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


Memorandum from the Early Years Inspectorate, Worcestershire (EY 47)


  1.1  In the early years this is most effectively achieved through being creative, being physical and having their natural interest and curiosity about the world stimulated and extended. They need to practise their knowledge and skills within a wide variety of experiences.

  Early Education should be broad and balanced.

  The crucial importance of creative and physical development to children's literacy and mathematical development should not be underestimated.

  1.2  It is important that young children's learning experiences are not compartmentalised into "subjects" or "areas of learning". It is critical that educators understand the content and processes involved in each area of learning but necessary that this does not inhibit them from presenting children's experiences in a cohesive and coherent way. The Early Learning Goals would be further strengthened by the recognition of core basic skills which should thread through each area of learning.

  Children need opportunity to practice their social skills and be active learners, listeners and talkers.

  Establish core skills (above) which would thread through every area of learning throughout a child's educational experience.

  1.3  The emphasis given by the Early Learning Goals to children's personal, social and emotional development is welcomed. This area of learning underpins all others and children's well-being, their positive attitudes and dispositions to learn and their social skills significantly contribute to their success as learners in all other domains. These skills are critical throughout life, where evidence shows that people who are emotionally adept, who know about and manage their own feelings and who read and deal effectively with other people's feelings, are at an advantage in any aspect of life.

  Children's personal, social and emotional development should remain a priority.

  1.4  Language and Literacy—Both early years and language specialists are concerned about the downward pressure of the National Literacy Strategy on young children's language and literacy development. It is important to stress that this does not mean that early childhood educators do not want children to achieve high standards of literacy. Rather, our concerns are that the current emphasis on accurate decoding of print and correct letter formation can too easily result in static, de-contextualised experiences which are alienating some children from the richness and potential of writing and story.

  1.5  There is substantial evidence from research in this country and from overseas that a later start to more formal aspects of language and literacy learning will lead to quicker gains in competence in reading and writing, and actually to higher standards at age nine or ten.

  1.6  Representation of their experiences through drawing, modelling, painting, dancing and making music are all powerful ways of developing language and expressing ideas. The development of physical skills are equally critical in giving children the awareness of space and in developing control of their gross and fine motor skills, all of which are crucial to the successful writer.

  Inappropriate informal strategies for language and literacy may seriously inhibit children at a time when they are most susceptible to inappropriate content and methods.

  1.7  Mathematical development—Mathematical development is most effectively achieved through exploration of number and mathematical concepts in real life situations which are meaningful to young children. The proliferation of work-sheets in many early years settings reveals the pressure to produce "evidence" of learning, but in fact is frequently evidence of how to complete a worksheet, rather than an accurate reflection of mathematical knowledge and understanding.

  1.8  Knowledge and understanding of the world—This area of learning is at the heart of so much of what makes young children's spontaneous learning so rich and varied. It is so important that these experiences occur both inside the setting and, particularly, outdoors.

  1.9  Creative development—Creative experiences should reflect a rich variety of ways in which they can express themselves. The content of the creative curriculum should offer opportunities for children to express and explore their creativity through drawing, painting, modelling, dancing and making music. Not only these mediums matter. Play is one of the most creative mediums there is, where children can be other people, invent situations, role-play different characters, create other worlds. Through representing their ideas children also demonstrate their developing concepts and understandings.

  1.10  Physical development—Experts in the fields of mental and physical health join the voices of those in social services and education to alert policy makers to the inadequacy of children's current physical experiences. Children have a far more sedentary life-style than their predecessors. This generation is also one of the most looked after and children need to "struggle" and come to terms with success and how to persevere.


  2.1  The way in which the content of early education should be taught is actually more important than what should be taught. It is at this stage that children are acquiring such a range of skills and understandings that it is the process of these experiences which will given them the skills, understandings and positive attitudes to be learners for life. Teaching is about organising and enabling learning as well as a didactic method.

  2.2  Teaching in the early years can involve the purchase of high quality play resources because it is known that their use will lead to scientific or mathematical understanding. Teaching may be the extending of a young child's own ideas as they play with large blocks or in the sand. Teaching may be selecting an appropriate book to share with a group of children one of whom has just lost his grandmother and needs an opportunity to express and come to understand his emotions.

  2.3  Teaching does not ensure learning. For children to learn effectively the adult must take account of the young children's own drive and motivation, their own needs and interests. Children need many and varied opportunities to initiative learning for themselves as well as respond to experiences and activities initiated by adults. Children need opportunities to work and play alone and in small and larger groups. They need time to be with friends and those they select to cooperate and collaborate with. They need times to be independent and to be in an environment that encourages them to be responsible for their own learning.


  3.1  We support the drive towards establishing a qualified, graduate teacher in every setting, in order for that setting to be managed by a professional who is sufficiently trained to understand the complexities of how children learn, how areas of learning progress and how to respond to individual and collective learning needs. This is a challenging and complex task and needs the highest intellectual rigour.

  3.2  The ratios in all early years settings within the Foundation Stage should be 1:10, ie one teacher and one qualified nursery nurse in each pre-school setting and one teacher and two qualified nursery nurses in a class of 30.

  3.3  The second and other adult(s) in every setting should be qualified. It is not acceptable that at such a crucial—perhaps the most crucial—time in a child's educational life, that their learning is planned, taught and managed by unqualified adults. The vast array of current qualifications needs to be reduced and clear equivalent qualifications identified.

  3.4  As well as initial qualifications it should be expected of every early years professional that they engage in on-going professional development and each Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership should be responsible for planning and executing such a programme.


  4.1  It is not the age at which children begin statutory schooling that is the main issue, but rather the appropriateness of the educational experiences they have once they are.

  4.2  "Formal" is sometimes used to describe experiences which involve didactic teaching methods, when children are generally passive as learners and there is a reliance on paper and pencil recording. Certainly, most people would see formal education as being the time when children begin to learn through the eyes and ears of others—their teachers, books, magazines, reference materials, rather than needing first hand, practical, hands-on experiences of their own. Taking this definition of "formal", then we believe that formal schooling should start of the beginning of Year 2 (KS1 = Yr2 + 3 and KS2 = Yr 4, 5, 6).

  4.3  The Foundation Stage principles and aims are appropriate for children to the age of seven. To the age of seven children need much more concrete, practical, context-rich experiences which build as much on their own needs and interests as they do on what adults introduce.

  4.4  The interpretation of Literacy Strategy has done most damage in classes where reception year children are educated alongside older peers.

Early Years Inspectorate, Worcestershire

January 2000

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