Look westward to find childhood is alive and well

4th April 2003 at 01:00
In an initiative little noticed east of the Severn, Wales has decided to re-instate childhood. Its minister for education and lifelong learning, Jane Davidson, wants the early years to last until seven rather than five, and is proposing a foundation stage which incorporates what is now key stage 1.

She calls it "one of the most important and exciting developments that we have initiated for Wales under the Learning Country banner", and it is hard to disagree. While English five and six-year-olds will be sitting on the carpet focused on the whiteboard for a literacy hour lesson, their Welsh counterparts will be playing outdoors, developing curiosity, a keenness to learn and creativity.

Building relationships and personal efficacy will be more important than formal learning, which Welsh education bodies believe is beginning too early. The consultation document says that when it comes to literacy development, children should have opportunities to progress in reading and writing, but "the main focus in the phase should be on developing children's speaking and listening skills, as these will form a sound basis for future success in reading and writing".

The plan in Wales, where KS1 tests have already been dropped, is for the new three to seven foundation stage to be phased in between 2004 and 2008.

Proposals are out for consultation until May. Their most radical idea is for the early-years "areas of experience", which form the basis for the three to five curriculum, to be extended through the infant years. These will replace the secondary-style traditional subjects. At the core will be personal and social development and well-being, surrounded by six other areas - language, literacy and communication skills; mathematical development; knowledge and understanding of the world; physical development; creative development, and bilingual and multi-cultural understanding.

A few schools in Britain are already intending to try this out, believing it will provide a framework more suited to the way young children learn, and Wales is planning a proper pilot.

Could English policy-makers dare to think about such an approach to the KS1 curriculum? It is bound to have been looked at in official circles, but it will be surprising if such thinking is manifest in the National Primary Strategy when it is launched next month.

Do you know of a school which is already using the areas of experience in the infants or juniors? Please let me know at primary@tes.co.uk

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