The underlying basis for the inclusion of foundation subjects within early years and primary education might not be immediately apparent, particularly for first year students studying towards qualified teacher status. This essay will, therefore, unfold the reasons for this inclusion whilst including specific reference to the enclosure of history teaching.
The National Curriculum (NC), introduced in 1988 and currently undergoing revision, consists of the core subjects: English, mathematics and science; compulsory at all key stages, and the foundation subjects: art, design technology (DT), geography, history, information and communication technology (ICT), modern foreign languages (MFL), music, personal, social and health education (PSHE) and physical education (PE); most of which are compulsory at one or more of the key stages (DfE, 2013).
It is also important to remember that Religious Education is included within the basic curriculum and is legally bound to be taught, however children can forego the subject at their parents request. Since 2008 the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) has become integrated within all childcare providers, except mother and toddler groups, nannies and short-term creches, and covers the welfare and development of children (BBC). This essay will not only demonstrate a rationale for the inclusion of foundation subjects in both the EYFS and NC, but also examine how history is developed into children’s learning through both stages.
Boys and Spink (2008) believe the foundation subjects and RE ‘have the potential to be the most powerful, most meaningful and most relevant areas of learning for all learners’ (p. xii). Hoodless (2008) develops this further with history, stating “the most significant reason for teaching history in primary schools is that it motivates children and captures their imaginations” (p. 2). Both statements reflect on the importance of teaching history and other foundation subjects, yet focuses on extra-curricular benefits.
History can lead to many cross-curricular links and it has been suggested by Davies and Redmond (1998) that teaching history in isolation ‘would be a horrible waste of universal discipline’ (p. 39). Looking at time-lines in history can help to develop mathematical skills, whereas art can be pulled in by the associations with drawing or painting ancient artefacts. Fines (2013) also believes in the importance of history due to its cross-curricular abilities, he says “history can contribute to learning across the whole spectrum of the curriculum and does so effectively” (p.6).
As a core subject, mathematics is something that, when applicable, should always be integrated into a child’s learning. However, as a foundation subject itself, art is a skill which helps to develop children’s creativity and imagination, thus making art a valuable attribute that should be included when possible. Furthermore, children’s art work is often used as displays within schools; this way of celebrating work is a great way of boasting children’s confidence as well as giving them a sense of reward.
This is vital for motivation, enthusiasm and inspiration which will encourage children to get involved in further learning and therefore learn more effectively (NASP, 2003). The NC is currently undergoing revision, due for implementation into schools in September 2014. Government says the review comes from the need to catch up with the world’s best education systems. Prime Minister, David Cameron says this “revolution in education” is vital for the country’s economic affluence and that it should be written by experts and not restricted to ministers’ “personal prejudices” (BBC, 2013).
According to The Guardian (2013) changes will be welcome across the Key Stages (KS). However, it claims that for KS1, history will not differ too much from the previous NC and that ‘the more noticeable changes are in KS2’. Both Key Stages will see a new stress in the importance of chronological understanding. This is a result of the 2011 Ofsted report in which it states “although pupils in primary schools generally had good knowledge…their chronological understanding and their ability to make links across the knowledge they had gained were weaker” (p. 5).
Ofsted (2011) claimed that this was due to ‘many primary teachers not having adequate subject knowledge’ (p. 4). This developed the need for the curriculum to ensure that pupils study an overview as well as in-depth topics. The old curriculum (2000) states that pupils should be taught the knowledge, skills and understanding through: a local history study; three British history studies; a European history study; a world history study (p. 106).
Whereas the Programmes of Study for the revised curriculum (2013) shifts towards how history fits together and how events from one time period can affect another, maintaining that teaching should combine overview with in-depth studies to aid pupils understanding on chronology (p. 3).
In Ofsted-registered settings, children from birth to 5 years old work towards the EYFS as opposed to the NC. With regards to history, much of what this age range will learn comes from the ‘Knowledge and Understanding of the World’ aspect of the Early Learning Goals. It is expected that by the end of the foundation stage, children will ‘talk about past and present events in their own lives and in the lives of family members’ (DfE, 2012, p.9)
The EYFS understands that it would be unrealistic for such young children to fully comprehend the defined body of factual information that is history, however a development of finding out about changes and passage of time is not (O’Hara and O’Hara, 2001, p. 18). There are many story books that can reveal to young children a language that identifies a concept of ‘long ago’. Stories such as ‘When Grandma Was Young’ (Humphrey, 2000), ‘Elmer and Grandpa Eldo’ (Mckee, 2001) and ‘My Granny is a Pirate’ (Mcdermid and Robins, 2012) can invoke interest with early years children and inspire them to become inquisitive about the past.
It has been suggested that time means nothing to young children. However learning to ask and answer questions through story reading will enhance their concept history. Therefore continuing to do so through the Early Learning Goals will prepare children, entering at primary level, to appreciate the importance of history (Lunn and Bishop, 2004). It is important to remember to children do not stop learning history when they finish their time at primary school. Maintained secondary schools follow the NC which maintains that all children will continue to learn history by means of the KS3 History Programmes of Study (2013).
Therefore it is important to prepare children for more challenging and precise history learning. New topics shall be introduced so it is important children have the skills to ‘identify significant events, make connections, draw contrasts, and analyse trends’ (p. 72). It is, furthermore, defined that pupils will ‘pursue historically valid enquiries including some they have framed themselves’ (p. 72). This indicates towards children becoming independent critical thinkers, a valuable quality to have in adult life, this alone is a fundamental reason for the inclusion of history in the NC (DfE, 2013).
Hoodless (2008) believes that history offers a range opportunities to overcome barriers in learning, with specific reference to gender, class and ethnic and cultural backgrounds. She believes that there are many ways to teach history to make it inclusive to everyone and says that “inclusive practise involves treating each individual with respect, included them equally in whatever is taking place and responding appropriately to their different needs” (p. 140). She argues that history education can reach individuals in different ways because of the many approaches and strategies used to teach it.
For example, a child who struggles to read can be given visual sources to aid their learning rather than long pieces of text, thus benefitting the child more (p. 135). Another underlying reason for teaching history is because of the opportunities it can give to children from minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Although sensitivity must be empathised, using cases of past civilisations to stimulate an identification of how prejudgments, such as racism, sexism or any other type of discrimination, arose can then contribute to eliminating them (p.139).
Boys and Spink (2008) expands on this by proposing that the history curriculum should be ‘culturally relevant to all pupils’ (p. 71). The United Kingdom has become a diverse multicultural society over the years. Consequently, Boys and Spink (2008) suggest that the NC study unit ‘Britain since 1948’ provides an opportunity to explore the Commonwealth immigration (p. 71). Exploring such a topic will provide children with an understanding of different culture’s arrivals into the United Kingdom which they might otherwise not ever be educated on.
As part of the Professional Standards for qualified teacher status (QTS), teachers are expected to demonstrate that they are able to plan opportunities for children to learn in out-of-school environments (DfE, 2013, p. 8). Such settings as, museums, theatres, school visits, fieldwork and employment-based locations can all be used as a means for enriching children’s learning. From birth children are trying to make sense of their multi-sensory environment, making them active learners. To limit children’s learning to the classroom would be a shameful waste of the valuable resources that are on offer to enhance their education.
Out-of-school learning helps to develop skills including decision-making, group work and critical thinking, all of which are key attributes to have. Hoodless et al. (2003) takes this further by saying that ‘the sensory experiences help all kinds of learner to remember and learn from the locality and its inhabitants’ (p. 136). Outside learning can be restricted to the school’s boundaries or the close localities and still offer the same benefits. The school itself can be studied for design elements that can be analysed to identify the age of the building.
Taking a short walk out the school grounds can provide a wealth of people, building and landscapes that children can learn from. It is important to remember, however, the risk assessments that need to be carried out in order for these events to take place. In many cases consent from the parent will need to be given in order to take children out of school. It is also essential to prepare clearly structured learning objectives in order to achieve greatly from out-of-school learning and make the most of the time dedicated to such pedagogy (Hoodless, 2003, p.137-140).
Furthermore, with the threatened return of rickets in children recently, giving them more chances to study outside could prevent this. The Telegraph (2013) reported that the increase has come from children spending ‘too much time indoors on computers and gaming consoles’ which is why incorporating outdoor study into children’s learning will benefit them entirely. Finally, multiple reviews of the foundation subjects within the curriculum only reflect on the commitment for enriching children’s learning that government have (Boys and Spink, 2008, p.xii).
Foundation subjects influence cross-curricular and out-of-school learning, making them more appealing and beneficial for children. Additionally, Johnston (2002) talks of how young children [in the EYFS] develop knowledge of how the world works by exploring the world around them. She says “the wider their informal experiences, the broader and deeper will be their understandings” (p. 24). This suggests that the integration of foundation learning within the EYFS is the source of children’s initial understanding of the world they live in.
The need to develop a sense of history learning in the EYFS has been addressed by looking at the importance of invoking interest about the past. Furthermore, Ofsted (2011) found that history was a ‘popular and successful subject, which many pupils enjoyed’ (p. 5). This statement alone could be the rationale for teaching history in primary schools. A subject that can captivate students and encourage them to learn more is an underlying reason for that subject to be taught.