Is play the most suitable pedagogical strategy for 'more able and talented' pupils in Years 1&2? Views of teachers working in NACE 'Challenge Award' accredited schools in Wales.

  • Claire Leyshon

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


The Foundation Phase (FP) is the statutory curriculum for children aged three to seven in Wales and stipulates that play ought to provide the ‘vehicle’ for learning (WG, 2015b:4). The advocacy for a play-based approach in Welsh policy documentation is based on the assumption that play is the most appropriate and effective medium of learning for all young children, irrespective of their abilities, gender, age or cultural background. Early Years (EYs) gifted literature, in contrast, has mixed views about the effectivity of play for young ‘gifted’ children - defined in Wales as ‘more able and talented’ (MAT) pupils. Thus, the focus of this research concerned itself with determining the extent to which teachers agree that play is the most suitable pedagogical strategy for meeting the needs of MAT pupils. In order to address this question, a specific group of teachers were selected as the sample: Year 1 and 2 teachers working at NACE (The National Association of Able Children in Education) ‘Challenge Award’ accredited infant and primary schools in Wales. Since NACE awards schools based on their ability to evidence effective MAT practice, according to the criteria outlined in NACE’s 10 Quality Standards (WAG, 2008), I determined that this sample group of teachers would be knowledgeable about young MAT children’s characteristics and educational needs and skilled pedagogues in addressing those needs.

Of the twenty-eight NACE ‘Challenge Award’ accredited schools that use the FP curriculum, seven schools agreed to take part in this study. A mixed-methods, qualitative-quantitative approach was employed to collect data. Eleven teachers from five schools completed the online survey and five teachers, from two schools, took part in group interviews held at their respective school sites. I drew upon Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and Piaget’s developmental-constructivist theory to devise the tools for data collection and to analyse the results.

Findings from the research determined that all participating teachers advocated play as a suitable strategy for meeting the holistic needs (social, physical, emotional-psychological and cognitive) of MAT pupils in Years 1 and 2. There was unanimous agreement that the most beneficial aspect of play is its power in supporting pupils’ social and emotional development and well-being - aspects intended to be ‘at the heart’ of the curriculum (WG, 2015b: 4). Despite teachers’ positive view of play and the FPs (WG, 2015b) intention that play ought to be the ‘main vehicle for learning’ in the FP (WG, 2015b: 4), most teachers felt an equal balance of play and non-play activities is the best pedagogical approach for supporting the learning of all children, including those identified as MAT. Furthermore, whilst play was highly endorsed by all teachers, it was only regarded as a ‘MAT strategy’ by one surveyed teacher-leader. Individualised learning, differentiation, enrichment and setting were identified as the most frequently used MAT strategies by surveyed teachers, and except for setting, regarded more effective than play for enhancing MAT pupils’ learning. In contrast, interview responses determined that play, rather than being distinct from the aforementioned MAT strategies, is associated with them. Interestingly, the terminology ‘play’ at both schools has been rejected and replaced with the terms ‘experiential’ or ‘exploratory’ learning, which may have influenced teachers’ conceptualisation of play.

Teachers unanimously agreed that their planning for play is the same for all pupils and most agreed that the roles they adopt, including play-roles, are also consistent. Disagreement was expressed regarding whether MAT pupils have different play needs, yet almost half agreed that MAT pupils’ play characteristics are dissimilar to their peers. Their play was considered more creative, purposeful and independent, and thus, less reliant on adult support.

The thesis concludes with recommendations for educators and policy-makers based on the findings from this study. Suggestions for future research dealing with MAT pupils in the EYs are also identified in the concluding chapter.
Date of Award24 Jun 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorSusan Martin (Supervisor) & Elisabeth Barratt Hacking (Supervisor)


  • more able and talented (MAT)
  • play
  • Foundation Phase
  • early years

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