International Perspectives on Early Years – part three

International Perspectives on Early Years – part three

A report by the UK Government on international perspectives in Early Years, published last year, looks at the aims and purposes of Early Years provision in an international context. It also reflects on where England is within the international context. In part two of our review we looked at what the report says on the Early Years workforce and in this third part in a series of four, we look at what the report says on the curriculum and pedagogy in Early Years.

Role of Curriculum
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A curriculum sets out what is taught. In England, all Early Years services must follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), regardless of the ages of the children in the setting. The EYFS includes seven broad areas of learning, but it is not a curriculum. Providers decide what is the best way of teaching the areas of learning and create a curriculum that works for their setting.

Curriculum expectations and requirements vary around the world.  Many European countries have top-level guidelines that provide a basis for regions, local authorities, and settings to develop their own curriculum. In Italy, there is significant regional autonomy, and individual regions are responsible for providing detailed Early Years curriculums. In Liechtenstein, Early Years settings create their own curriculum for children from birth until the age of three. However, their kindergartens, which are for children between the ages of four and five, must implement the national curriculum. Countries such as Bulgaria, Poland, and Slovakia have no curriculum requirements for children under the age of three.

The lack of a curriculum for children under the age of three could be related to the perception of the purpose of Early Years care. Some countries see Early Years provision, especially when it involves younger children, as more a form of ‘childcare’ that supports parents to work.

Curriculum Areas
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The most common areas covered by curriculum guidelines in Europe are emotional, personal and social development, physical development, artistic skills, language and communication skills, understanding the world, cooperation skills, and health education.

Many European countries only include some areas, such as numerical reasoning and reading literacy for older children, usually over the age of three. Some countries also teach foreign languages and digital education to older children.

The report highlights three areas that should be the priority in Early Years learning: communication and language, social and emotional skills, and physical education. These skills are seen as the foundation for other areas of learning. Focusing on these skills would have a long-term impact on children in school and beyond. These skills, especially social and emotional development, help create well-rounded individuals.

Readiness for the next stage of learning
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In England, the Early Years Foundation Stage highlights the importance of Early Years provision in preparing children for life more broadly beyond just starting school. There is variation among other countries on what being ready for school means. In general, being ready suggests that a child should be emotionally, cognitively, psychologically, and physically mature enough for primary education.

In countries such as Germany, Austria, and Hungary, not all children transition to primary education at the typical age for that country. A child’s entry may be delayed if it is thought they are not ready.  In Italy and Finland, parents have a role in deciding if their child is ready for primary school. In Estonia, Early Years settings issue a school readiness card for parents to show to primary schools. The card shows the child’s level in various development areas such as cognitive skills, physical skills, and areas that need further support. The card also includes the opinions of speech therapists, and music and movement teachers. In Austria and Croatia, it is up to the primary school the evaluate a child’s readiness.

In over a third of European countries, there is a period of compulsory Early Years provision. This not only leads to higher participation rates but also supports school readiness. In France, the age for mandatory participation in Early Years was recently lowered as it was recognised that it has a role in supporting future learning, especially for those from low-income backgrounds.

Pedagogy
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Where curriculum refers to what is taught, pedagogy refers to how things are taught. The report highlights Sweden, Malta, and Ireland for having top-level educational guidelines which usually recommend specific pedagogical approaches. The majority of systems recommend these approaches for the whole Early Years phase, from birth to the start of school. Internationally, play is a core pedagogical focus of Early Years, with many countries recommending that play is embedded throughout the curriculum, as children learn through play rather than spending some time learning and some time playing.

There is a range of different types of play. Free play is spontaneous with no set goal and is initiated by the child. Guided play usually has a learning goal and is supported by an adult The majority of countries recommend a mixture o the two. Sweden explicitly states that there should be a mixture of the two types of play.

In the final part of this series, we will look at what the report finds about inspection and regulation in Early Years. If you have any questions regarding this report, please contact our policy team.

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