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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 17:10 GMT
More play, less 'work' for early years
Children in nursery class
The proposals emphasise more structured play

The Welsh Assembly Government has announced it is looking into radically altering the way young children in Wales are educated.

The suggestion is to scrap formal education from the age of five and replace it with more informal, play-based activities between the ages of three and seven - called foundation learning.

Children in the UK start formal education at a much younger age than their counterparts in many European countries, and some experts believe it may actually put children off learning.

Seven principles of foundation learning
Personal and social development and well-being
Language, literacy and communication skills
Mathematical development
Bilingual and multi-cultural understanding
knowledge and understanding of the world
Physical development
Creative development
Assembly educational advisor Shan Richards explained the rationale behind the proposed "foundation learning" plan.

"A great deal of research has been done on the way children learn and what constitutes good practice in the early years," she said.

"This has informed decisions about activities that children should have and the way that adults should support children's learning.

"Research from America points to the benefit of good early years experience that reflects in long-term educational, personal and social gain and can lead to lasting cost-effective outcomes," she said.

Research has also suggested high-quality early education promotes a long-lasting positive attitude to learning.

Developments in early years research suggests children do not benefit significantly from formal teaching until their social and cognitive skills are sufficiently mature.

Well-planned play gives children opportunities to be actively involved in learning, and to investigate and discover for themselves

Shan Richards

In other words, starting children on reading and writing before they are ready for it can actually be counter-productive, and inhibit their learning rather than encourage it.

Ms Richards said: "In other countries, children begin formal education later than in Wales.

"Where they are given good language experiences in the early years, there is evidence to suggest they catch up with their peers who started earlier.

"Many countries now accept that long-lasting attitudes to learning are formed early.

"Well-planned play gives children opportunities to be actively involved in learning, and to investigate and discover for themselves."

The assembly has looked at early learning in a number of countries such as Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand, Spain, and the Reggio Emilia region of Italy - acknowledged as models of good practice in the field.

We're all born with the capacity to learn. There is something wrong with the system when our kids are turned off learning

Teacher Phil Rowlands
So what will children be doing?

They will, essentially, be learning through play and active involvement rather than being formally instruction.

"They will be given opportunities to investigate and discover for themselves while undertaking activities such as role play, sand and water lay and using large toys and equipment both inside and outdoors," said Ms Richards.

"They will be developing the early skills for reading, writing, numeracy and communication during their play, closely supported by well-trained adults."

She said children would be introduced to more formal education towards the end of the foundation phase, or earlier for children who were ready for it.

Phil Rowlands, head teacher of Pentre Primary School in Rhondda, south Wales, is very supportive of the proposal.

He has already written a programme based on play for use in his school.

'Barrier'

"I think it's got to be the way forward," he told BBC News Online.

"All the education research tells us that this is the way we should be going.

Mr Rowlands said one educational expert had actually said the present system was creating learning disabled children.

He also advocated scrapping Key Stage Two testing for children at age 11 - the assembly has already got rid of testing at age seven.

"Contrary to what everybody seems to think, rather than being a channel to improve standards, it's actually a barrier.

"It goes against all current philosophy of teaching," he said.

"The bottom line is learning should be fun. Turning children off learning at an early age has an accumulative effect.

"It's not just playing and letting them get on with it," he added.

He called playing a "very powerful motivating force".

"We're all born with the capacity to learn. There is something wrong with the system when our kids are turned off learning."

See also:

12 Feb 03 | Wales
10 Feb 03 | Education
10 Jul 02 | Education
02 Jun 02 | Education
Links to more Wales stories are at the foot of the page.


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