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Written Statement -Initial response to “An independent Stocktake of the Foundation Phase in Wales"

Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills

This is my initial response to Professor Iram Siraj’s “Independent Stocktake of the Foundation Phase in Wales" which was published on 19 May 2014 and contains 23 recommendations for consideration by the Welsh Government.

These recommendations include: appointment of a strategic group of Foundation Phase experts from across Wales to devise a 10-year plan to support implementation and consolidation of the Foundation Phase; development of a joint inspection process involving both Estyn and CSSIW across the Foundation Phase 3-7 age group to ensure that the quality of the Foundation Phase in non-maintained and maintained settings is comparable; reconsidering the scoring of assessments at the end of Foundation Phase (Year 2) and the areas assessed at the end of Key Stage 2 (Year 6); developing an early years development and assessment framework and implementation of an assessment profile; an amendment to ratios (for 4 year-olds) in reception classes from 1:8 to 1:10 and critically using funding potentially saved here to improve and invest in workforce training; that advisory teacher time in non-maintained Foundation Phase settings is increased from 10%; making it compulsory that a qualified teacher should lead practice in all Foundation Phase classes in maintained schools, including nursery classes; and a number of recommendations which relate directly to the training of teachers and practitioners within the Foundation Phase.  This reflects the understanding that by enhancing the quality of teaching, rather than concentrating on structural changes, increases in children’s achievements are likely to result.

When the Foundation Phase Stocktake report was published, I welcomed Professor Siraj’s recommendation about a ten year strategic plan to support the next steps in implementation and consolidation of the Foundation Phase across Wales.  I am pleased to advise that engagement with key stakeholders has begun and I look forward to announcing a strategic group to take forward this long-term approach to the Foundation Phase in the autumn.

I am determined that all learners in Wales will have access to a high quality Foundation Phase curriculum and benefit from a positive experience from the start of their education. I  found Professor Siraj’s views insightful on how we can upskill the workforce to ensure that all learners have the best early years education possible.   I am pleased to announce that the workforce recommendations will be taken forward as part of the 10-Year Plan for the Early Years, Childcare and Play Workforce consultation later in the month. The qualification recommendations may be seen as challenging for the sector, but they fit closely with our current policy direction and aspirations to improve the quality of childcare and early education.  The upcoming workforce consultation will help test the right approach for this important workforce in Wales in relation to minimum qualification levels, graduate leadership and continuous professional development.    

The Stocktake suggests that the ratios can be increased from 1:8 to 1:10 in reception classes in schools without affecting quality.  The report says that where well qualified and knowledgeable staff are present it is the quality rather than quantity of adult:child interaction that is important.  This too will be subject to consultation as part of the 10-Year Plan for the Early Years, Childcare and Play Workforce, and any approach will need to be proportionate, with all costs and implications clearly examined and evaluated.

The Stocktake has also recommended that there is a joint inspection process involving both inspectorates across the Foundation Phase 3-7 age group.  I recognise the importance of having effective regulatory and inspection arrangements that drive improvements in the care, learning and well-being outcomes for children.  There are a number of ways in which this can be achieved.  I am pleased that the inspectorates, CSSIW and Estyn, are already working together within existing systems, to develop and test a joint-inspection framework in non-maintained regulated care settings that also provides early education for children (before compulsory school age where their inspection and regulatory functions currently overlap).  The greater alignment of these existing inspection frameworks will help improve the quality of care and education in these settings.  This joint-inspection model will aid consideration of the recommendation for a joint inspection process for childcare and education for the 3-7 age group across both the maintained schools and non-maintained settings.  

With regards to the other recommendations put forward by the Foundation Phase Stocktake, these will need to be considered alongside the outcomes of the Foundation Phase and Flying Start evaluations, the Curriculum and Assessment Review and other ongoing reviews.  Together, it is intended that these findings will provide a broad evidence base to inform future policy development, drive quality and raise standards across childcare and early education in Wales.

I will issue a full response to Professor Siraj’s Foundation Phase Stocktake report once other ongoing evaluations and reviews have reported.  I anticipate that this will be in early spring 2015.  In the meantime, the inspectorates CSSIW and Estyn will be working together in non-maintained nursery settings.  Importantly, early progress is being made by consulting on the workforce recommendations for the sector through the 10-Years Plan for the Early Years, Childcare and Play Workforce which will go out to consultation on Monday 22 September 2014.