Editorial - Where to once the fun factory phase ends?

17th April 2009 at 01:00
Now is the time to review the void between foundation curriculum and 14-19 pathways

It is right that the curriculum for eight to 14-year-olds is to be reviewed, but the Assembly government can hardly expect teachers to welcome it with open arms (page 1). If officials had ordered an inquiry into the "bit in the middle" in 2007 when Sir Adrian Webb recommended it, they might have had more support. Now weary after five years of aggressive government policy-making, teachers simply want to make good on the revolution in the classroom during a period of stability. And who can blame them for wanting to get off the rollercoaster ride that has been educational policy since 2004? It has turned too many stomachs.

Another reason for teachers' reluctance is that they know this review can only lead to one thing: yet another curriculum overhaul. They cannot fail to recognise the black hole that exists between the foundation phase curriculum for under-sevens and the vocationally led learning pathways for 14-19s. It is one big accident waiting to happen.

Teachers are right to be worried. They can see the scenario: a bright but boisterous boy with a short attention span enters Year 3 inspired and raring to go after three years in the fun factory that is the foundation phase. But instead of continuing to be stimulated, he becomes uninterested and disruptive under a formal learning regime that is more alien to him than his Ben 10 cartoon hero and a lot less exciting than his Nintendo DS.

In just two years and one term, this year's cohort of reception pupils will become fully fledged juniors. Meanwhile, key stage 2 teachers are having sleepless nights worrying whether their training and the curriculum will be enough for this new breed of play-led pupils. Common sense says it won't, and years of fantastic early-years teaching - and the millions of pounds spent - could be wasted as pupils emerge from play corners to sit at rows of neatly arranged desks. This is a make-or-break age for a child's education and cannot be ignored any longer.

Above all, we need answers to the phenomenon that sees Wales's children outperform the English at KS2 yet fall behind at KS3. Before they make that bold step to secondary school, our pupils' reading and writing skills are polished and honed at KS2, but by KS3 they either sink or swim as hormones kick in and behavioural problems intensify. Those who are most disenchanted with school drop out before GCSE. We need to find out why. Experts say this downward spiral must be addressed before children turn 14, when it is too late.

As Elaine Edwards, general secretary of the Welsh-medium teachers' union UCAC, said this week: "Nobody knows how children brought up on the foundation phase will respond to a more formal style of education at age eight. Teachers want to know what the future's going to hold." She talks a lot of sense.

Hopefully, this review will shed light on where we are and where we need to be. It has to happen, whether teachers like it or not, because there is no going back - education policy in Wales has come too far and there can be no half-finished jobs.

Nicola Porter, Editor, TES Cymru E nicola.porter@tes.co.uk.

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