Funding apart, the FP is great

2nd May 2008 at 01:00
Wow, what a week for the learning through play strategy
Wow, what a week for the learning through play strategy. With the pressure on, it seems the Assembly government has finally admitted they got their sums wrong.

Contained in a statement that is a triumph for teaching unions, Jane Hutt, Wales's education minister, looks set to offer more funding. It is a remarkable climb-down. It is also a great lift for teachers who, despite loving the foundation phase, firmly believed it would crash and burn without more money in the bank.

But are teachers becoming too hung up on numbers? That is this week's conundrum, as foundation phase expert Iram Siraj-Blatchford steps into the furore of the 1:8 ratio. The academic, who has led an evaluation of pilot FP schools in Wales, believes that not having a 1:8 adult-to-child ratio, or even 1:10, will not make this strategy fall apart. She says it is more important that schools have suitably qualified staff. She believes this is the best resource a school can have.

So, where to go from here? Heads and teachers with considerable experience say they can't physically deliver the play-led strategy to under-fives without the all- important 1:8. Many teaching staff believe not making up the right numbers will have a serious effect on children's education.

Are teachers suffering a confidence crisis? Are they as well-trained as they should be for the FP, or has their continuing professional development been hindered by a lack of funding? What must be remembered as this debate becomes more heated is that this is a good initiative, despite all the anxiety it is causing. This way of learning, so long the norm in Welsh nursery schools, had a fairytale beginning. But TES Cymru makes no apology for reporting the very real fears of staff on the frontline of delivery.

It is now time to look forward. The teaching profession has had plenty of experience of making the best of a bad lot. It is right to make an issue of a lack of funding, but it is also right to be positive for the sake of children's futures.

If there are not enough staff - and there probably won't be - teachers will do their best, drawing on their own resourcefulness. In the meantime, officials need to consider how the popularity of this scheme has led to such an outcry. So many professionals cannot be wrong, and this week they might just have been listened to.

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