Look to us for play-led schemes

19th December 2008 at 00:00
English curriculum reviewers seek inspiration from Germany and New Zealand when they could have learnt from Wales

Plans to overhaul the traditional primary curriculum in England bear striking parallels to Wales's conversion to the play-led foundation phase. But reviewers over the border did not look, or even consider, the Welsh pilot of the scheme to guide their recommendations, TES Cymru can reveal.

Instead, reviewers investigated other play-led schemes abroad, including Germany and New Zealand - countries that informed Welsh policy-making several years back.

The Primary Curriculum Review in England, headed by Sir Jim Rose, the former Ofsted inspection director, said that the English curriculum should be rearranged around six key learning areas for all pupils up to secondary school, instead of using traditional subject areas.

Professor Iram Siraj-Blatchford, who helped develop Wales's foundation phase and gave evidence to the Rose review as president of the British Association for Early Childhood Education, said English reviewers looked abroad for inspiration, but could have learnt from Wales as the "nearest and most similar neighbour".

Professor Siraj-Blatchford said: "It could be that the sources in England and Wales are coming to similar conclusions - we are influenced by the countries where we feel there is strong evidence of good impact on children."

Less prescriptive, the proposed curriculum will make play a big part of the plans in early years.

Later, it is hoped it will ease transition for pupils from junior to secondary schools; something the Welsh curriculum has already been successful in achieving. Since 2006, every school in Wales must have a transition plan by law.

The English plans have generally been welcomed by teachers, although some traditionalists believe it could be the end of the teaching of history and geography on the primary curriculum.

In Wales, all three to seven-year-olds under the foundation phase will eventually be taught across seven similar areas to those proposed in England. Evidence suggests that learning through play is the best way to tackle underachievement and poor literacy - particularly among boys.

Meanwhile, there is growing impetus in England for sitting exams at seven to be rethought. Experts believe exam preparation takes up too much teaching time.

Key stage 3 Sats were abolished in England this summer following a marking fiasco, but national testing for all pupils in Wales ended in 2005.

The foundation phase is to be rolled out to all reception pupils in Wales next September after a one-year delay. It follows an extensive four-year pilot where it was widely welcomed by participating teachers, but was criticised for lack of funding.

According to the primary reviewers in England, there is a broad international consensus on the areas and skills essential for a well- rounded education.

An Assembly government spokesperson said the prominence of personal and social development in the English and Welsh models were the most obvious parallels.

The English curriculum review is now under consultation and Prof Siraj- Blatchford said comments from Wales were welcome. "It is important that we learn from Europe and similar countries, to which Wales is of course one of the closest and the most similar," she said.

FOUNDATION PHASE'S SEVEN LEARNING AREAS

Creative development

Knowledge and understanding of the world

Mathematical development

Language, literacy and communication skills

Physical development

Personal and social development, well-being and cultural diversity

Welsh language development

Rose review's six areas of learning for England's primaries

Understanding the arts and design

Human, social and environmental understanding

Scientific and technological understanding

Mathematical understanding

Understanding English, communication and languages

Understanding physical health and well-being.

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