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


Memorandum from Dr Vivien Robins (EY 51)

Please find enclosed my submission to the Education sub-committee investigating current Early Years provision. This submission should be put in the context of my CV (enclosed) which highlights my slightly unusual mix of expertise. As an academic and successful practitioner, with some research and publications I feel strongly about Early Years.

  I believe that I have a certain practical and theoretical understanding of Early Years settings; three to six year olds; their parents, carers and extended families. This understanding informs the enclosed submission which is brief, as advised. I could have written far more but thought the members would appreciate some succinct points in the knowledge that I can offer more practical or academic evidence if required. If visits are needed I can arrange (1) a visit to my last four + unit in Leicestershire to highlight the need for a variety of spaces inside and out, and some resources which facilitate young children's positive learning and support successful teachingstyles (2) a visit to one (or all ) of three Bedford nurseries, all of which can show very good practice with three to five year olds.

  1.  Young children (three to six year olds—the "Foundation Stage") are generally undervalued and unchallenged in contemporary English society; by some parents; by some Heads, Governors, and Senior Management Teams; and by some of my ex-colleagues in Key States One and Two. Children should start school at the start of the year in which they are five, given my following comments.

  2.  Our quickly changing society and the demands of ICT tend to deny young children's needs, which are different at three years old from five. While they can happily learn from ICT in moderation they need an antidote (see point 3) to an onslaught from their wider world of too much exposure to sometimes inappropriate videos and television; stimuli which do not normally fine-tune their linguistic and imaginative skills. Young children are learning to distinguish reality from fantasy, to communicate, to interact and to learn successfully. This involves a variety of skills, such as dealing with non-verbal communication, which is being adversely affected in some children.

  3.  Some children of this age can deal successfully with a mix of teaching and learning styles. Four year olds can benefit at some time in their day from whole class or large group teaching, but it must be informed by playful, hands-on, active learning which in turn needs to be supported by sufficient staff, resources and spaces. Some of the pedagogy evident in the Early Learning Goals should permeate and inform more of the teaching currently being delivered at Key State One.

  4.  Foundation Stage children need qualified committed staff. A recent Radio 4 programme (3.1.00 Woman's Hour) highlighted good practice evident in Sweden, where Early Years teachers have to qualify with a three year University training. A parent commented of her children's staff, "they have the imagination I don't have at home". (Refer back to point 2). Currently, support staff are not valued or paid sufficiently. Experienced nursery nurses should have their professional qualification and dedication recognised. Classroom assistants, who are usually equally committed and benefit young children's learning, also need more support (see Education Guardian, 18.1.00).

  5.  Following on from point 3, young children's developmental needs must be regarded (as the Early Learning Goals are attempting to do). They need time for successful learning which in turn will foster their self-esteem, and send them in the direction of life-long learning.

  6.  Children have only one childhood in which their learning styles, self-esteem and potential for success are laid down. If the Government begins to value Early Years as it is learning to do with the National Health Service, then the sentiment expressed by a Government spokesman on the World at One that staff were the most important resource in the NHS (17.1.00) may be mirrored for young children and their staff.

  7.  Are you speaking with the children? I can provide you with evidence (tapes, writing, drawing, photographs, videos) giving testimony from four year olds of what children value and need at the Foundation Stage.

Dr Vivien Robins

January 2000

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