A Study on the Revaluation of a Curriculum

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The National Curriculum was implemented several years before an early years curriculum was established via the Desirable Learning Outcomes (DLOs), (Macleod-Brudenell, 2004). The DLOs was not benefiting all children in the early years as it was mainly content, goal-centred and adult-led rather than curriculum that was process and child led. There were many criticisms such as inappropriateness, not meeting the developmental needs of individual child and no uniform approach regarding early years curriculum between the ages of 3-5 year olds.

Macleod-Brudenell (2004) states a curriculum represents the values of the society in which it is used. The content is often determined by government at national level. A curriculum is associated with education and is usually regarded as a body of knowledge to be acquired by children, the content of which is linked to stages or ages. However, the curriculum can also include aspects of social and personal development. This may be formal learning within a school or nursery, or informal learning within a home setting with parents and carers, or a combination of both.

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Curriculum approaches can differ, some emphasise on knowledge content while others emphasise the Process of learning. In England, the Foundation Stage and National Curriculum place a greater emphasis on knowledge content than the process of delivery. However, these approaches are not obligatory and can be changed and developed to meet the needs of the individual child and the early years setting.

The Foundation Stage curriculum was first set up in 1988. Then it was revised in year 2000 with Every Child Matters and now developed into a single framework as EYFS. EYFS is a single framework and a more inclusive framework to provide equal opportunity for less achieving and deprived children in relative poverty/poverty. It is designed for a holistic development for early years provision (www.dfes.gov.uk). According to Pugh et al. (2006:53) states, the curriculum guidelines for the Foundation Stage (QCA, 2000) provided the first comprehensive model of a broad and balanced curriculum for the early years. The curriculum included, through 'stepping stones' the elements of Progression. Its 'early learning goals' replaced the precursor 'desirable learning 'outcomes'.

In the Rumbold Report (DES, 1990,), a research into the provisions for under fives in England which were focused on the content of delivery and not enough of the process learning. As result of this the Foundation Stage was introduced and the Curriculum Guidance (2000:8) explains that three, four and five years olds:

 

need a well-planned and resourced curriculum to take their learning forward and to provide opportunities for all children to succeed in an atmosphere of care and feeling valued.    (Macleod-Brudenell, 2004)

 

The Guidance for Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) sets out the early learning goals across six areas of learning, which describe what most children are expected to achieve by the end of the Foundation Stage. The six areas of learning consist of personal, social and emotional development; communication, language and literacy; Problem solving, reasoning and numeracy; knowledge understanding of the world; physical development; and creative development. There are two statuses to the framework: a statutory curriculum for the age range from 3- 6 year olds and the frame work for 0-3 years (birth to three matters) remains as guidance (Pugh et al. 2006). Currently, the maintenance and development of the CGFS and Key Stage 1 is the responsibility of the Qualification and Curriculum Authority and for BTTM is responsible by the DfES Sure Start Unit. All government funded settings are required to deliver a curriculum consistent with this guidance (Pugh et al. 2006).

 

In 2000, Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage was published by the Department for Education and Employment and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA, 2000). The curriculum guidance is intended "to help practitioners plan to meet the diverse needs of all children so that most will achieve and some, where appropriate, will go beyond the early learning goals by the end of the foundation stage" (p. 5). The curriculum guidance claims to describe integrated learning, it also emphasizes literacy and numeracy as distinct curriculum areas.

 

In September 2000, the Foundation Stage was introduced as a distinct, non-statutory stage of education for children in England from age three to the end of reception year (www.inca.org.uk).

 

 

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Under the Education Act 2002, the Foundation Stage was established as part of the National Curriculum. Hence, from 2003 new statutory assessment in form of Foundation Stage Profile at the end of the foundation stage will replace statutory baseline assessment on entry to primary school (Deveurex et al. 2003).

Miller et al. (2003), states that the principles set out very clearly the values and beliefs that underpin the guidance and what it mean for practitioners who work in the Foundation Stage. The guidance emphasises the need for all children to feel included, secure and valued and to be successful; working in partnership with parents in and atmosphere of mutual respect; broad and well balanced curriculum, with opportunity for children to plan and initiate their own learning; provide experiences that children can explore, experiment, plan and make their own decisions (Devereux et al. 2003:109).

 

Key documents and research findings influenced the Curriculum:

These include the day care standards (DfES, 2000:2003) for a integrated services; Every Child Matters (DfES, 2003b), a vision for the care and education of children was expressed in the Green Paper with five outcomes: being healthy; staying safe; enjoying and achieving; making a positive contribution; and achieve economic well-being. Supporting all children and families better through well co-ordinated mainstream services. As well as the ten year childcare strategy Choice for Parents, the Beat Start for children (HMT, 2004). Therefore the curriculum guidance will need to reflect all the above as the focus is learning is, and increasingly will be, taking place in the multi-agency context (Pugh et al, 2006).

The Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) Project was the first major enropean longitudinal study of a national sample of young children's development (intellectual and social/behavioural) in a time between 1997-2003. The Early Years Enhancement programme (3-4 years) which has influenced policies and practice in pre-school education. Level of effectiveness to be raised in the pre-school education based on children's outcome and with high quality childcare and pedagogical practice to be offered to all children (www.ioe.ac.uk/eppe.02/01/07.21.26pm.)

 

The Children Act, which passed into law on 11 July 2006, formalises the strategic role that local authorities play through a set of new duties and also reforms early years regulation and inspection arrangements. The Act's main provisions have come into effect in 2008 (www.surestart.gov.uk).

Subsequently, Sure Start was established in 1997, to promote universal access to high quality childcare. The development of early excellence centres for children and families in disadvantaged areas (www.surestart.gov.uk).

Most educational theorists follow a constructivist model when considering programmes for children from birth to three years of age and suggest that this a period when predominately the curriculum and pedagogy should be focusing on the child's developmental interests rather than the child following a structured and delineated curriculum (www.inca.org.uk).

 

The traditional early childhood education in England has been child centered, in contrast to approaches that are subject centered and teacher directed, emphasizing individual children's interests, free play, firsthand experiences, and integrated learning. However, the government introduced a framework for an early years curriculum, redefined the child-centered education model, and initiated reforms for raising standards (www.ecrp.uinc.edu). In order to raise standards and improve the quality of early childhood institutions, government intervention in early years education has increased significantly. This framework is very goal oriented and specifies a large number of learning goals to be achieved by children. However, many early childhood specialists have expressed concern that the government policy of raising standards may lead to over-concentration on formal teaching and upon the attainment of specific learning targets (www.ecrp.uinc.edu). On the other hand, children's actual needs are not being met.

 

Nevertheless, the National Curriculum focuses on the Content Led model which provides children knowledge and skills as well as encourages children to take a useful role in society. However, the EYFS focuses on the process-led model (Macleod-Brudenell, 2004).

The National Curriculum document rarely mentions the word 'play' but does place emphasis on children's active involvement in their own learning. This can be done through play. Research has shown that children learn best through physical and mental challenges so there is no reason why a play-structured programme should end when children reach Key Stage one, or move onto Key Stage two. As play is a process rather than a subject, Moyles (1989) argues the case for play to be looked at as a way of teaching and learning rather than as a separate entity. "Because of the relevance and motivation of play to children, play must pervade how teachers present potential learning activities, not sit as an uncomfortable and somewhat suspect activity in itself." (Moyles, 1989, p.86) During play children constantly probe, question, and explore, take things apart and attempt to put them back together again. This process of inquiry is akin to scientific, mathematical and technological thinking. Having an investigation area for group work for science and maths activities which contain a whole range of materials including sand and water, constructional toys and so on will enable children to further develop their questioning minds. Using descriptive language during these activities enables children to learn the qualities of objects without having to sit and listen to 'lecture' style teaching, which research has proven to be rather ineffective with young children. Further research has shown that children retain 80% of information if that has been self-initiated compared to only 10% if told what to do, thus in ensuring children have independence in their learning and expectations of self-discipline their learning, knowledge and understand can grow.

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the introduction of the National Curriculum, this "marked a major change from the freedom to prescription in curriculum content, and from topics to subject-based teaching." ((Turner-Bisset, 2005, Pg.17) As a result of this change teachers began to feel pressurised to teach the exact content described within the curriculum, teaching became very formal in order to attain targets and the appropriate levels, this meant teaching in some cases lost its creativity. In 2000 the Foundation Stage Document was published, the ethos of this document placing the emphasis on learning through play. A view supported by theorists such as Piaget, Bruner and Vygotsky, Curtis & O'Hagan, (2003) state in their book Care and Education in Early Childhood…"he (Piaget) argued that children are active learners" Susan Isaacs (1929) also wrote that "play indeed is the child's work and the means by the way he or she develops and learns." However this principle of children learning through play was not continued throughout the primary curriculum. Indeed in contrast rather than the foundation stage setting the benchmark, primary education at that time seemed to work in reverse order; filtering down from year six to year one. Rather than building on the hands on approach featured within the foundation stage, teachers felt a pressure to prepare children for the standardised tests which they would face at the end of year 2. This lead to in some cases, a large contrast in the teaching styles once out of reception. Children in year 1 found themselves completing endless worksheets and topics books in order to for fill curriculum requirements and provide evidence for parents, heads and Ofsted inspections. 2003 saw the introduction of the National Primary Strategy document Excellence and Enjoyment, which "…suggests a relaxation of prescription, increased teacher autonomy on curriculum content & pedagogy, & the restoration of a broad & balanced curriculum." (Turner, 2005, Pg.17)

Active learning is about learning by doing (Gibbs, 1988). It involves a student-focused approach (Prosser & Trigwell, 1999). There is considerable evidence that well-designed active learning is an effective way of student learning (Biggs, 2003; Ramsden, 2003). 'Good practice uses active learning techniques' (Chickering & Gamson, 1987, pg.3). However, as Ramsden (2003, pg.113) notes, 'Student activity does not itself imply that learning will take place.' For Gibbs (1988, pg.9), 'It is not enough just to do, and neither is it enough just to think. Nor is it enough simply to do and think. Learning from experience must involve linking the doing and the thinking.'

The very nature of active learning lends itself to the unknown quantity; children will often take something from the activity that was not planned for, however it is these moments which children really benefit from, these types of opportunities are often when children are making sense of learning which has previously occurred. In Piaget's terms this fits in to the assimilation and adaptation process found in his schema theory, adaptation takes place as people are driven by the urge to have things "fit together" or to be in what Piaget calls "equilibrium". (Curtis & O'Hagan 2003)

In an education system that is still dominated by testing it is an important step that the government have taken to produce a document such as Excellence and Enjoyment (2003) which clearly states,

"We want schools to continue to focus on raising standards while not being afraid to combine that with making learning fun. Our goal is for every primary school to combine excellence in teaching with enjoyment of learning."

The foundation stage got this right in 2000 and now the ethos of this document is being echoed throughout the curriculum, of course there is still a time, place and need to record evidence but this can be done in a fun and interactive way. As Turner-Bisset (2005, pg.19) points out

"There is the ubiquitous 'research' or 'finding out' from topic books, encyclopaedias, CD-ROMS & the internet, which is not genuine enquiry, being rarely fuelled by questions." He goes on to say "More often it is guided by a general instruction to 'find out about' & can lead to copying of information…. cutting & pasting to produce writing, which contains nothing of the child's understanding."

Even when assessing children through summative assessments it is still possible to use an active learning approach. Whilst assessing children's addition skills on teaching practice a sand sorting game was devised. Children had to find the sums buried in the sand and place them in the appropriate answer bucket, this was done under observation and a summative assessment was carried out, but instead of giving the child a standardised test, some fun and active participation was added.

However active learning should not be the only approach used in schools, it is important to cater for children's differing learning styles, indeed it has been observed children who thrive off worksheets but this was a minority. It is essential to remember that, "In order to teach anything to anyone, one needs a broad pedagogical repertoire." (Turner-Bisset, 2005, pg.28) Excellence and Enjoyment (2003) has taken this idea on board, teachers must use a variety of approaches and styles to capture and stimulate children's imaginations. Children have so much energy and passion that is important teachers harness this spirit and use it to their advantage in the classroom. In the foreword of the document Charles Clarke (2003) writes,

"Children learn better when they are excited and engaged - but what excites and engages them best is truly excellent teaching, which challenges them and shows them what they can do. When there is joy in what they are doing, they learn to love learning.