is carrying out good practice is also expected to provide a good learning environment and this is reflected in the OFSTED inspections. OFSTED carry out regular inspections to check that educational settings are up to national standards and aim to ensure that all children are safe and well cared for and that they are being provided with a suitable education.
Schools that have good OFSTED reports are often used as examples for other schools to give them guidance in becoming better. The Primary National Strategy gives examples of what it see as effective teaching and gives examples of activities schools have carried out that show all key aspects of what a school should provide. There is constant research done into early years settings and its effectiveness on the child’s learning, EPPE research is a study to identify the characteristics of effective practice in settings with good outcomes for children. It is the first major research project in the UK to focus specifically on the effectiveness of early years education.
Its studies have been able to identify parts of early years provision that have a positive impact on children’s performance. “The EPPE research shows that good quality pre-school experiences support children’s social and educational development. Our investment in free part-time early years learning for three and four year olds, the Foundation Stage and The Birth to Three Matters support pack along with Ofsted’s work to make services safe and effective is essential to ensure all children get a sure start in life. ” (Press release – Thursday 26th March 2003) A recent report called ‘firm foundations’ which covered a two-year period of inspections also highlights common themes of practice that stand out.
During this report the Ofsted inspectors made judgements against each of the 14 national standards and would give each setting observed a judgement on the quality of childcare by doing this they were able to obtain a clear view of the standards of childcare and nursery education in the UK. This report is helpful to practitioners as it shows them how they can carry out Ofsted standards of childcare. To conclude this essay, it seems that both the National Curriculum and the Foundation Stage Curriculum set out clear expectations of good practice and gives clear guidance as to how practitioners can achieve these expectations. It is apparent that both of the Curriculums tie together and work well in helping practitioners plan effectively and carry out effective practice. It also seems that along with current research projects there is plenty of advice and guidance for practitioners to help them carry out good practice.
The government strategies put in place like ‘firm foundations’ and ‘Ofsted inspections’ help the government to understand how settings are implementing good practice and gives them knowledge as to how they can expand on their current guidance to help practitioners. Also from looking at the work of theorists like Piaget, Froebel and Montessori it is apparent that the curriculum has taken into account their studies of how children learn and implemented them in the guidance.