Understanding and Owning the Curriculum in Early Childhood Education

Understanding and Owning the Curriculum in Early Childhood Education

Dr Sue Allingham EdD MA BA(Hons)

The word ‘curriculum’ is both familiar and unfamiliar in the world of Early Childhood Education.  It is a word that, since the revision of the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (2021), has become used more and more.  Its increasing usage has led to the growth of myths, poorly informed understandings and decisions, and a proliferation of unnecessary documents produced and shared on social media and websites.  The word ‘curriculum’ now carries with it a culture of fear as people worry about what is ‘expected’ of them.  In this way an industry of prepackaged curricula has appeared with many copies being bought.  A one size fits all approach.

But we have long had a curriculum, and it is time to take a step back and reflect on what we actually know.  We knew our curriculum even before we had the Desirable Outcomes (Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority (1996) Desirable Learning Outcomes for Children Entering School, London: SCAA), the first document to explicitly address Early Years classes meaning that teachers did not have to adapt the National Curriculum.  This document stated –

Children’s progress will be at different rates and individual achievement will vary. However, all children should be able to follow a curriculum which enables them to make maximum progress towards the outcomes. Children whose achievements exceed the desirable outcomes should be provided with opportunities which extend their knowledge, understanding and skills.  

This recognises that any curriculum we have is rooted in our knowledge of child development.  And that curriculum is not capped in any way – it’s about extending knowledge and skills.  Having a curriculum is nothing new in Early Childhood Education.

The thinking from 1996 moved into the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage (Date of issue:05/00 Ref: QCA/00/587) where the word is headlined.  In the document it is defined as –

The term curriculum is used to describe everything children do, see, hear or feel in their setting, both planned and unplanned.

The developmentally informed approach to curriculum planning is summed up here –

Curriculum guidance for the foundation stage is intended to help practitioners plan to meet the diverse needs of all children so that most will achieve and some, where appropriate, will go beyond the early learning goals by the end of the foundation stage.

So what has changed in the last twenty two years?  Why are so many in the Early Years Sector insecure, poorly informed, even scared by the word ‘curriculum’?  The reasons are many but can be refined down to policy and how it is translated into practice.  We need to be very clear that all policy is devolved in a developmentally informed way.  This is entirely possible, but sadly much gets lost in the noise and myth of social media.

We stand on the shoulders of giants and I often quote Maria Montessori –

Often the education of children consists in pouring into their intelligence the intellectual content of school programmes. And often these programmes have been compiled in the official department of education, and their use is imposed by law upon the teacher and the child.

(Montessori 1912, p 28)

Montessori was talking about this over a hundred years ago.  Time to reclaim, become familiar with and own ‘curriculum’ in Early Childhood Education


Dr Sue Allingham EdD MA BA(Hons)

Sue has been a teacher, Early Years Lead in a Primary School and Lead Teacher for a Local Authority.  Research has gained her an MA and Doctorate, in Early Childhood Education, from Sheffield University.   A career as a Local Authority Early Years Adviser enabled her to develop working with provision across the EYFS.   Now an Independent Consultant, Author and Trainer, Sue is known for her practical style of working.

As Consultant Editor of EYE her writing is familiar to many. She has written two books that support practice across the Early Years and into Key Stage One – Transitions in the Early Years and Emotional Literacy in the Early Years.  Both published by Practical Pre-School