Children are powerful and competent learners, says Fiona Carter


Fiona Carter, Director of Academics (Early Years), Wellington College China talks about the new curriculum and assessment development in Early Years Education and her thoughts on the importance of key strategies for school improvement.

1. Can you describe your journey to being an Early Years educator?

I started my career in Key Stage 1 and worked for many years in inner city schools in the UK, many of which, had children with English as their second language. Whilst then moving to Germany to teach, I was given the opportunity to work in Reception and Nursery and became fascinated with early childhood development and the impact further into school when the confidence for learning is established early. I also enjoyed the connections with families and early identification of extra learning needs. I then became a local government advisor and had the opportunity to work with the Standards and Testing Agency as the EYFS Profile was developed as the first statutory assessment for 5-year-olds in the UK.

From leading teams on highly effective projects on ways to support children from backgrounds of poverty, I was then asked to share knowledge with others across the UK and loved the travel and learning about other schools, teaching and learning models. This took me to work as the International Development Manager for Early Excellence and I learned so much about planning environments and taking an enquiry approach into older age groups.

The Middle East was my main focus of work and the enthusiasm and professionalism of the teachers and school leads, the different needs in terms of advice and the varied cohort of children inspired me to consider eventually living overseas. As I was about to advise Wellington Colleges on their new school in Bangkok, I was asked to join them as Director of Academics for their group of schools in China and to be based in Shanghai. The opportunity to work with a family of schools again and one which has such distinct educational values and history was too good to refuse. Moreover, the chance to shape education in China and still be able to work with schools in the Middle East as part of the Institute of Learning alongside action research into bilingualism has made my current role the most exciting and challenging of my career to date.

2. Which high impact projects paved the way for new curriculum and assessment development in Early Years Education?

The projects broadly addressed the implementation of the new EYFS curriculum in the SE of England as well as reviewing the reporting of attainment at the end of the Reception year in schools, when children were 5 years old. It was realised that accuracy of teacher judgement and the understanding of the new standards was very varied and so I led on cross-border projects for moderation and explaining the new areas of learning to all the relevant stakeholders.
I was also heavily involved in narrowing the gap in attainment between children from underprivileged backgrounds and their middle-class peers. A real focus on attachment and ensuring that all practitioners understood early language development were key in a Language for Life project which saw our region move just over a hundred places in the rankings of early years outcomes. A great result and so interesting to lead.

3. How can we learn from China’s early years’ education program and vice versa?

In China, there is a recognition that large scale training into the essential elements of outstanding early years practice is key to a sustainable model of quality and, in turn, will equip Chinese schools and their leaders sufficiently to have a real impact on learning for future generations so that they are not always relying on trainers and programmes from the West. I believe that this has also been recognised by the UAE and that rushing into projects and one-off initiatives do not have long lasting effects and are expensive and sometimes time-consuming. In China, the Ministry of Education are keen to take advice from specialists such as ourselves who have a history of evidence based practice and a philosophy of teachers continually learning from each other. This then will be translated into curriculum development and assessment as well as training – all of which need to align with one another and then be monitored closely in terms of impact on progress in the Early Years and further into school.

Early Years education is now being given a very high priority in China as the foundation for the country`s vision for a fusion of the best practice of the East and the West – broad levels of knowledge as well as the promotion of critical and creative thinking. The UAE is in a great position now to not only continually improve the quality of international schools from its strong inspection programmes but also to ensure that Emirati children and parents can expect to receive the same levels of excellent education. Buildings and resourcing are already of a very high standard here and the Emirati School Principals I have met over the last 3 years all share a passion for offering a world class education with a workforce who are equipped to deliver it with confidence. I hope the Institute of Learning can be part of this work.

4. How essential is early years education for children, especially when considering alternatives like homeschooling?

Early Years educators actively support children to collect the experiences they need to build and hard wire the learning links in their developing brains. Research has proved that these early experiences in school can act as a defence against the effects of poverty and lay the foundations for future dispositions to learning. I believe that children are powerful and competent learners who learn best when they work with adults who value their ideas and engage in interactions to extend their thinking in environments which connect with their learning.

Hence, my work in my own schools and those who I advise outside of the Wellington group will reflect these values in their practice, learning environments and an ambition to achieve the right balance between adult and child led learning. As Director of Academics, I hope to influence any new building of Early Years provision and ensure that spaces allow for the maximum conditions for learning with this new age group as well as train existing practitioners in the crucial role that adults play.

Finally, there is still a lot of misunderstanding globally about early years assessment and my first task will be to make our progress monitoring systems as meaningful and efficient as possible, reflecting what we want our pupils to become… Inspired, Intellectual, Independent, Individual, Inclusive and International.

5. As a speaker at IPSEF 2018, what are the main takeaways from your session?

The key strategies which support school improvement in International schools when striving for consistency in practice and high-quality teaching. A definition of excellence in Early Years and what it looks like. A chance to ask questions later in the panel about specific aspects of the EYFS curriculum, the most effective designs for provision to promote deep levels of involvement and how to report on and use Early Years data to drive progress.


About Fiona Carter

Fiona Carter is the Director of Academics (Early Years), Wellington College China. Fiona has thirty years of experience in education and specialises in Early Years. After rising to the position as Head of Early Years in local government in the UK, Fiona led many of the high impact improvement projects and was instrumental in the successful implementation of the new curriculum and assessment developments in Early Years.
Fiona’s values and vision are to support the creation of conditions which maximise learning in this unique age group whilst ensuring that solid foundations are in place to develop independent, communicative and creative thinkers. Fiona graduated from The University of Sheffield with a bachelor’s degree in education.

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