This week we’ve been reading about a petition that is gaining traction at change.org, having originally started back in 2016. Elaine Bennett, co-founder of grassroots organisation Keeping Early Years Unique, is petitioning to extend the Early Years Foundation Stage so that it covers children from birth to seven years old. Currently the EYFS is the statutory framework in England for children from birth to five (or up until the end of reception year), at which point children begin Key Stage 1. Yet Bennett argues “We CAN have a 0-7 curriculum with relationships, environments, play, learning and child development at its core.”
We’d agree that extending the age range of the early years curriculum so that children have more time to experience play based learning is a good idea. Currently in England, children start Key Stage 1 in Year 1 when they are five years old, at which point it is compulsory that they begin studying subjects such as English, maths, science, computing, geography, history and music as part of the national curriculum. It is also in Year 1 that children will take their first national test, the phonics screening check, which, if they don’t achieve highly enough on, they must repeat in Year 2. (You can watch an interesting video of how the test is conducted, and what constitute acceptable answers to example non-words, here.)
However, anecdotal evidence from one teacher suggests that when children reach Year 1 there is a lack of opportunities for play and as a consequence learning for their pupils becomes “boring, restricted and unnatural”. Similarly, in peer-reviewed research by Nicholson (2018), teachers express concerns about the “pedagogical discontinuity in the transition from EYFS to Year 1” (p.450) and whilst 87% of children said they “really enjoyed” their time in the EYFS, only 43% “really enjoyed” Year 1. Likewise, children in Fisher’s (2009) study describe the Foundation Stage as “more funner” than Year 1 and a child participant in Howe‘s (2016) research echoes that in Year 1 play is seen as a reward, rather than a given.
There certainly are examples where a play-based approach is infused into Key Stage 1, but we fear that, due to constraints such as resources, other people’s expectations, curriculum goals and targets (Fisher, 2011) – that these are few and far between. The impact of this, the Save Childhood Movement’s ‘Too Much Too Soon’ initiative argues, is that “measures of testing and accountability are consistently being put before the best interests of the child”.
We’d be interested to know what you think. Will you be signing Bennett’s petition? Do you think children need more play opportunities when they reach Key Stage 1 than they might currently be receiving?