WISERD wins £1M to evaluate “one of the most important educational policies since devolution in Wales”
Researchers based at Cardiff University have secured a £1M bid – commissioned by the Welsh Government – to evaluate the Foundation Phase early years education policy.
The high-profile team, led by researchers at the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD), will include leading experts from early childhood studies, education, economics and statistics; drawn from Cardiff University, Canterbury Christ Church University, Swansea University and the University of Manchester.
WISERD Director, Professor Gareth Rees, said: “The award of this grant demonstrates the effectiveness of WISERD in drawing together research expertise from across the Welsh universities and beyond. This has provided the basis for winning a competitive tender which will have interested researchers from across the UK.”
The Foundation Phase (FP) is an early intervention approach to learning for all children aged three to seven years in Wales. It is based on principles of experiential learning – or ‘learning through doing’ – and marks a radical departure from more assessment-based competency approaches.
The three-year research project will include analysis of educational data and interviews with teachers, parents, local authorities, head-teachers, and the school children themselves. It will evaluate the implementation of the policy and what impact it has had to date. The research will also assess the value for money of the FP and design a framework to track its outputs and outcomes in the future.
Dr Chris Taylor, Reader in Education at Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences and director of the research project, said: “We are delighted to have been given the opportunity to evaluate one of the most important educational policies since devolution in Wales, designed to raise educational achievement, prepare children better for their later schooling, and help reduce inequalities between different groups of children. This will be a complex and detailed evaluation that will not only examine the impacts of the Foundation Phase on children’s lives in Wales but will also help guide and shape best practice for teachers and schools.”
At the heart of the FP curriculum are seven areas of learning: personal, emotional and social development, well-being and cultural diversity; language, literacy and communication; mathematical development; welsh language development, knowledge and understanding of the world; physical development; and finally, creative development. Children are given opportunities to solve real-life problems and gain first-hand experiences through play and active involvement. They are encouraged to be creative and investigative in order to develop a positive attitude to learning, whilst increasing their self-confidence and self-esteem.
It is hoped that this kind of early intervention and developmental approach to learning will be one of the most effective ways of combating educational inequalities associated with social disadvantage.
The evaluation by the WISERD team will assess whether the FP has had a differential effect on children and ensure that it promotes positive learning for all children in Wales. The research will offer a truly independent assessment of the policy in order to make recommendations for the future.