The Conversation: Extending the foundation stage
Jacqui Green, head of Notley Green Primary School in Braintree, Essex, tells Gerald Haigh, a former headteacher, how she is spreading the early-years curriculum approach to six- and seven-year-olds.
Q: In its last report on your school, Ofsted mentioned "an extremely well planned revised curriculum". What was it that drew the inspectors' attention?
A: We've taken the six areas of learning that make up the curriculum for pupils aged three to five the foundation stage and extended them through to key stage 2, replacing the conventional national curriculum subject divisions.
Q: I think there's a bit of a trend here. I've encountered a number of schools where there's interest in taking the foundation stage approach at least into key stage 1.
A: That's right. My last headship was of an infant and nursery school. It just seemed right to extend the good practice from our nursery into Years 1 and 2. Children were familiar with the six areas of learning and it didn't seem logical for us suddenly to begin talking in terms of national curriculum subjects when they went into Year 1.
Q: Then, in January 2006, you came here, ready to do the same but this is an all-through primary school that includes KS2?
A: I first intended to extend only into KS1. The KS1 staff had seen it on visits to my previous school, and didn't need much convincing. The KS2 staff were more wary.
Q: What convinced them to take the plunge?
A: It was talking about the problems the children were having with motivation and making links across subjects. They began to see that the "areas of learning" approach could address all that. There was an actual "Eureka moment" when the upper school phase leader said that maybe the logical step was to take it forward into KS2. Everyone sat for a moment, looking at each other. Then they said: "We'll give it a go."
Q: Easy to say, but lots of planning?
A: Oh, yes. We had to go right back to the national curriculum and to what we thought important as teachers and put it all together under six headings instead of 10 or 11. There was a lot of paperwork before we were sure we had full national curriculum coverage.
Q: So you teach not in subjects but in, what, themes?
A: That's right. We began by choosing a history-focused theme in the first term, a creative-focus one in the second and a science focus in the third.
Q: What's been the most successful one so far?
A: In Year 2 last year, we did "Shrek and other monsters". It went so well that next spring we're going to do a film-based theme for the whole school. The Year 10 pupils in the local comprehensive are joining in because they do film-making as part of their work. And they have a full multi-media suite that we'll be able to use.
Q: Is it all going to work in terms of improved learning?
A: You have to wait and see what happens. But we know the children are more motivated and excited about their learning. They can more easily see links between the different things they learn. And so much of the project work is based on questions that the children pose, and which are incorporated into the planning.
Q: Is it something you'd recommend to other primary heads?
A: Every school has to find its own way. But it is easier now to be innovative with the curriculum, so don't be afraid to try things. You've seen Ofsted's reaction to what we're doing. For me, successful innovation targeted on school improvement is a key factor in leadership.
The six areas of learning in the foundation stage are: personal, social and emotional development; communication, language and literacy; mathematical development; knowledge and understanding of the world; physical development; and creative development