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


Memorandum from the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) (EY 37)


  1.  The Association has a high percentage of head teachers and deputy heads in the early years sector and welcomes the opportunity to give evidence on this important issue. NAHT gave detailed consideration and consultation on education in the early years in 1999 and in July 1999 published a paper that covers the aspects of early years education being considered in this inquiry. The NAHT Working Document on Education in the Early Years sets out the Association's policy and proposals for the development of children's learning between the ages of three and seven/eight. It was drawn up in the context of Desirable Outcomes, National Curriculum requirements Key Stage 1 and Agreed Syllabuses for Religious Education, National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies, Baseline Assessment and end of Key Stage 1 tests.

The appropriate content of early years education, taking into account the recently published QCA Early Learning Goals

  2.  The Association is generally supportive of the Early Learning Goals which replace Desirable Outcomes from September 2000, welcoming the emphasis on play and the recognition of its importance within the learning process.

  3.  NAHT has set out the broad curriculum expectations in three interactive circles based on the understanding that the learning of young children is holistic and not dependent upon discrete subjects. (See Figure 1 below).

  4.  The inner circle represents The Heart of the Curriculum (the development of the individual as a person) encompassing Personal, Social, Emotional Development, Religious Education and Physical Development.

  5.  The middle circle represents The Skills for Learning (essential for further learning) encompassing Language Development, Mathematical Development, Information and communication Technology and Thinking, Observing, Discriminating.

  6.  The outer circle covers The Curriculum of Entitlement and Enrichment (what is learnt) encompassing Creative and Aesthetic Development, Science, Technology and the Wider World, Physical Activities.

  7.  The content of the curriculum is listed in more detail in the attached NAHT Early Years Document Sections 2.2, 2.3 and 2.4.[5]

The way in which it should be taught

  8.  The early years curriculum should be based on the provision of opportunities for learning through play, on practical activities and routine which will promote learning, as well as on the need to acquire an established body of knowledge and skills.

  9.  When planning such a curriculum it is very important to take the following principles into consideration:

    —  Young children need to develop independence, confidence and self-esteem which will empower them to access the curriculum and to live life to the full.

    —  They must be actively involved in their learning which should be based as much as possible on practical experiences and on using a variety of materials.

    —  There should be a balance, too, between activities initiated by the child and those initiated and demonstrated by the teacher.

    —  A balance must also be kept between the familiar, which helps children feel secure and the new or unusual, which will stimulate interest and arouse curiosity.

    —  Teacher intervention should be sensitive and constructive with an atmosphere of trust built up so that the children feel confident enough to ask questions and use the staff as a learning resource.

    —  Teachers must be confident in their knowledge of young children's learning, using their knowledge to develop a form of questioning appropriate to individual children.

    —  All learners, but young children in particular, need to repeat activities if they are to assimilate properly what they have learned and move on to develop new concepts.

    —  Good use must be made of available indoor and outdoor space.

    —  Parental support and involvement is crucial and helps to make their children feel that what they do at school is worthwhile and enjoyable. If parents are to support their children's learning at home, schools need to take positive steps to secure a high level of interest and involvement.

The kind of staff that are needed to teach it and the qualifications they should have

  10.  NAHT firmly believes that all early years education must be in the hands of qualified early years, graduate teachers, who are supported by suitably qualified additional staff, as well as by voluntary support, with the teacher in overall control of the planning, teaching and assessment of high quality learning for young children. A well qualified, graduate teaching force is essential for quality provision. Teachers of the youngest children need a thorough knowledge and understanding of child development and the continuity of learning across the three to seven and eight age range.

  11.  The minimum staffing for nursery classes should be one qualified teacher and one qualified nursery nurse (NNEB or equivalent) to 26 children. All other early years/infant classes should have a qualified teacher and a full time, trained and qualified classroom assistant working with a class of not more than 30 children. Where classes have children with special educational needs, additional trained and qualified support staff are required. The teacher must be responsible for managing the duties of support staff.

  12.  The Association welcomes the introduction of the Framework of Nationally Accredited Qualifications in Early Years Education, Childcare and Playwork. The expansion of early years education has raised the profile of support staff and reinforced the need for a career structure that recognises the skills and competences that are required. It has highlighted the need for high quality training and national standards for qualifications that are appropriate for the different occupational areas and job roles within early years educational support. High quality support staff are an essential part of high quality early years education provision. Appropriate levels of pay for trained and qualified support staff need further consideration and the funding implications for school budgets must then be addressed.

The way quality of teaching and learning in the early years is assessed

  13.  In educational terms the key reason for assessment of young children should be diagnostic, an integral part of the curriculum, informing planning and supporting future learning. SATS were introduced to assess children's attainment at the end of Key Stages and more recently we have seen the introduction of Baseline assessment, which assesses children against Desirable Outcomes for Children's learning on Entering Compulsory Education. Both baseline assessment and end of Key Stage 1 tests have been introduced to provide formative and summative data and fail to provide reliable information for either area.

  14.  NAHT urges the use of a coherent assessment model for diagnostic purposes that:

    —  builds on baseline assessment and measures a child's progress and attainment through the school;

    —  informs curriculum planning and target setting;

    —  is based both on standardised tests and on teacher assessment.

  Results would be shared with the child and parents as well as used to inform discussion on the child's progress.

  15.  The Association commissioned research from Newcastle University on an Evaluation of Baseline Assessment Schemes. The main recommendations are listed on page 7 of the NAHT Early Years Document.

  16.  NAHT is opposed to the use of Baseline Assessment as the starting point of any national "value added" scheme.

  17.  There are currently different models for assessing the quality of teaching and learning through the inspection process, depending on the setting within which the early years education is provided. NAHT believes that any setting, school or otherwise, which offers education, should be liable to the same model of inspection. Therefore, whilst the Care Standards Bill for a single inspection framework for non-maintained settings is very welcome, it does not go far enough in the Association's view. Further, NAHT would like to see a system which acts as moderation of the school's own self-evaluation processes and to which the staff of the school are able to make a genuine professional input, as outlined in Section 5 on page 7 of the NAHT Early Years Document.

  18.  Teams inspecting early years education must have recent, relevant experience of the education of very young children, to ensure that their findings are accurate and promote improvement.

  19.  The inspection process should, in conjunction with the LEA, validate an on-going assessment of a young child's learning rather than make "snapshot" judgements and rely on end of Key Stage tests.

At what age formal schooling should start

  20.  This raises the question as to what precisely is meant by the term formal schooling, its relationship to the statutory age for starting school and the provision of a curriculum delivered in a more formal way. The curriculum should be developed, planned and delivered in a way most appropriate to the age, needs and abilities of the child.

  21.  The NAHT supports the formation of a foundation stage for all three, four and five year old children up to the end of the reception year with Key Stage 1 beginning in Year 1. The Key Stage 1 curriculum should be based on the same areas of learning as the foundation stage in order to provide continuity and progression for children's learning from the ages of three to seven and eight, with the move to a more formal curriculum taking place at the end of Key Stage 1.

National Association of Head Teachers

January 2000

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