EARLY YEARS POLICY, PROVISION AND
RESEARCH IN THE CONTEXT OF NORTHERN
IRELAND: THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN EARLY
YEARS PEDAGOGY
Dr Glenda Walsh
30th April 2013
BERA ECE Sig/TACTYC event at University of
Winchester
POLICY BACKGROUND

Northern Ireland has the youngest starting school
age in Europe;

Children are obliged to start school in their 5th year
(and can be as young as 4 years 2 months);

Year 1 in Northern Ireland was “too formal, too
soon”;

Curriculum review - CCEA (2003) state:

“Children learn best when all areas of an integrated,
carefully planned curriculum are implemented
informally using methodologies that are interactive,
practical and enjoyable. Children should have
opportunities to experience much of their learning
through well planned and challenging play” (p.7)
THE ENRICHED CURRICULUM: A POLICY
INITIATIVE
The aim was to remove the early experience of
persistent failure and to promote children’s sense
of self-competence and self-esteem.
 The methods included:

a greater emphasis on play and activity- based
learning;
 more emphasis on developing oral language skills
and on emergent literacy (phonological awareness);
 laying foundations in number through sorting,
matching, counting rather than formal number
recording;
 importance placed on the development of
concentration, thinking and memory skills.

THE ENRICHED CURRICULUM IN ACTION
THE EARLY YEARS ENRICHED CURRICULUM
EVALUATION PROJECT: EVIDENCE TO INFORM
POLICY AND PRACTICE




Early Years teachers difficulty in achieving a
coherent concept of early years pedagogy;
Tension between play as learning and play as a
medium to ensure a high level of interest, confidence
and overall well being for children (Walsh 2010a,
Walsh et al, 2010b);
Ensuring the optimum educational value of play
(Walsh et al, 2010b);
Muddled thinking about developmentally appropriate
and child-led practice (Sproule et al, 2010, Walsh et
al, 2010b).
THE FOUNDATION STAGE CURRICULUM: A
POLICY DIRECTIVE
The FS Curriculum compulsory for all Year 1
classes since September 2007 and Year 2,
September 2008;
 Emphasises the social, experiential and active
nature of learning;
 Children in first two years of schooling should
“experience much of their learning through wellplanned and challenging play” (CCEA, 2007:9);
and
 Their learning should be supported by teachers
who are “committed, sensitive, enthusiastic and
interact effectively to challenge children’s
thinking and learning” (CCEA, 2007:16).

THE FS CURRICULUM

Content embedded in six Areas of Learning

Training provided
THE POLITICAL ARENA



Every School a Good School: a Policy for School
Improvement (DENI, 2009) – emphasis on raising
levels of achievement, especially in literacy and
numeracy;
Count, Read, Succeed: a strategy to improve outcomes
in Literacy and Numeracy (DENI, 2011)
Foundation Stage: Non Statutory Assessment
Guidance (CCEA, 2012):



Assess pupil progress in each cross-curricular skill
Assess pupil progress in each of the other skills
Assess pupil progress in each Area of Learning.
ISSUES ARISING FROM TRANSLATING FS
CURRICULUM INTO PRACTICE: THE
POLITICISATION OF PLAY

Problematising Play as Learning:
High levels of extension and challenge not always in
evidence – a tokenistic response
 Complex and high level play as a medium to develop
children’s powers of thinking and creativity not fully
understood
 Raises the question whether a play-based curriculum can
deliver the ‘educational outcomes’ as identified by the
political agenda


Critiquing Play as Pedagogy:

Need to move beyond the confines of a prescriptive
pedagogy to a pedagogy based on responsiveness, skilful
interactions and playful experiences – grasp ‘learning
/teaching moments’;
TOWARDS AN EFFECTIVE EARLY YEARS
PEDAGOGY
 The Concept of ‘Playful Structure’ - Taking all the
evidence together…

A new image of early years practice that would preserve all the
benefits of a play-based curriculum but address teachers’
difficulties:
Playful
structure
The infusion of
playfulness across
all activities to
preserve the
benefits of play
The infusion
of structure
into play to
ensure its
educational
value
PILLARS OF PRACTICE
Playful structure
(Walsh et al 2011)
Infuse
playfulness
into the
curriculum:
Foster warm,
secure
relationships
with children
Cultivate
playful
engaging
interactions
with children
Create
opportunities
in all activities
Provide
appropriate
structure
(Sensitive
pacing and
matching,
based on
knowledge of
developmental
pathways)
Respect
individual
differences;
in ability, in
personality,
in age, in
culture.
Manage
progression
and
transitions
THE WAY FORWARD – WHAT NEXT?



A change in policy statements alone is
insufficient;
Policy statements must be accompanied by policy
strategies and appropriate funding ;
Rethink the political arena – The Emperor’s New
Clothes??
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Early years policy, provision and research in the context