Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the London Borough of Barnet Early Years and Childcare Partnership (EY 13)


  1.  The education of children from three to six years old covers a crucial stage when all the key aspects of their development, attitudes and learning are being formed.

  2.  During this period children develop more quickly than at any other time in their lives. The staff with whom they come into contact must be specifically trained in child development with a skilled understanding of the variety of ways children learn.

  3.  At this stage, it is the processes of learning that are more important than the product. If the processes are developed well then all other aspects of learning are more likely to flourish. It is essential that children develop positive attitudes towards themselves and each other and have confidence in their capacity to learn. It is also important for them to understand that they are able to learn independently, through their own explorations, as well as when they are with adults.

  4.  It is important to state, that if the educational experiences of young children take a wrong direction during this period it is far more difficult to put them right at a later stage. This has a lasting cost to society in both human and financial terms.

  5.  The government has put a great deal of effort into providing funding for more pre-school places and wrap-around care so that mothers/carers have greater opportunities to find work. This is welcomed and appreciated. So is the creation of early years partnerships with the joining together of care and education enabling the young child to be seen in a holistic way.

  6.  Those of us who are members of the early years partnerships have worked diligently to make sure that nursery places are available and of high quality. We do not approve of poor practice and have spent many years trying to eradicate it. We aim for all children to succeed in all areas of their learning, particularly in being creative, literate, numerate and well balanced human beings.

  7.  We therefore welcome the new Foundation Stage and the intention that it is to be seen as a stage in its own right for children from three to the end of the reception class. We especially agree with the recognition given to the importance of play and active learning in the Early Learning Goal document as effective means of developing children's learning.

  8.  We would, however, like to state that it will be difficult for the new Foundation Stage to be regarded as a stage in its own right if colleagues at other stages of education, and especially those carrying out OFSTED inspections, are not made fully aware of the implication this will have for delivering an appropriately planned, broadly based and active early years curriculum.

  9.  It is crucial that this stage is recognised and inspected its own right and seen as one where young children experience unfettered time to develop their knowledge, understanding and wide ranging skills through experiential learning within a practically based curriculum.

  10.  At the present time, early years staff are experiencing increasing pressure to implement more formally based practice which is detrimental to young children's present and future educational well being. This has arisen as a consequence of the pressure that staff in key stages one and two are experiencing as a result of a combination of, the national literacy strategy requirements, target setting and the publication of league tables, and their concern that children in reception classes should start a content based curriculum as soon as possible as there is so much to cover when they go through school.

  11.  Because of this, the all-round, healthy educational development of many young children is being damaged by the implementation of practice that is inappropriate for them and more relevant for children of older years. This is not in the best interests of the children who are having insufficient time to play creatively and explore in-depth through first hand experiences, the areas of learning that are so essential to their intellectual, emotional, physical and social growth. All key aspects that have been recognised in the Early Learning Goals principles, aims and guidance for practice with which we thoroughly agree.

  12.  We, in common with many parents and carers, are deeply worried about the pressure under which young children are being placed. Concern is being expressed about the rising number of children who are seen as potential "failures", or, termed as having, "special needs", at an age when they should be experiencing positive and rich opportunities to develop at their different paces and in their different ways. These terms should not even be being considered, except for the few with clearly identified and obvious special needs. This will make standards eventually become lower rather than higher.

  13.  While we agree with the underlying principles and aims of the National Literacy Strategy, the requirements directed at the reception classes (an also the year one classes who often still have very young children among their numbers) are too content heavy. They are leading to the greater formalisation of practice already mentioned that is inappropriate not only for young children but also for those who are older but developmentally immature. The practice suggested does not allow sufficiently for children's need to be actively engaged in learning in ways most appropriate to them.

  14.  It is essential in the early stages of learning that skilled attention and planning is given to developing the key processes and attitudes involved in becoming literate. These should be carried out with an emphasis on fostering enjoyment of books, literacy and to work at their own pace. This all needs time and careful nurturing with appropriately qualified staff.

  15.  We would, therefore, like to recommend that the literacy strategy begins when children are six years old, after the foundation stage and during year one, when many children are likely to be more developmentally mature and able to take on the skills-based aspects of the framework. This would ensure that the Foundation Stage could appropriately focus on those aspects mentioned above.

  16.  The National Numeracy Strategy brings a different issue. It is generally felt that the underpinning philosophy, aims and principles of this strategy are excellent for the youngest and oldest children alike. The issue here is not about content, or the underlying principles, which we welcome, but the requirement for both literacy and numeracy frameworks to be taught daily in a particular way. This causes problems for the young and developmentally immature children, particularly at the end of the reception summer term and in the autumn term of year one.

  17.  Many of the youngest children who come within the scope of both frameworks are experiencing regular and prolonged periods of sitting down, being required to listen, when they can be seen to switch off, moving to group work for a short period of time, stopping often before they have completed their task, and sitting down again which goes against the rhythm of their learning.

  18.  Consequently their days are being too finely timetabled and "chopped up". They lack the opportunity to see their activities and work through, lose the impetus to finish what they have partly completed at another prescribed time and do not experience the satisfaction of having uninterrupted time to complete a piece of work on which they have concentrated. In many cases these children are lacking proper access to the active, broad and balanced curriculum so important to them. They do not get sufficient time to be reflective, show curiosity, explore and discuss their ideas in depth. Their concentration is frequently being negatively affected.

  19.  While undoubtedly young children will do anything they are asked to please the adults they like and who care for them, it is not in their long-term interests to be rushed into aspects of learning that, for some, are more appropriately developed at a later stage. It is important to refute the increasingly prevailing view that the earlier children are admitted to formal schooling the more and the quicker they learn.

  20.  We would welcome a full and public acceptance of the key principle that education in the early years is to provide children with what they need now. Future success in learning and children's confidence in seeing themselves positively as learners depends on the adoption of this vital understanding by all involved in delivering and inspecting the curriculum. If this is provided then children who are developmentally ready to learn will continue to make good progress and those who have a slower pace for a variety of different reasons will be encouraged at a pace with which they can cope.

  21.  We emphasise that we are pleased to see the guidance on the Early Learning Goals taking account of these key points. But we remain concerned that there seems to be a mismatch between the guidance, the content-heavy requirements of the literacy strategy and the approach taken by a number of OFSTED inspection teams who frequently do not have properly qualified and experienced early years inspectors among their number, and, who fail to subscribe to the well established practice that is recognised in the Early Learning Goals document.

  22.  At present, too many schools with nurseries and reception aged children, and pre-school providers attached to the Partnership, are having conclusions drawn about their practice by different OFSTED teams that are contradictory. This is sending mixed, confusing and worrying messages regarding OFSTED's view of what constitutes appropriate practice in the early years. This is also fostering considerable parental anxiety and confusion.

  23.  We would welcome a high profile recognition that it is the quality, breadth and active nature of the learning process that counts for young children and not the amount to be covered and speed of learning. It is particularly noted that young and immature boys and summer born children are increasingly adversely affected. For these groups, pressure, and an inappropriately paced curriculum, has a negative effect that is cumulative. Once they experience an inability to understand, or find difficulty in sitting and concentrating for the length of time expected, they see themselves as unable to learn in the way school requires and consequently feel a sense of failure.

  24.  We strongly recommend that all OFSTED inspection teams are made fully aware of the principles, aims and guidance of the Early Learning Goals and how they should best be implemented. Particularly regarding the importance of personal, social, emotional, creative and physical development in underpinning and feeding all other areas of learning.

  25.  That all OFSTED teams receive training by qualified and experienced early years practitioners to develop a consistent view of what appropriate teaching and learning looks like in the foundation stage and also in other classes where there are developmentally immature children.

  26.  That all OFSTED teams include an inspector who is an experienced, knowledgeable and qualified early years practitioner.

  In the light of our above comments and in consideration of the questions put by the Parliamentary Education Sub-Committee, the Partnership of the London Borough of Barnet would like to make the following response:


  1.1  The principles, aims and guidelines of the Early Learning Goals document are welcomed by the Partnership as they show value to the key features of children's learning.

  1.2  We feel, however that the early learning goals for language and literacy are too numerous and do not link in appropriately with the document's principles, aims and guidelines.

  1.3  The Partnership would like to see the content of early years education focusing particularly on the creative and exploratory areas of learning with a strong emphasis on children's personal, social and emotional development.

  1.4  It is felt that the appropriate content and delivery of early years education is achieved through a carefully planned curriculum based on exploration, the development of curiosity, the nurturing of children's ability to communicate effectively within a balance of teacher lead activities and children's independent choice. This would include access to:

    —  science based, awe and wonder, aspects of knowledge and understanding of the world;

    —  the drawing on of the children's knowledge and enjoyment of the events and important features relating to their lives that form the basis of the humanities;

    —  opportunities for children to discover and develop their creative abilities and interests through all aspects of art, design, music and role play;

    —  providing regular opportunities for children to hear and tell stories, poems, songs and rhymes, with a wide variety of books and print, that lead into an interest in, and development of, the use of a rich vocabulary, reading and writing;

    —  an active engagement with resources and activities that develop an enjoyment of and understanding of number, shape, pattern;

    —  regular and planned opportunities to play creatively in a wide range of situations, in and out of doors, to develop their language, imaginative abilities, social interaction and explore ideas;

    —  opportunities to discuss ideas, thoughts and feelings with knowledgeable adults who give them time and encouragement.


  2.1  Children should have access to a stimulating learning environment where they can progress at their own rates, which will vary, learn according to ways most appropriate to them and have their efforts valued.

  2.2  They should experience this through rich, well planned opportunities for play and a wide variety of interactive learning experiences.

  2.3  Children should always have access to appropriately qualified staff who understand about the key processes of learning and apply their expertise to enable children to become confident about their ability to learn, communicate effectively and make progress.

  2.4  Children should be taught starting from what they show they are able to do and are interested in, in ways appropriate to their abilities, and not to targets to be achieved by a certain age. The downward pressure on classes containing these children is leading to a number experiencing failure younger and younger which, consequently, is turning many off learning and contributing towards behaviour problems.


  3.1  Early years training needs to focus equally as much on the developmental processes of the youngest children in the 3-8 year age range as the oldest.

  3.2  Many of our newly qualified teachers have reported that their training has insufficiently prepared them for teaching the youngest children. A greater emphasis appears to be being placed on the upper end of this age range and consequently the new teachers lack a proper understanding of the developmental needs of the younger children.

  3.3  Teacher training courses need to adjust to take account of the above points as the increasing demand for knowledgeable early years staff in an expanding area is not being met. This will undermine the government's aim to provide high quality provision for all children.

  3.4  All teaching and support staff working in early years provision should have, or be given the opportunity to obtain, a degree or further qualifications with an early years specialisation, including modules in child development and the processes of learning.

  3.5  It is requested that the Government should raise the awareness and recognise the value of early years staff as experts specialising in their field. Universities should be required to address this issue and run appropriate courses for teachers in other year groups and key stages who wish to work in early years.

  3.6  All those working in a support capacity in the foundation stage should have a relevant early years qualification, for example, the equivalent of a nursery officer diploma and that schools are sufficiently funded to appoint them.

  3.7  It would be helpful if a nationally recognised and standardised early years qualification was created for those wishing to work in this stage of education.

  3.8  Staffing ratios should reflect the ages of the children in the Foundation Stage. The younger the child the more trained adults available. Consistency in ratio's should exist between all providers.

  3.9  Training should be available for head teachers, senior staff and governing bodies to help them recognise and understand the developmental processes involved in young children's learning and the implication these have for planning, resourcing and organising the curriculum and environment.


  4.1  The principles, aims and guidelines as shown in the present Early Learning Goals document, with their acknowledgement of the importance of play and active learning, should form the basis of assessment and inspection for identifying quality teaching and learning.

  4.2  The quality of teaching and learning in the early years should be assessed by those who are early years trained and experienced and have a clear understanding of how young children learn and develop. It is not felt appropriate to have secondary trained staff, and others who have had little practical and successful experience of teaching young children, carrying out OFSTED inspections.

  4.3  It is important for those responsible for assessing and/or inspecting to take into account children's different starting points and the progress they have made with a particular emphasis children's achievement in their personal, social, emotional and creative development. More discussions of these points with relevant staff and accompanying evidence should take place during inspections.

  4.4  How staff plan to develop the key processes of learning in the way described in the Early Learning Goals document should be the focus for assessment/inspection in the Foundation Stage, paying particular attention to active learning.

  4.5  Assessment processes by staff in schools and OFSTED inspectors should take more account of the observational and on-going records staff have developed that show the ways children are making progress and how these are used to support planning. Progress is more likely to be identified through an effective use of the above, evidence of children's involvement in learning and from opportunities to take with the children, rather than from formally recorded work which is often minimal, unnecessary in many contexts and unrepresentative of the real progress children are making in key areas of learning.


  5.1  It is recommended that more formally taught schooling should begin when children are six years old. This does not necessarily mean at the beginning of Y1 as many children are still five years old and it is important that smooth transitions are made. All other provision up to this age should be geared to the needs and interests of the young child. Provision should ensure that they have opportunities to engage in active learning through imaginative play, exploration, the development of curiosity, creativity and their confident ability to communicate thoughts and ideas effectively in a variety of ways.

  5.2  As referred to in our opening commentary the Partnership would like to stress their concern that at the present time four and many five year olds, particularly the summer born, are not mentally or physically mature enough for the way reception classes are increasingly structured and paced as a result of downward pressure from other key stages and curriculum requirements.

  5.3  We therefore welcome the definition of good practice in early years settings and the curriculum for the foundation stage as set out in the Early Learning Goals document, with its emphasis on interactive and child-based learning, and would like to see our above recommendations given serious consideration by the Parliamentary sub-committee.

The London Borough of Barnet, Early Years and Childhood Partnership

January 2000

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 11 January 2001