Primary years about to become less testing

30th March 2012 at 01:00
The 'Nappy Curriculum' cuts early years goals from 69 to 17

Reception and nursery teachers have just five months to prepare for a revised and severely pared-back curriculum.

Published this week, the new early years foundation stage (EYFS), dubbed by some the "Nappy Curriculum", aims to be clearer and simpler - it has been cut in half to 30 pages.

The document will introduce a new assessment for two-year-olds and a revised assessment for five-year-olds, and is due to come into force at the start of the next academic year.

It also aims to cut bureaucracy for professionals. "Paperwork should be limited to that which is absolutely necessary to promote children's successful learning and development," it says.

One major complaint about the current EYFS has concerned the assessment of children at the end of reception, known as the early years foundation stage profile.

The current profile has 13 nine-point scales - 117 tick boxes to assess children against - and some teachers said they were expected to collect large amounts of evidence to support their observations of what children could or couldn't do.

From next year, teachers will simply be asked to rate whether pupils are working below, at or above 17 "early learning goals", replacing the 69 goals that children are currently expected to reach by the end of reception.

But there are already concerns that the urge to slim down may have gone too far. "The nature of statutory frameworks is that we never know how good they are until they are tested," said Megan Pacey, chief executive of Early Education, a national body for early years practitioners. "Whether it will achieve its objective of reducing paperwork remains to be seen."

Kathy Brodie, a Cheshire-based early years trainer, agreed. "There was a lot of wordiness in the original framework but my concern is whether a lot of essential information may have been thrown out with the bathwater.

"Leaving things open to interpretation may not necessarily be in favour of the children. It is nice to see that it is now explicitly stated that there is not supposed to be excessive paperwork; it may give people a bit of a lever if it is demanded of them."

The early years foundation stage became statutory for all settings working with under-fives in 2008. But concerns about excessive paperwork for teachers and mixed views on whether children were spending too much time in formal learning, or too much time playing, led the government to ask for a review.

This was carried out by Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of the charity Action for Children, who suggested reducing the early learning goals to 17 and basing the profile on them.

She addressed concerns about two of the goals that were thought to be pitched too high - using phonic knowledge to write simple words and using punctuation in simple sentences - making it clear that these were exceeding the goals.

She had recommended that five-year-olds should be expected to be able to write simple stories, but that has now been dropped, after a consultation.

The consultation also led to a higher expectations in maths than is currently the case: instead of being able to count to 10, children will now be expected to count to 20, add and subtract two single-digit numbers and be able to solve problems including doubling, halving and sharing. A second consultation revealed that 38 per cent of respondents were unhappy with the maths goal but the government has said that no more changes will be made.

Children's minister Sarah Teather said: "What really matters is making sure a child is able to start school ready to learn, able to make friends and play, ready to ask for what they need and to say what they think. These are critical foundations for really getting the best out of school."

WHERE TO AIM

There will be 17 early learning goals under the following headings:

Communication and language:

listening and attention;

understanding;

speaking.

Physical development:

moving and handling;

health and self-care.

Personal, social and emotional development:

self-confidence and self-awareness;

managing feelings and behaviour;

making relationships.

Literacy:

reading;

writing.

Mathematics:

numbers;

shape, space and measure.

Understanding the world:

people and communities;

the world;

technology.

Expressive arts and design:

exploring and using media and materials;

being imaginative.

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