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Primary returns to playtime

Six-year-olds are not yet ready for the formal learning ministers advocate, a Dudley head believes. Helen Ward reports.

A Dudley primary school is to introduce more play-based lessons despite pressure for more formal lessons as the Government tries to reach new targets.

Many primaries complain that the drive for ever-higher English and maths scores means that the focus on reading and writing in Year 1 is creeping down into reception classes.

But Gail Bedford, head of Mount Pleasant primary, is preparing to do the opposite, by modelling Year 1 classes on reception.

The foundation stage curriculum, which sets out six areas of learning for three to five-year-olds, uses play to help children progress towards a series of goals from being able to write their name to dressing independently.

Mrs Bedford said: "Children are finding the change between the foundation stage and the national curriculum stage a real challenge."

Her plans will please early-years experts who have warned that British primary children lag behind those in other western countries because formal learning is introduced too soon.

And her idea has attracted interest from the Government's innovation unit, which is due to visit the school.

The Mount Pleasant project arose after Mrs Bedford questioned parents and five-year-olds about the move to Year 1.

Parents commented that Year 1 was when the "hard work" began. But children noticed the lack of familiar favourite play areas, such as a sandpit.

Mrs Bedford said: "The national curriculum content has to be married in with a foundation stage style of teaching in order for child to continue learning. If children are so challenged by the change in styles that they take time to recover, they are not making progress.

"It is a fundamental review of what environment we provide for Year 1 children, how we deliver the national curriculum appropriately and how teachers and support staff work."

The school is researching how to smooth transition between all year groups.

Already teachers throughout the school take their old class for one morning a week during the autumn half-term.

Mrs Bedford, who originally trained as an infant teacher, said: "If it works with Year 1, why not Year 2, if it works with Year 2, why not key stage 2?

"Where we should be making a difference is with children aged six , not Year 6. If we get it right when they are very young then the rest of their learning is built on sound foundations."

The school's commitment to good early beginnings extends to babies, with a centre for children who are under 18 months old. Mrs Bedford said: "The children's centre is without doubt raising standards."

Letters, 28

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