Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence


  On behalf of the Executive Committee of this professional association, I am pleased to send you the following comments for consideration by the Sub-Committee.


  1.1  There is a wealth of research and documentation about what constitutes a sound basis for the content of early years education (see, for example, Siraj-Blatchford, 1998; Edwards, et al, 1998). The current research into neuro-science (eg. Kotulak, 1989; Sylwester, 1998) has informed the debate yet further and emphasises the need for stimulating, rich and varied activities for all children in the birth to seven years age range which operates from the basis of their own understanding of the world and the things which create meaning for the individual child. The holistic nature of children's thinking means that the coverage of subjects must be integrative, children's own interests being nurtured and furthered rather than thinking being fitted into separate subject compartments in which depth is sacrificed. It must be acknowledged that children are competent and capable learners and have an innate desire and drive to make sense of their world. We do not have to force young children to learn: we only have to provide meaningful learning experiences and various levels of support.

  1.2  Whilst the Early Learning Goals are a welcome starting point for considering the curriculum, they fall short of providing a substantive, all-embracing document against which a full, broad and balanced curriculum can be provided. The narrow direction and content, coupled with the lack of relationship and coherence between its various sections, is destined to mean that some children have narrower curricular experiences when the ELGs are put into operation.

  1.3  The ELGs do not take sufficient account of what is known from the disciplines of child development, particularly in relation to the links between, for example, physical development and children's capacity to learn and concentrate (Goddard-Blythe and Hyland, 1998: Bailey, 1999) and the relationship between musical ability and the development of literacy skills (Silvester, 1999). Creativity, imagination and flexibility are the keys to our future lifelong learning society (Beetlestone, 1998) and the ELGs treat creativity as if it were a matter of developing certain motoric skills rather than the cognitive activity (which it most certainly is).

  1.4  Creativity and cognitive development is also known to be linked strongly with play processes in children's learning (Moyles, 1989; Moyles and Adams, in press). The inclusion of a section on children's play within the ELGs is welcomed but there is little relationship made between the sections on the learning goals in the six areas and the clear statements written regarding the need for play. The document is currently very disjointed in this regard and greater cohesion of practice and goals needs to be established.

  1.5  The six areas of curriculum in the ELGs are too narrow a focus. Knowledge and understanding of the world is a vast category which could provide the basis for many excellent learning experiences but it is narrowly conceived within the document and fails to take account, for example, of the variety of scientific, historical, geographical and technological processes in which young children regularly engage, not least of which are predicting, hypothesising, questioning, decision-making, problem-solving, reflecting, empathising and so on (de Boo, 1999).

  1.6  ICT and design technology are powerful means to learning and to the future of our society. Young children are computer-oriented from an early age and the use, processes and understanding of various forms of ICT must be incorporated right across the early years curriculum (Cook and Finlayson, 1999). It is currently and preposterously lacking from the ELGs and must be fully incorporated so that it becomes an extension and development of children's natural exploratory and experimental capabilities.

  1.7  Whilst language and literacy are in themselves important, the skills of communication are of greater magnitude than those indicated within the ELGs. It is vital in a world which now depends in huge measure on high level communicational skills that aspects such as oracy are given equal status to literacy (Whitehead, 1999). Daily life for all children in the western world is visual, audio and increasingly screen-based: the curriculum should closely reflect these aspects as they have the greatest meaning for contemporary children. The abilities to explain, reflect, critique, compare, relate and so on, using the spoken word must not be underestimated in the way they currently are within the literacy strategy. Communities of learners and "learning cities" will demand this of their members.

  1.8  The development of mathematical knowledge and numeracy skills requires that children engage in real-life learning situations and a variety of practical experiences involving weight, measuring, matching, sorting, counting, ordering, categorising—in fact, generally playing with mathematics as an experience which is enjoyable and exciting. A diet of worksheets, whilst apparently offering "evidence" of learning outcomes, will not generate an enthusiasm and commitment to mathematics so desperately needed by our future citizens. Accurate reflections of mathematical knowledge and understanding will only be developed when children operate mathematically within real life situations which have purpose and meaning. The national numeracy strategy itself emphasises that standardised recording should be delayed until around the age of nine years when children have had ample opportunity to experiment with their own recording systems. We wholeheartedly support this philosophy.

  1.9  At the age of birth through to seven years, children are developing as people and as citizens of our society: all aspects of personal, social and emotional development must be emphasised at this stage of their education. As family life in this country continues to change, we cannot assume in early years settings that all children have been taught a wide range of relevant skills to enable them to take a full part in a democracy, particularly in relation to responsibility for one's own actions and the impact of one's behaviour upon others. Whilst the inclusion of PSE within the ELGs is to be welcomed, the area needs greater prominence if children are to learn to understand and deal with their own and other's expressions of emotion. Values education, in all its forms, including all aspects of respect and anti-discriminatory practices are equally capable of being learnt by young children: indeed the Commission for Racial Equality, for example, found children as young as three years of age had already developed prejudices. Spiritual, moral and cultural development is intertwined with personal, social and emotional learning and is equally important.


  2.1  The processes of children's learning are far more important than the content of teaching. Observation of children's developing attitudes, skills and knowledge are vital as the basis for informing teaching. Developing an appropriate approach to learning at this stage is vital in the creation of life-long learners.

  2.2  Methods of teaching should be as individualised and learner-centred as possible. There is no one way of teaching young children: only ways which are appropriate for individuals. Therein lies the need for a highly skilled body of teachers with the highest possible qualifications and opportunities for continuing professional development.

  2.3  Young children need time: time to practise skills over and over again; time to explore and experiment with a wide range of materials and contexts; time to talk with adults and other children; time to be physical; time to take things apart and put them back together again; and time to relate and integrate what they learn hourly and daily into their existing schemes and concepts (Athey, 1998). A curriculum in which pressure of time is felt so acutely as within, for example, the literacy hour, reflects wholly inappropriate practice in the early years. Young children's learning cannot be hurried: otherwise superficiality and demotivation will result (Elkind, 1988). Key Stage 1 of the National Curriculum is particularly overloaded for five to seven year olds and should now be reconsidered in the light of the ELGs.

  2.4  All teaching should reflect the way children learn, that is, through play and first-hand experiences, in contexts which make "human sense" (Donaldson, 1996) to the learner. This means that children should learn as individuals and in small groups using everyday materials and everyday activities such as cooking (in itself, providing a wealth of science, technology, language, number, measures and so on). Adults must be given the skills and knowledge to articulate high-quality practice of this kind and explain their rationales to others perhaps more familiar with older children.

  2.5  The presentation of the curriculum should be both physically and mentally "active"—it is not appropriate for young children to sit for extended periods of time in the day. To a four year old 10 minutes of seated activity must be followed by activities which involve action of the whole body. Opportunities for physical expression, through dance, modelling, and role-play, are as important as expression through talk and mark-making.

  2.6  All those who teach young children should have in-depth knowledge about children's development—cognitive, social, physical, emotional, linguistic and numeric. They must also fully understand that young children have an enormous capacity to learn for themselves: the psychological literature concerned with metacognition offers evidence in plenty (see, for example, Brown, 1987; McGuiness, 1999).

  2.7  The ability to learn through trial and error and one's own mistakes is also an issue vital in the early years. If "mistakes" lead to shame and blame-type practices, then loss of self-esteem and self-worth in young children will be crippling to their capacity to learn (Roberts, 1995). Both young children and teachers need to acknowledge that risk-taking is a major factor in quality, life-long learning for which there is no substitute.

  2.8  In relation to fostering children's abilities to learn and think for themselves, there is clearly a need for what has been termed "joined-up thinking" in the area of educational policy. The Sure Start initiative is certainly a move forward in an appropriate direction, but we should be cautious, at present, about its potential outcomes as no evaluation projects have yet established that, in itself, Sure Start makes a difference to children's development or parental child-rearing strategies.

  2.9  Early years practitioners should also have knowledge of conceptual development and the way children acquire wide-ranging concepts such as a knowledge of time, space, shape, relationship, representation and so on (Willig, 1989).

  2.10  Young children should be taught with the highest staff/child ratios possible, Ideally, this should be in the region of 1:10 and government policy should work towards this for all children in the three to seven age range. The main reason for this assertion is in relation to the scaffolding opportunities which appropriately qualified staff can provide for children of this age if there is time and opportunity for very small group and individual engagement.

  2.11  Teachers who work with young children also need to understand the next phase of education and training should ensure that they have knowledge of child development in the primary phase. This will enable them to recognise the vital ingredients in continuity in experiences and practices from the early to primary years and understand differentiation more thoroughly.

  2.12  Space and resources are also key issues within early years. There must be sufficient physical space for children to engage in large-motor activity at frequent intervals and large equipment for exploration of space in different ways. Too often, young children are inhibited by classrooms and settings which were not designed for large equipment and active youngsters. Classroom contexts should reflect the age and needs of the children and offer playful, active teaching strategies.


  3.1  There is now ample evidence that fully qualified early years teachers offer enormous benefits to children's learning: the works of Pascal (1998), Sylva (1999) and Moyles and Suschitzky (1998a) in particular show unequivocally that quality outcomes to children's learning are a result of the involvement of qualified teachers. Whilst TACTYC recognises the contribution of other para-professionals such as nursery nurses, these adults should work under the guidance of of qualified teachers who have greater knowledge of the learning processes of young children and significant knowledge of planning for appropriate experiences (Moyles and Suschitzky, 1998b).

  3.2  England should be working towards a system where all key staff are qualified teachers. Whilst nursery nurses provide a valuable service to children and their families, they must work under the guidance of a well-qualified teacher as their two-year training cannot, in itself, give them the skills to handle the full range and depth of children's learning and development, curriculum knowledge, parental and community issues, team management and the many other issues which must constitute teacher education in the early years. All para-professionals should work towards up-grading their skills and a wealth of opportunities should be given to enable them to do so.

  3.3  A chasm still appears to exist between vocational and academic education and the interface between GNVQ levels three and four. All attempts to bridge this divide are welcome but we feel strongly that "practice informing practice" is no way to operate in terms of early years. It is vital that there is sufficient academic rigour in those working within early years education to provide the intellectual, personal and moral strength to articulate early years practices with a strong ideological and pedagogical basis (Moyles and Adams, 2,000).

  3.4  All staff should have the opportunity for continuing professional development experiences which are appropriately government funded and undertaken during the working day. It is not sufficient that courses are run in the evenings when participants have already undertaken a full and exhausting teaching day, leaving little physical, intellectual and emotional energy for considering the intellectual challenges which should be presented by such courses.

  3.5  It needs also to be strongly stated that those inspecting early years provision and its delivery across the birth to seven year old phase must themselves be early years trained. Too many KS1 inspectors lack the basic knowledge of early years which is vital to making decisions about the quality of teaching and learning.

  3.6  In similar vein, all government agencies, including OFSTED, should have high quality early years personnel in posts of responsibility for making policy and practice decisions relating to early years education. Frequently it is those without such knowledge who make decisions regarding curriculum and inspection and the negative outcomes of such organisational practice are totally apparent to those who work within the defined (often inappropriate) requirements.

  3.7  The promotional opportunities of early years teachers must be maintained through acknowledgement of the highest quality skills required to teach this age range and to organise and manage the work of other adults. Skills such as negotiation and communication with parents are vital across education and are nowhere developed more effectively than in the early years. Early years teachers must not be marginalised: too long the early years has been considered as relating only to lower status, female workers. Strong efforts must be put into place by policy-makers to increase salaries and status in early years teaching so that, for example, male teachers are encouraged to work in this phase.

  3.8  Specialism in early childhood educations needs to be recognised as a discipline in its own right and afforded parallel conditions of service to all other areas of education.

  3.9  Early years teachers should be educated in the ways and means of observing, analysing and evaluating both children's learning and their responses to teaching. Similarly, the classroom or setting and the quality of team work in supporting curriculum, assessment and children's progression needs to be continually appraised and reviewed. Any move to encourage self-evaluative practices in the early years is to be welcomed and the EYDCPs should and could support this initiative. Section 122 inspections could then build upon this process to make a more meaningful interpretation and analysis of practice.


  4.1  "Quality" in the vital word here in relation to learning. It is vital that quality includes the kinds of assessments which respect and value the child as a learner. Formal paper-and-pencil tests are inadequate at early years level and lead to superficial teaching to the test. Children should be tested through playful, concrete, hands-on processes in order that they can effectively show what they know and can do (Drummond, 1993). They must be allowed to perform to their capabilities rather than to pre-determined outcomes which, in themselves, have often been devised by those without genuine early years understanding and knowledge.

  4.2  Observation is the key to effective assessment of quality learning. All planning for high quality teaching must take into account what has been learned of their approaches to learning through observing their previous activities, interests and capabilities closely. The skills of analysing and interpreting such observations should also be part of initial teacher training in the early years and of OFSTED inspections.

  4.3  Quality of teaching relates as much to what the adults don't do as to what they do do: practitioners must respect the child as learner and teach in ways which support learning rather than offer didactic presentations which marginalise children's own knowledge and skills. The national literacy and numeracy strategies, with their timed sessions and prescriptive input, are not suitable for young children, whose rate of learning is varied and dependent upon their interests and prior knowledge.

  4.4  Baseline assessment of children's learning on entry to school is currently dependent upon a range of schemes most of which rely too heavily upon paper-based outcomes, as in the case of QCA's own scheme. Those which allow teachers to interpret children's practical experiences as the basis of their learning are preferable.

  4.5  Inappropriate formalised assessment of children at an early age currently results in too many children being labelled "failures", when the failure, in fact, lies with the system. The tail of underachievement in the UK is more than likely a result of this type of assessment policy. The variety of achievement and experience in young children must be recognised and addressed and early formal assessment abandoned.

  4.6  Since the work of Vygotsky was translated in 1973, it has been acknowledged that the role of adults and more experienced peers is crucial to children's learning (Rogoff, 1990). The Standards which govern the training of early years teachers take little account of teaching styles through which adults can support and scaffold children's learning, with their heavy emphasis on what should be taught, rather than what should be learned, and ways in which learning is fostered. The TTA Standards must be amended (and reduced) to allow early years pedagogy to be included in ITT courses.

  4.7  Any assessment of either settings or children should involve parents. However, this does mean that parents need in themselves to be kept informed about up-to-date practices and what is known about young children's learning and development.


  5.1  The questions around starting age must be considered in relation to the term "formal". If the latter, for example, means compulsory education (rather than the style in which children's education is implemented) then this raises different issues. Most other European countries do not commence compulsory education until the age of six or even seven years (David, 1993). England is out of step with this only for historical reasons. It is time that, as Europeans, we came in line with our neighbours.

  5.2  "Formal" education in terms of didactic teaching style should not occur at all in the early years. It has been said many times that children are not empty vessels waiting to be filled (Stenhouse, 1967) but small, albeit inexperienced people full of ideas, inspirations and the potential for learning through their own auspices. The type of education provided and style of teaching undertaken should match young children's learning processes and this is, essentially, flexible, eclectic and all-inclusive.

  5.3  Whilst Sure Start undoubtedly offers one of the best chances in several decades of promoting quality in early years services (and the government should be commended for its insight), the multiplicity of initiatives will make careful evaluation of the effectiveness of Sure Start very difficult. This, in itself, is complicated by multi-agency involvement and everyone's concern to ensure that their "discipline" takes priority. Simple quantitative research outcomes will give information about take-up of initiatives but more complex multi-level analysis will be needed if the potential benefits of different initiatives is to be recognised and celebrated. It would also have been more beneficial in the long run if it at least certain elements within Sure Start evaluation projects had been rationalised, thus enabling comparisons of certain aspects across the country.

  5.4  The early years of education are those years in which the child is mainly dependent upon the adults. The period at which the children become emotionally independent and rely more on peer support is the point at which children are likely to be ready to undertake greater formalisation of learning. It is well known that this period is reached when most children are around the age of seven or eight years.

  5.5  Too early formalisation of learning is known to affect boys more profoundly than girls and the likely consequence is boys' alienation from education and learning (Head, 1999). It is vital that the way in which the different sexes learn is taken into account in making decisions both about entry to more formalised schooling systems and the type of education implemented.

  TACTYC's Executive Committee hope that the Select Committee will give careful consideration to the points outlined above. We will be pleased to extend or develop any issues as required.


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The Professional Association of Early Childhood Educators (TACTYC)

January 2000

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