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Evaluating the Foundation Phase curriculum

Reshaping the effective delivery of early years and primary education in Wales.

The Welsh Government’s Foundation Phase is a radical new statutory curriculum for all 3 to 7-year-olds in Wales, focusing on developmental, experiential and active learning.

A Cardiff University evaluation of the Foundation Phase assessed its effectiveness and provided recommendations for its continued improvement.

These recommendations resulted in an additional £1M of investment by the Welsh Government to develop the skills of Foundation Phase staff, new guidance material for policymakers and teachers, and ambitious new targets to close the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students in Wales.

Evaluating the Foundation Phase

Following the roll-out (2004 to 2011), Cardiff University undertook three evaluations of the Foundation Phase, including a Welsh Government-funded three-year independent evaluation. It is one of the largest evaluations of a new education curriculum ever conducted in the UK.

Professor Chris Taylor led a team with specialist expertise in education policy, evaluations, analysis of large-scale data, and complex research designs.

The evaluations included classroom observations, surveys, and data from policymakers, classroom teachers and teaching assistants, Year 2 pupils, and over 1,000 parents and carers.

Key findings included:

  • Pupils in schools with high levels of implementation of the Foundation Phase had a greater likelihood of achieving the Foundation Phase indicator at age 7.
  • Schools with high levels of implementation saw higher rates of school attendance throughout primary school.
  • There was a positive association between the Foundation Phase and greater levels of observed pupil involvement and wellbeing.
  • Schools with high levels of implementation saw a greater proportion of pupils achieving Level 4+ in KS2 English.
literacy divide

Improving the Foundation Phase

The research concluded that the Foundation Phase had been successful and that its approach and design should be continued and supported by Welsh Government.

It generated 29 formal recommendations for further development of the Foundation Phase, including more information and involvement for parents and carers; a need for increased training; and more practical advice for teachers.

All 29 recommendations were formally accepted by the (then) Minister for Education, Huw Lewis AM. He thanked the researchers for their “extremely robust and comprehensive approach” and their “continuing support and vigour in delivering a successful early education experience for our youngest learners".

As a result, the Welsh Government established the Foundation Phase Expert Panel to coordinate the implementation of the recommendations. This led to a 34-point Foundation Phase Action Plan in November 2016.

Following the establishment of the plan, the Welsh Government announced a £1M uplift to develop teaching skills of those delivering the Foundation Phase and established the Foundation Phase Excellence Network to ensure consistent and effective implementation of the Foundation Phase.

Secondary pupils in classroom

Addressing systematic inequalities

One of the key findings of the research was that the Foundation Phase had little impact on addressing known systematic inequalities amongst particular groups of pupils, such as those receiving free school meals (FSM).

As a result of recommendations made, the Welsh Government set an ambitious national target to close the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils during the Foundation Phase.

The Cardiff University team is involved in further monitoring of the implementation of the recommendations, ensuring that quality of progress is maintained.

Important impact on all young learners in Wales

Cardiff University’s evaluation of the new Foundation Phase curriculum demonstrated that Wales’ flagship early years education policy was improving children’s educational achievement, wellbeing and involvement.

Acting on the results of the evaluation, the Welsh Government agreed to continue to develop and enhance the Foundation Phase, positively impacting all young learners in Wales.

Subsequently, the Welsh Government began a complete overhaul of the school curriculum for all learners up to age 16, following the principles of the Foundation Phase.

Meet the team

Key contacts