A new research project, evaluating the Foundation Phase Flexibility Pilots, is underway with Professor Chris Taylor as lead researcher.
In line with the Welsh Government’s commitment to Early Years development, the Foundation Phase is the statutory curriculum for all 3 to 7 year old children in Wales in both maintained and non-maintained settings.
The Foundation Phase is based on the principle that early years’ provision should offer a sound foundation for future learning through a developmentally appropriate curriculum. Children are given opportunities to explore and discover by taking part in practical activities that are relevant to their developmental stage. The Foundation Phase places great emphasis on children learning by doing.
As part of the Foundation Phase, free part-time (minimum 10 hours) Foundation Phase nursery education places are available for all children in Wales from the term following their third birthday. However, the Welsh Government has noted concerns amongst parents and carers, about the way the free entitlement is currently allocated and the lack of flexibility.
‘This lack of flexibility in provision can prevent some parents from accessing this early years provision or limits their opportunities in accessing the labour market and undertaking paid employment,’ says Professor Taylor. ‘Consequently, the Welsh Government has encouraged a number of local authorities to work with providers to try and experiment with the way in which the free entitlement can be used.’
The Foundation Phase Flexibility Pilots include a cross section of different types of schools and settings, including non-maintained settings, Welsh medium settings through Mudiad Meithrin, play groups, private day-care providers, nursery schools, infant schools and primary schools. The pilots are taking place across three local authorities in different parts of Wales.
Professor Chris Taylor will lead a team to evaluate how the pilots are being implemented and evaluate the effect increased flexibility has on families. The findings from this evaluation will be used to inform guidance to local authorities on how to increase flexibility in an effective way.
Professor Taylor commented on this new research project: ‘Supporting children in their early years is seen as central to reforms to improve educational standards and raise the educational achievement of children in Wales, particularly amongst children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The distinct and novel approach of the Welsh Government has led to major policies such as Flying Start, the creation of a Children’s Commissioner, and the development of numerous childcare strategies. Of most significance, however, was the introduction of the Foundation Phase – a flagship policy of early years education for 3- to 7-year old children that has combined the previous early years childcare provision (for three to four year olds) with early years education (of four to seven years olds).’
‘Despite the potential success of the Foundation Phase there continues to be widespread concern about the educational achievement of children in Wales and significant attention given to early years childcare and education. Building a Brighter Future outlines numerous proposals for children from birth to 7 years of age, and their families, including the aim to “improve the quality […and] flexibility, accessibility and affordability of early education and childcare” and for the Foundation Phase “to be leading the way internationally in terms of the number of free hours of early education provided, flexibility of the offer, the quality of the curriculum and outcomes for our children”. These Foundation Phase Flexibility Pilots provide a key step in achieving these goals.’
The evaluation will run from February 2014 to January 2015 when a final evaluation report will be submitted to the Welsh Government.