Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Note from QCA on early years work since June 2000

QCA gave oral evidence to the Select Committee on Education and Employment on 14 June 2000. The session explored a number of aspects of early years provision. The notes that follow summarise work that has taken place since June 2000 that is relevant to the issues raised by the Select Committee.

Literacy and Numeracy strategies

  Committee members reported practitioners' concerns about what they saw as unhelpful impact of the literacy and numeracy strategies in determining practice in reception classes.

  The DfES delivered a series of six national conferences on "Effective Reception class Practice" in March 2002. The Directors of the Literacy and Numeracy strategies gave presentations followed by question and answer sessions. Barnsley and Kingston upon Hull exemplified LEA support for reception class practice. Speakers emphasised the central importance of joint working between early years advisers and literacy and numeracy consultants at local authority level.

  Professor Carol Aubrey presented research evidence from her telephone survey of primary school head teachers and reception class teachers. Conferences held in autumn 2000 had identified a range of challenges in implementing the foundation stage curriculum, one of which was the perceived tension between pedagogical approaches of the foundation stage and the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies. Professor Aubrey's survey, however, found that "alongside direct teaching, opportunities are being found for spontaneous and self-initiated activity. Key skills of enthusiasm for learning, motivation, working with others and active independence are valued, as well as literacy and numeracy."

Foundation stage training programme

  The Committee raised some concerns about the provision of trained professional in early years education. A foundational stage training programme was just beginning at that time. The programme was funded by the then DfEE and was delivered by the Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership (EYDCP) between June 2000 and March 2001. The programme was designed to be delivered in one day to representatives from all EYDCP member settings and then to be cascaded to all staff.

  The content of the training was designed to support practitioners in understanding the principles underpinning the guidance, the nature of early years curriculum provision and the uses of planning.

  The programme was evaluated as follows:

    —  training helped to raise confidence and provide legitimate reasons for evaluating practice;

    —  training provided a common language throughout a diverse sector;

    —  training established a new culture of awareness of the need for training;

    —  future training should use resources which were flexible and adaptable to local needs in the sector;

    —  future training should build upon and extend the scope of training offered within EYDCP member settings;

    —  future training should address a broader constituency including parents, governors, head teachers and LEA advisers.


  Related to the issues about training are those concerning the provision of appropriate qualifications for early years professionals.

  QCA published an update of the 1999 framework of nationally accredited qualifications in childcare and play work in June 2001. This document links job roles, vocationally related qualifications and occupational qualifications. The document sets out the Government's intention to move towards closer integration of early years and childcare qualifications.

Evaluating the curriculum guidance for the foundation stage

  When the Select Committee questioned QCA, the early years guidance had only recently been published. As with other areas of the organisation's work, QCA was keen to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of its advice to practitioners.

  QCA commissioned New Directions Consulting in January 2001 to carry out an evaluation of the guidance using a questionnaire survey. Overall, respondents found the curriculum guidance helpful and commented positively on its accessibility, presentation and conciseness. Suggestions were made to improve presentation to assist practitioners in finding relevant sections. The survey found that the guidance was used for several purposes, including: training and development; planning the curriculum; assessing children's progress; and developing policies and procedures.

Monitoring the foundation stage curriculum

  Further to the specific evaluation of the guidance, as part of its monitoring programme, QCA commissioned MORI to conduct a questionnaire survey and provide a summary report for internal use covering three broad areas; partnership with parents, curriculum and equal opportunities. The findings were positive, 90 per cent practitioners find the curriculum guidance useful in implementing the foundation stage. Differences emerged in prioritising the areas of learning, with the maintained sector broadly prioritising the personal, social and emotional development, mathematical development, and communication language and literacy, areas of learning. The non-maintained sector tended to prioritise the other areas of learning: knowlegde and understanding of the world, physical development, and creative development.

  The report highlighted the range of assessment methods adopted in both sectors, and gave useful data on LEA and EYDCP requirements. The report suggested that the majority of settings involved parents in their children's learning, and highlighted a range of methods adopted. The report suggested that a majority of settings had equal opportunites policies in place, and had checks in place to ensure policy implementation.

Planning for learning

  Additional guidance on planning was published by QCA in October 2001. This was intended for all sectors and was designed for insertion in the guidance folder. The planning guidance used case studies to emphasise the breadth of provision within the foundation stage and included nursery school, a private day nursery, a community centre based pre-school, an accredited child-minder and a first school.

Outdoor play and learning

  Outdoor play has been a theme threaded through the early years guidance documentation. This is an area that QCA will explore in depth in its monitoring programme during 2002-03.

Future work

  Additional guidance is planned to support teachers in mixed age classes. The guidance will explore practical ways to integrate the foundation stage and key stage 1 curricula illustrated by case study examples.

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

May 2002

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