19 May 2015
Article by Sian Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The Minister for Education and Skills will make a statement in Plenary today on the Foundation Phase final evaluation report.
What is the Foundation Phase?
The Foundation Phase for children aged 3-7 in Wales was introduced in 2004/05 and rolled out across Wales in 2009/10. A Welsh Government evaluation report of January 2015 describes the Foundation Phase as ‘a Welsh Government flagship policy of early years education (for 3 to 7-year-old children) in Wales. Marking a radical departure from the more formal, competency-based approach associated with the previous Key Stage 1 National Curriculum, it advocates a developmental, experiential, play-based approach to teaching and learning.’
How has it been evaluated?
The Welsh Government commissioned research by the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD) which had four main aims:
- to evaluate how well the Foundation Phase is being implemented and highlight ways in which improvement can be made;
- to evaluate what impact the Foundation Phase has had to date;
- to assess the value for money of the Foundation Phase;
- to put in place an evaluation framework for the future tracking of outputs and outcomes of the Foundation Phase.
A total of 19 reports have been published as part of the overall evaluation process and they can be found on the following Welsh Government webpage.
What did the final evaluation report find out?
Some of the key findings set out in the report’s executive summary include:
- Pupils in the Foundation Phase are more likely to achieve Level 4 or above in Key Stage 2 English, based on the first three cohorts of over 1,500 pupils in Pilot schools who have since reached the end of Key Stage 2;
- The Foundation Phase is associated with improvements in overall school attendance;
- The majority of practitioners and key stakeholders interviewed and surveyed thought that the Foundation Phase was having a positive impact on children and learning in terms of behaviour, wellbeing and attitudes to learning;
- The majority of practitioners believe that the Foundation Phase has led to improvements in literacy (both English and Welsh) and numeracy.
Has it helped to reduce inequalities in attainment?
We know that tackling the impact of deprivation on educational attainment is one of the Welsh Government’s key priorities. Our recent blog sets out that the issue of educational outcomes for pupils entitled to free school meals has attracted much interest and scrutiny, both in this Assembly and prior to that.
The Foundation Phase report executive summary states that the:
Foundation Phase is associated with improved attainment for pupils eligible for free school meals but the evaluation has found no evidence to suggest it has made any observable impact so far on reducing inequalities in attainment at the end of Key Stage 2.
However the report itself shows that practitioners and headteachers had mixed views about how the Foundation Phase had impacted on the attainment of free school meals pupils. Paragraph 6.17 of the report states:
The Foundation Phase is not, to date, associated with any significant changes in the differences in educational outcomes between pupils at the end of Key Stage 2 based on their gender, their ethnicity or their eligibility for free school meals. Indeed, the evaluation finds evidence to suggest that some of these structural inequalities in attainment are actually worsening, not improving, as a result of the Foundation Phase.
What next for the Foundation Phase?
The evaluation finds that the introduction of the Foundation Phase has ‘led to overall improvements in children’s educational achievement, wellbeing and involvement. Furthermore, these improvements have the potential to lead to even greater educational success as the children grow up’. It goes on the ‘encourage the Welsh Government to continue to develop and enhance the Foundation Phase’ and ‘encourage all schools and funded non-maintained settings to do more to implement the Foundation Phase pedagogies and curricula’. The report makes 29 recommendations which apply to a number of stakeholders, including the Welsh Government, Estyn, regional consortia, local authorities, head teachers, funded non-maintained setting managers, school governors and practitioners.
Of future interest may be the challenge of how the new pedagogy of the Foundation Phase can best be integrated with the Welsh Government’s statutory Literacy and Numeracy Framework. The evaluation report recommends that ‘practitioners need to be given practical advice about how to implement the Literacy and Numeracy Framework within the Foundation Phase’. It says that ‘in particular, there needs to be more emphasis given to how literacy and numeracy can be taught in classrooms using a variety of different pedagogical approaches and how these different approaches can complement one another’.
The Donaldson Review, published February 2015, included a number of references to the Foundation Phase. In it, Professor Graham Donaldson says that ‘evidence from discussions with stakeholders would suggest continuing support for the Foundation Phase’ and that it was amongst ‘the most frequently mentioned ‘best things’ about education in Wales’. He also says that ‘the existing curriculum arrangements in Wales have some very real strengths upon which we can build – not least the pedagogy underpinning the Foundation Phase’. Whilst the Donaldson endorses the approach of the Foundation Phase, particularly its focus on Areas of Learning rather than subjects, he is also recommending a ‘continuum of learning’ and a clear uninterrupted journey from 3-16 which would see the end to dividing the curriculum into Key Stages to achieve this ‘continuum of learning’. It is therefore a possibility that in the future, the Foundation Phase may not be referred to as a ‘separate phase’. Further information can be found in the Research Service ‘In Brief’ blogpost Donaldson Review: the ‘purposes’ and content of a curriculum for Wales.