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Date: November 14, 2022

Play-Based Curriculum in KS1

Do you offer a play-based curriculum in Key Stage 1? Discover an inspiring and informative series of blogs written by Joanna Redfern, Executive Headteacher of All Saints CE Infant and Pre-School and Selston CE Infant and Nursery School in Nottinghamshire. Jo describes how she and her team moved towards a child-centred, play-based curriculum in Key Stage One.

At All Saints CE Infant and Pre-School, we believe (with Maria Montessori) that ‘Play is the work of the child’. We see children as active partners in their learning, not passive recipients of it.  Our experience is that a child-centred, play-based pedagogy, based on a secure understanding of child development and delivered by excellent staff, leads to great outcomes for them. Working in a catchment where attainment has historically been well below average on entry to school, our Year 2 children now leave us at national average level, and often above. Moreover, they are resilient, creative, sociable and open-minded youngsters, beginning to develop the life skills they need to thrive in the 21st century.

Our journey towards a child-centred, play-based Key Stage One curriculum began some years ago. The philosophy of the Early Years Foundation Stage had become embedded in our Pre-School and Reception classes, but as children moved into KS1 we noticed a dip in both attainment and well-being.  It coincided with the point when the curriculum suddenly became more formal and adult centred. This reduced the space for children to embed new concepts through play or to explore their own ideas with the support of an interested peer or adult.  Reflecting on this, we realised that if learning was to be meaningful for children in KS1, it must build on the pedagogy of the EYFS and a sound understanding of child development. So, we revisited the statutory framework for the EYFS and used it as the basis of professional development for all staff

However, there was one statement in the statutory framework that troubled us:

As children grow older, and as their development allows, it is expected that the balance will gradually shift towards more activities led by adults, to help children prepare for more formal learning, ready for Year 1

What does progression in child-led learning look like as children move into KS1? Is it simply a matter of spending less time on play or other child-led activities, and more on activities led by adults? The later transition to adulthood requires an individual to take more responsibility for themselves, not less – so why should KS1 be different? What often happens in practice is more time spent sitting on the carpet and listening to what the teacher has to say. We sought a more sophisticated understanding of the learning environment needed to deliver KS1 objectives successfully, including the role of the adult.

A new initiative was launched to create a curriculum and pedagogy that placed children and their development at the centre.  Having adopted child-led, play-based approaches in the past, I knew that this project was unlikely to be smooth, time-limited or mechanistic. The willingness to take calculated risks, and a positive, pro-active response to set-backs were (and remain) essential pre-requisites.  Our sister school, Selston C of E Infant and Nursery, joined us on the journey.

We discovered that the Early Excellence Team was about to run a series of sessions on Enquiry Based Learning in KS1. This came at the perfect time for us. Lynette (an All Saints senior leader and a part-time Year 1 teacher) and Lauren (Year 1 teacher at Selston) enrolled on the course. The plan was for them to bring new learning back to each school and model practice to others. Early Excellence has been instrumental in transforming our practice. More than once they have tactfully returned us to the right path when we had veered in the wrong direction!

Read how we did it here:

The Learning Environment

The Daily Routine and ‘Plan, Do, Review’

The Impact so Far

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