Extending the early years curriculum to seven years old

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?

4 thoughts on “Extending the early years curriculum to seven years old

  1. Holly Swan

    Ah this is amazing! I have signed and would 100% agree with what this petition represents.

    My son entered year 1 last year and it hit him really hard not having as many opportunities for play to learn through, this was compounded further by my daughter being in reception and reminding him daily, indirectly, what he was missing.

    One day I asked him how his day was, he thought for a while and answered; ‘there’s not much playing mummy mode

    There’s absolutely no need for formal learning at this age and if we want life long learners who enjoy learning, we need to stop stifling their enthusiasm at age 6 with the current national curriculum expectations.


    1. Karen

      Thank you for working so hard on this. I have seen how my summer born boy has struggled in year one and now year 2, to fit into a system that he is not ready for. He very much enjoyed reception and could not wait for school to start after the summer holidays.

      This soon changed in year one. When I asked him how he felt about the weekly times tables test, he answered with the word ‘weak’. He is fully aware of the fact that he can’t read by himself and keep up with the independent story writing tasks that others can. Work is differentiated for him in a small group, but I feel saddened by the fact that that kind of pressure and sense of failure is even part of his life as a 6 year old.

      In pre-school, he was observed to be confident and now not so much. His label is now ‘a boy on the SEND – watch list’ .


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