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
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
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
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
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
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
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. THE APPROPRIATE
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
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
2. THE WAY
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. THE KIND
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. THE WAY
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. AT WHAT
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