Examining Curriculum Issues
In this assignment I will discuss how the areas of language, mathematics and science are described within the Foundation Stage Guidance, how learning is assessed within this guidance and how inclusion issues are addressed - Examining Curriculum Issues introduction. I will discuss my role in planning an activity that engages children in all of these three areas. Then I will examine the curriculum that follows on from the Foundation Stage and the way in which these two frameworks are bridged.
Finely, I will compare the Foundation Stage Curriculum to a different approach to early year’s education. My setting, a nursery school follows the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage which was published in May 2000, and was introduced with the objective of helping practitioners in planning to meet the educational needs of all children between the ages of three and five in England.
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The Education act established the foundation stage as part of the National Curriculum in 2002. All government funded settings in England are required to utilize this guidance when implementing the curriculum. The Foundation Stage Curriculum is organised into six areas of learning: Personal, social and emotional development, Communication, language and literacy, Mathematical development, Knowledge and understanding of the world, Physical development and Creative development.
I will discuss how the three areas; language, mathematics and science are described within this guidance. Language is covered in the communication, language and literacy area of the foundation stage and the guidance states that learning in this area includes ‘communication, speaking and listening in different situations and for different purposes, being read a wide range of books and reading simple texts and writing for a variety of purposes’. (QCA, 2000, Pg. 4)
Mathematics is covered in the Mathematical Development area of the foundation stage and the guidance states that learning in this area includes ‘counting, sorting, matching, seeking patterns, making connections, recognising relationships and working with numbers, shapes, space and measurement’. (QCA, 2000, Pg. 68) Science is covered within the Knowledge and Understanding of the world area of the foundation stage.
The guidance states that this learning area should include ‘activities based on first hand experiences that encourage exploration, observation problem solving, prediction, critical thinking, decision making and discussion’. QCA, 2000, Pg. 82) Each of these learning areas is then organized into early learning goals or ‘stepping stones’ and these goals describe what most children are expected to have achieved by the end of the foundation stage at age five. The Foundation Stage Curriculum is academically orientated. The main focus of the curriculum is that of the future academic student and the preparation needed to ensure academic success once the child reaches primary school at the age of five.
It views the child as ‘becoming a pupil’ and ‘an active learner’ who will at times be working with an adult with a set target to work towards. Anning, Audio 1, CD 3, 3:09). Assessment within the Foundation stage guidance is based on the assumption that children progress through a series of identifiable developmental stages. During the Foundation Stage years the student’s success is measured through assessments, formal observations and check lists, there is no specific ‘testing’ during this period. This ongoing assessment is called the Foundation Stage Profile. The Foundation Stage Profile enables teachers to record observations and summarise the children’s achievements of the Early Learning Goals in the six areas of learning at the end of the Foundation Stage.
The Foundation Stage Curriculum gives scope for interpretation by the practitioner possibly causing a ‘difference between the intended curriculum and the implemented curriculum’. (Block 3, Pg. 43) This can also be considered a ‘potential weakness of the Foundation stage’ as this curriculum depends on the practitioner’s ability to interpret and implant it. (Anning, Audio 1, CD3, 4:51) As an early years practitioner it is part of my role to facilitate learning through well resourced, well planned, meaningful activities and to ensure that all activities are inclusive of all children.
The Foundation stage guidance states that ‘no child should be excluded or disadvantaged because of ethnicity, culture or religion, home language, family background, special educational needs, disability, gender or ability. ‘ (QCA, 2000, Pg. 11) One particular activity I plan on a regular basis which engages children in all three areas mathematics, science and language is gardening. I will discuss this activity in more detail in part 2. Part 2 I will examine a gardening activity, in which the children planted seeds in the nursery school garden.
The children participating in this activity were a small group of 3-4 year olds. A garden-based activity is planned for each day of the week, weather permitting. The seed planting activity not only relates to the area of science (knowledge and understanding of the world), mathematical development and literacy development but also includes all other areas of the Foundation stage curriculum. Therefore this activity is considered to be cross-curricular. It was evident that this activity continued to develop learning in the areas of science, language and literacy and science.
For example; initially as we began to prepare the earth by digging the children came across worms and other creatures and they became interested in what these creatures were, where they lived, what they ate, etc leading to discussions regarding the creatures we had discovered (KUW). While planting the seeds we looked at, read and followed the seed packets directions (Communication, Language and Literacy), and during the actual seed planting we discussed the different sizes of seeds, the amount of space needed between the seeds and also the amount of water we needed to give to the seeds and predicted how big the flowers were going to grow. Mathematical Development). The children used fine motor skills (pincer grip) to handle the seeds (CLL). We discussed what seed need to grow (sun and water) and how they would turn into a plant (KUW).
This activity related and built on the children’s previous knowledge, this was evident by looking at areas of the children’s foundation stage profile assessments which track the children’s current level of knowledge. The Open University states that practitioners need to ‘assess children’s current knowledge in order to be able to take it further’. Block 3, Pg 51) The children in this group were all starting to show development in the following areas within Knowledge and Understanding of the World; examining objects and living things to find out more about them, showing an awareness of change, realising tools can be used for a purpose, showing an interest in the world in which they live, showing an interest in why things happen and talking about what is seen and what is happening. (Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage, DfEE, 2000) Part 3 The curriculum guidance that relates to the educational stage that comes after the Foundation Stage is the National Curriculum.
The National curriculum applies to children aged 5 to 16 years of age. It was introduced in 1988 for primary and secondary schools. The National Curriculum is a framework that is used by all government run schools in England and it’s aim is to ensure that teaching and learning is balanced and consistent across the country. The National Curriculum sets out the subjects that are to be taught within schools, the standards or attainment targets in each subject that teachers use to measure the children’s progress, and the ways in which children’s progress is to be assessed and reported.
English, mathematics and science are considered the national curriculum’s core subjects. The Foundation Stage Curriculum acts as a platform for the National Curriculum as the areas within the Foundation Stage Guidance communication, language and literacy, mathematical development, knowledge and understanding of the world are in line with objectives within the framework for teaching literacy, mathematics and science at level 1 of the National Curriculum. Linder Miller stated that the Foundation Stage curriculum has a ‘distinctive set of goals which match those now required of teachers and pupils in their subsequent education at school’. CD 3, Audio 1, 7:38)
When children make the transition from the Foundation stage to Year 1 of the National Curriculum there are changes that the children experience. These are; a move away from play based activities towards work based activities, a change from thematic based activities to subject based activities, a move towards a more formal style of teaching and the introduction of national testing at the end of each key stage. These tests measure how the children are doing compared to the national standards in these subjects.
In 1999 The Government implemented two strategies designed to raise the standards if literacy and mathematics in primary schools, these were the National Numeracy strategy and the National Literacy Strategy. These strategies ensure that children will receive a structured daily mathematics lesson of 45 minutes to one hour and a literacy hour for all pupils of primary age. In my setting we prepare for this transition from Foundation stage curriculum to the National Curriculum by covering elements of the literacy hour and mathematics and science lessons across the day in a ‘holistic’ way rather than in single units of time.
In our setting we feel that by doing this we are helping to ensure a smooth transition into the literacy hour, science and mathematics lessons in year 1. I will now compare the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage which is used in my setting to another approach to early years curricular; the Reggio Emilia system. The Foundation Stage guidance is a formal, written curriculum with a clear set of goals.
In contrast the Reggio Emilia System does not have a written curriculum neither does it follow a centralized, prescriptive approach like with the Foundation Stage, instead it follows an ’emergent curriculum’. This means that the children’s interests are what influence the choice of topics and also indicates the length of these topics. The Foundation Stage Curriculum is academically orientated. The main focus of the curriculum is that of the future academic student and the preparation needed to ensure academic success once the child reached primary school at the age of five.
During the Foundation Stage years the student’s success is measured through assessments, formal observations and check lists. In contrast Reggio Emilia aims to make the child the centre of the curriculum and takes a social cultural approach to education. Success is measured by recording each individual child’s process of learning which could be in the form of a project and not through the unified check lists and formal observations encouraged by the Foundation Stage Guidance.
There is an ongoing debate about the idea that the introduction of subject based learning into the foundation stage is ‘too much, too soon’ and that the pressures of meeting the national standards within primary school settings are having a trickle-down effect, and effecting the way practitioners implement the foundation stage curriculum. The debate as to what is the most appropriate way to educate children in the pre-school years is ongoing and I believe that as new information is discovered in the area of early childhood development, curriculum models worldwide will continue to evolve.