Reception teachers have been at the sharp end of the switch to the early-years foundation stage (EYFS), a new report has found.
The review of the first year of the new curriculum for under-fives has concluded that reception teachers face conflicting advice from training sessions, mounting paperwork and pressure to teach the 3Rs.
The pressure on reception comes from it being both the final year of the foundation stage - which means teachers must complete a statutory end-of-stage profile assessing children's achievements - and the first year a child is in school, with expectations to prepare children for the more formal teaching ahead.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) has reviewed the first year of the controversial curriculum in advance of an official review by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which is due this year. It surveyed more than 1,200 practitioners including teachers and child minders.
It found support for key aspects of the EYFS, such as using children's interests as a basis for balancing child-initiated and adult-initiated activities and outdoor learning.
However, while reception teachers say they are confident about delivering the new curriculum - which was introduced in September 2008 - they have to deal with a lack of understanding among other teachers, headteachers, Ofsted inspectors and advisers.
There is also particular pressure around literacy and maths - two of the 69 early learning goals. The QCDA report found that more than one in four respondents do not support the content and level of demand of the communication, language and literacy goals.
Problem solving, reasoning and numeracy is the area causing most concern. There is a lack of confidence about how to deliver it through child-initiated activities.
Margaret Edgington, an independent early-years adviser, said that the pressure came from the targets local authorities set for how well children will do at age five.
She said: "Local authorities have to identify schools where scores aren't high enough, then SIPs (school improvement partners) come in and ask them to work in ways that they know are not right for the children.
"It is emotional and really painful when you know children and people who don't know them come in and put pressure on you."
EYFS at a glance: the QCDA findings
EYFS became a statutory entitlement for all children from birth to five in September 2008. The QCDA report found that:
- It is being effectively implemented and there is a strong commitment to its aims and principles.
- Reception teachers perceive additional pressures from the demands of literacy and mathematics in key stages 1 and 2.
- The requirements of Ofsted inspection, in particular, are seen as sometimes detrimental to provision.
- Local authority training has been well received by many practitioners, but sometimes appears to deliver inconsistent messages.