Curriculum conundrums

    Published: 22 November 2021

    The Oxford dictionary defines curriculum as ‘the subjects comprising a course of study in a school or college’. Its origins are Latin and the word’s use had a real boost around the 1940s and again around 2014. Dr Julian Grenier, the author of ‘Working with the revised Early Years Foundation Stage: principles into practice’ defines curriculum as ‘what we want the children to learn’. Now, I don’t know about you but that feels much more achievable to me.

    Research suggests ‘there is good evidence that attending early years provision can improve a wide range of child outcomes, from ensuring children’s healthy cognitive, behavioural, social and physical development, to laying the foundations for future, longer-term developmental milestones.’ Education Policy Institute 2018. Therefore, providing children with an appropriate curriculum will ensure this is achieved.

    Whilst many things are changing for the EYFS, what I believe to be one of the most important requirements remains. The four principles of the unique child, positive relationships, enabling environments and learning and development. Whatever practitioners hope for the children in their school or setting, these principles will determine its success. Firstly, consider how to ensure that these principles are embedded in practice:

    Unique child

    • how do you use the information gathered during transition and on entry to the school or setting?
    • are you noticing any trends with children’s interests or experiences?
    • have all staff been made aware of the specific needs of each child, such as medical needs, language spoken at home?

    Positive relationships

    • are all staff consistent with expectations in regards to communicating with children/families, managing behaviour, promoting independence and establishing a safe environment?
    • how do parents/carers contribute to their child’s learning and development?
    • are key person roles well established to enable secure relationships to be built between practitioners, children and parents/carers?

    Enabling environments

    • does your learning environment reflect your cohort and life in modern Britain, including images of children engaged in learning or play?
    • are children able to be independent in their selection of resources?
    • do adults support the children effectively, using the environment to extend children in their learning and development?

    Learning and development

    • how are the characteristics of effective teaching and learning facilitated in your provision?
    • how do you find out what children, know and can do? And how is this used to plan activities that will support progress in their learning and development?


    Early Years class sat on floor with teachers


    These principles should contribute and underpin the development of a curriculum that is appropriate for each school, setting and cohort. The learning intentions and an effectively implemented curriculum in the EYFS should be informed by the Educational Programmes in the statutory framework 2021. The knowledge and skills that are taught should form secure foundations to enable children to access the National Curriculum in Key Stage 1 and beyond.  What is important to remember and……I’m going to shout this part… The Early Learning Goals (ELGs) are not the curriculum! A curriculum should be broad and therefore teaching to only the ELGs is going to narrow children’s experiences and will not prepare them for their future education. Whilst practitioners in Reception may have an eye on the ELGs the updated Educational Programmes provide details on the types of experiences and learning that children should be accessing.

    When constructing a curriculum to suit an EYFS cohort there are many pieces of the puzzle to consider. The first segment should be focused on the children. Each child will have different interests, strengths and potential barriers to learning. Some of these factors will be closely linked to a school’s or setting’s local community. This enables practitioners to have a prior understanding of the potential needs of the children and families they are serving. Data trends such as numbers of children eligible for EYPP/G funding, numbers of families with English as an additional language and numbers of children with SEND should be used to inform the design of the curriculum. Remembering that, ‘It [curriculum] provides opportunities for all children to learn. It is ambitious. It challenges stereotypical beliefs that some groups of children are ‘less able’ to learn and make progress than others.’ Julian Grenier, 2020.


    Early Years in woods


    The cultural capital of the children joining the school or setting must be taken into account when mapping out the learning opportunities within the curriculum. The experiences that the children bring with them should be reflected in ways which engage them further such as resources in the learning environment. This will enable practitioners to sequence learning linked to children’s current knowledge, understanding and skill development. Whilst there is no expectation for practitioners to write out skill progression plans for every activity or area of learning and development, all practitioners should have a secure understanding of the sequence of skills and knowledge children require to reach the intended outcomes so that they can support them appropriately . This can be a useful team activity during phase/staff meetings to support practitioners to enhance their professional knowledge.

    Consider the values of the school or setting when creating the curriculum. Ensure what and how children learn is in line with the expectations of the staff, parents/carers and governors/committee members. Take frequent feedback from stake holders and review their responses reflectively. It can be easy to consider ourselves as the expert and overlook suggestions from others but ‘another pair of eyes’ can often provide a new and useful viewpoint. It has been said ‘Evaluating your practice will help you to identify your professional development needs and, over time, will support you to become more confident in your practice.’ Pacey 2016.

    Take time to review the types of interactions that happen daily between staff and children, staff and parents/carers and children and children. A well-planned environment will enable interactions to happen easily and frequently. These interactions should be supported by the curriculum to ensure teachable moments are capitalised on. Listening to and observing what children do will support assessment but sensitive adult interaction will be what moves learning on. Whether this is using questioning effectively, modelling or scaffolding learning or providing children with resources, high-quality interactions are a key component to a successful curriculum.

    Most uniquely and arguably most importantly for the EYFS is the way in which we want children to learn. Through that small four letter word, often attributed to Albert Einstein as ‘the highest form of research’… Play! The planned adult led learning must be playful and children need sufficient time to play in the learning environment with peers and adults as play-partners. Play with language and numbers, play with interesting objects, play games, play music, role-play, play outside. Just play. Notice what children do in their play and the learning that is happening, then plan more opportunities for play. The reforms to the EYFS gives practitioners the permission to play, to use their professional knowledge of their children and to focus on what it is those children need to succeed. I can almost guarantee it will be more play!


    Early Years children


    If you would like to hear more about developing an appropriate curriculum in the EYFS, Julian Grenier will be exploring the theme at our National EYFS Conference on Wednesday 2nd March 2022.


    Department for Education. 2020. Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage. Setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five. [Online]. Available from: 

    Gov.UK: Early Years foundation stage (EYFS) statutory framework

     ‘Working with the revised Early Years Foundation Stage: principles into practice’, Dr Julian Grenier

    Education Policy Institute 2018

    Pacey 2016

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