It is interesting to note that after 7 years of observing lessons and activities in the Foundation Phase that a number of concerns still remain however many of the difficulties according to Estyn are due to a lack of understanding regarding the pedagogy. Perhaps my next comment might not relate to the report but I feel it is important that as we work towards a new curriculum that all school leaders at every level and all classroom practitioners take ownership of the 12 principles of pedagogy. Without doing this, will we have similar concerns over the next seven years?
In the Foundation Phase, many pupils develop good speaking and listening skills and become confident communicators, particularly in nursery and reception when they have good opportunities to interact with adults during child-initiated learning.
In schools and settings that are committed to good Foundation Phase practice, children show increased motivation and enjoyment of learning.
Active learning approaches and the use of the outdoor learning environment are helping pupils, particularly boys, to be more engaged in their learning.
These schools and settings develop children’s literacy and numeracy skills well across all areas of learning. They do this in a creative and imaginative way, making learning active and fun.
The role of the adult is an important factor in making sure that children develop skills in the Foundation Phase that equip them to be successful learners in the future.
In schools and settings where school leaders and their staff understand the nature of this role fully, children make strong progress in developing independent skills and in becoming thoughtful, resilient and inquisitive.
Overall, the implementation of the Foundation Phase has been inconsistent across schools, and between schools and settings. Initially, nearly all schools embraced the Foundation Phase and most reorganised their nursery and reception classes effectively to facilitate its delivery.
In about three-quarters of schools, headteachers do not fully understand the principles and pedagogy of good Foundation Phase practice. They do not make sure that its delivery focuses on active and experiential learning. As a result, many children do not develop good independent working skills. They are over-reliant on adult support and anxious about making mistakes and trying out new ways of working.
In about one-in-ten schools, pupils appear to be able to write accurately, but this is because adults ‘scaffold’ their work heavily, and pupils are not able to write at the same level on their own, or talk knowledgably about their work.
From the above we can recognize a focus on developing independent learners that take an active role in their learning. This ethos is meant to be the driving force behind the planning for continuous provision. One of the greatest problems experienced by ESTYN in their observations are passive tasks. Time fillers would be another way of describing a passive task. Tasks that could be completed in or outdoors and actually have very little learning value.
They are also concerned that a lack of independent learning through a poor selection of challenging activities has left pupils reliant on teachers setting scaffolds and therefore not allowing them to develop or transfer the skills. My only caveat to this is that to provide a scaffold is important when introducing a genre to pupils however activities following an introduction to the model should develop independent learning and the transfer their skills thus mainting and improving the standards of literacy.
The key is very much focussed on developing suitable activities for continuous provision.
Here are a few key comments from the report relating to Primary schools –
Literacy: In key stage 2, most pupils build well on the oracy skills they have developed in the Foundation Phase. In around eight-in-ten schools, by the end of key stage 2, pupils apply their understanding of the features of different forms of texts well when writing across the curriculum.
….in many schools, pupils struggle to write creatively and do not write at length frequently enough. Too many pupils continue to make basic errors in spelling and punctuation.
In the Foundation Phase and key stage 2, pupils’ enthusiasm for literature, their knowledge of different authors and stories, and their ability to express preferences about specific books, authors or genres have declined over the cycle.
Numeracy: Pupils’ basic number skills have improved during the inspection cycle. In most schools, pupils use their recall of number facts well to complete simple calculations during designated mathematics lessons.
Pupils’ ability to solve problems and apply their skills in other subjects remains less developed.
In a minority of schools, pupils apply their numeracy skills in other subject areas. For example, in religious education, Year 6 pupils solve multi-step problems systematically to work out the prices of different meals and calculate percentage discounts for the customer when creating kosher menus.
ICT: In just under two-thirds of schools, there are important shortcomings in standards of ICT.
Welsh in English schools: Standards of Welsh in English-medium schools have not improved much over the inspection cycle. Around a third of schools received recommendations to improve standards of Welsh.
Wellbeing: In a minority of schools, over-structured teacher-set tasks limit the development of pupils’ ability to take responsibility for their own learning and this hinders the progress they make.
In around seven-in-ten schools, teachers plan purposeful activities that focus on developing literacy, numeracy and ICT skills across the curriculum through ‘real’ and relevant first-hand experiences.
More recently, a growing number of teachers have encouraged pupils to contribute ideas to topics and to suggest ideas for visits and visitors. This helps pupils to take ownership of their learning and sustains their interest.
There are shortcomings in curriculum provision in around a third of schools this year. This is higher than last year. In these schools, planning does not build systematically on pupils’ literacy, numeracy and ICT skills across all areas of learning.
Teaching:The quality of teaching has varied over the cycle, but is good or better in around seven-in-ten schools. Where teaching is good or better, teachers and teaching assistants work together well to create a positive working environment for all pupils and make learning fun.
Where there are shortcomings in teaching, teachers do not plan activities that meet the needs of all pupils appropriately, especially the more able. They do not have high enough expectations of pupils and learning is often over-directed and does not allow pupils enough opportunities to work independently or to challenge their own thinking.
Care, support and guidance: The quality of care, support and guidance has been consistently good or better in over nine-in-ten schools across the inspection cycle.
In the most effective schools, staff identify pupils with additional learning needs early. They use a range of intervention programmes to support these pupils and monitor their progress carefully.
Learning environment: There is a welcoming and inclusive ethos in most schools. Most have a clear focus on recognising, respecting and celebrating equality and diversity.
Leadership and Management:
In nearly all schools, the quality of leadership is the most significant factor in determining a school’s effectiveness.
Many of the most effective school leaders have a positive influence beyond their own schools. For example, they provide support to less successful schools by sharing their experience and best practice.
Improving quality:On average, just over two-thirds of schools have good or better arrangements to evaluate and improve their own work….In these schools, self-evaluation, improvement planning, performance management and continuous professional development align well.
Around a third of schools are not good at driving their own improvement. In many of these schools, processes to gather first-hand evidence about the success of their work are ineffective……….They do not plan strategically for change and introduce initiatives in an unplanned fashion.
Patrnership working: Over the course of the inspection cycle, partnership working has been the strongest feature of primary school leadership. More than nine-in-ten schools have good or better strategic partnerships that improve outcomes for pupils.
Resource management:Seven-in-ten school leaders manage resources well. They ensure that spending supports school improvement priorities.
The key messages above are both consistant in nature and provide a direction of travel:
1) The importance of planning effectively by involving pupils voice, building on previous knowledge and providing activities that develop independent learning.
2) Fun is mentioned…..pupils engaged in their learning.
3) The importance of strategic planning at leadership level to build effectively for progress.
4) working in partnership leads to improved pupil standards.
5) A recognition of the importance of an ethos and vision that allows pupils to achieve, teachers to develop professionally and the school to provide a stimulating learning environment.
The report is a must read for all school stakeholders and provides food for though as we move forward into the realms of a new curriculum.