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


Memorandum from CARE for Education (EY 55)


  ES1.  Children are individuals—whole, unique people entrusted to their parents and society. The welfare and needs of children must have first priority in decisions about early years education.

  ES2.  Parents, both mothers and fathers, are the crucial touchstones for a child and retain the responsibility for their child's education, even though this will at times be delegated to others. Parents need real choice in early years education, having the freedom to decide what is the best environment for their children at such a crucial stage. A wide variety of settings need to be available, from toddler groups to play groups, nursery schools to school reception classes and to simply being at home.

  ES3.  Children should not be ushered into formal education at too early an age. Early years education must be centred on learning through play, without the pressure to perform. A child's first experience of education must be positive and enabling, building a firm foundation for future school life.

  ES4.  Children reach statutory school age the term after their fifth birthday. Pre-school education and environments, in all their forms, need to be seen as preparation for later school life, not an extension of school to younger children. Statutory school places at a particular school should not be dependent on earlier enrolment in the nursery.

  ES5.  CARE's evidence focuses on asking five key questions which seek to provide a framework for analysing aspects of early years education—in particular childcare policies, the newly revised Early Learning Goals and the outworking of early years policy in practice. The following questions are addressed within the evidence:

    (1)  Do the policies address the needs of children or economic priorities?

    (2)  Are there real choices for parents and children?

    (3)  What are the effects of policies on providers of childcare and early years education?

    (4)  What are the lessons from other countries?

    (5)  Are we enabling children to learn or exerting pressure to perform?


  1.1  CARE (Christian Action Research and Education) is an organisation concerned to see national, European law and public policy on the value of marriage and the family reflect Christian ethical principles. CARE is also involved in practical caring initiatives, the organisation of conferences and seminars, and publication of educational and research materials. Over 100,000 Christians throughout the UK regularly receive information and support CARE work.

  1.2  CARE's Public Policy Department acts as a think-tank on ethical issues relating to the family, education and medical ethics. We are also a point of reference and information on these issues for Christian supporters across the church denominations in the UK. We are able to keep interested supporters informed about developments in family policy and research through our regular publications. We also brief Parliamentarians as relevant matters are considered in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Brussels.

  1.3  CARE for Education, a department of CARE, has produced a number of educational resources for primary and secondary schools. Most notable of these is Make Love Last, a sex education video now purchased by 45 per cent of the UK's secondary schools. We have also produced a CD-ROM and video called Growing Up Together for primary school personal and social education. One of the department's specific interests is early years. We hosted two conferences in March and October 1999 on Early Years Care and Education which were attended by over 300 different parents and early years practitioners. A third conference is planned for June 2000. Feedback from discussion groups that met during the conferences has been incorporated into this evidence. A training day for Christian early years workers is also planned for April 2000.

  1.4  Ann Holt, the Director of CARE for Education is a special advisor to the Secretary of State for Education on School Governance and Management, and is an Adjudicator for School Admissions and Organisation. She is currently on secondment to the DfEE for part of her time, working on Performance Management.


  2.1  CARE's consideration of Early Years issues arose out of previous education work, views expressed by parents and practitioners, and also the increased political interest in childcare within the areas of social security, tax and practical initiatives. In particular the Welfare to Work policies introduced by the New Labour Government brought a renewed and welcome political focus to the area of childcare and early years education.

  2.2  The development of childcare and early years education policies are much-needed for the nurture of children and in order for many families to effectively juggle work and home. This development has, however, raised several questions and concerns among parents, professionals, policy-makers and early years practitioners. These questions, concerns and ideas have been demonstrated perhaps most tangibly to CARE in the large numbers of people who have attended our Early Years Conferences held in different parts of the country.

  2.3  The conferences were preceded and accompanied by CARE's written responses to the Green Paper, Meeting the Childcare Challenge and the QCA's Review of the Desirable Outcomes in which key areas for consideration were identified and outlined.

  2.4  In the following evidence to the Education and Employment Committee's Inquiry, we seek to draw attention to various areas of progress and concern. These areas have been identified among parents, practitioners and policy-makers with regard to the content of early years education, the assessment of teaching and learning, and the appropriate age at which formal schooling should start.

  2.5  CARE's evidence seeks to cover issues relating to childcare and early years education, recognising that support, care and education within the early years are integrated. The evidence will focus on asking five key questions which seek to provide a framework for analysing aspects of early years education—in particular childcare policies, the newly revised Early Learning Goals and the outworking of early years policy in practice. We suggest that where possible the five questions be incorporated into the Inquiry's approach to examining aspects of early years education.

  2.6  CARE appreciates this opportunity to contribute towards the Committee's consideration of this complex and diverse area, and looks forward to the report of the Inquiry's findings.


  3.1  In order to contribute to the Committee's consideration of aspects of early years care and education, we pose and address five key questions below.

Q1  Do childcare and early years education policies address the needs of children or economic priorities?

  Q1.1  It is clear that childcare provision, in all its forms, is invaluable to children and parents, and the increased attention given to this issue is very welcome.

  Q1.2  However, the political efforts to fill the so-called "childcare gap" have raised concerns regarding the drive behind some childcare and early years education policies, and the impact of this drive on practice. Are they primarily designed to fulfil the real needs of young children, or do they mould childcare into work-orientated time structures?

  Q1.3  As policies are developed and implemented, it is important that the following question is consistently asked "Who or what has priority in childcare and early years education policies—particularly within provision which involves children being placed in and out of home care for long periods of time?

  Q1.4  The DfEE's Green Paper, Meeting the Childcare Challenge, was published in the summer of 1998, and outlined the Government's approach to childcare officially for the first time since taking office. As a foundational document for subsequent policy developments, it provides an important source of factual and ideological information, and reveals some of the factors that have shaped policy. While emphases may have changed and evolved since 1998, it is valuable to analyse points made within the Green Paper.

  Q1.5  In paragraph 2.2 of Meeting the Childcare Challenge, it is stated that "there is clear evidence that good quality daycare in the earliest years has long-term benefits for children's social and intellectual development". No sources of this evidence feature within the paper, and this is the only form of childcare that is given explicit endorsement. In a similar way it is stated that pre-school, breakfast and homework clubs will "provide development and educational opportunities for all children".

  Q1.6  These claims that daycare, by implication long hours daycare, in the earliest years is good for children are challenged by much research. A Demos report states that "a body of research material suggests that very early experience and long hours of out of homecare may lead to insecure attachment and potential problems for some children"[31]

  Q1.7  Elsewhere in the Green Paper, it is stated that "our economy will prosper if more skilled and capable people are able to take up job opportunities because they have access to good quality, affordable and accessible childcare". In addition, one of the two outcomes for testing the success of the National Childcare Strategy is "more parents with the chance to take up work, education or training because they have access to childcare".

  Q1.8  In tandem with childcare policies, other policies such as the New Deal for Lone Parents have been validated by arguments which state that 90 per cent of mothers want to be in paid work. However, this figure is often quoted without clarifying the fact that, broadly speaking, woman with young children want to work, but only 28 per cent say soon, and 63 per cent say when their children are older.[32]

  Q1.9  It is important for wage-earning to be encouraged where possible. However, it is disconcerting to hear some officials refer to the "dignity" that will be regained by many primary care-givers, usually mothers, by returning to the paid workforce. Such ideas raise questions about how much value is placed on raising children as an important job in society. It can appear that raising children, and nurturing their relational and educational development, is only regarded as work when someone else is paid to do it.

  Q1.10  Facilitating work for parents emerges as a prevailing factor in the development of childcare policies. For some parents who are primary care-givers, usually women, paid work for the majority of the time is either a necessity or a desired choice. Therefore, it is important that external childcare provision addresses this reality. However, the Government's emphasis on paid employment as a route out of poverty and welfare dependency has meant that in the process of implementing this policy, childcare has often been referred to by officials and campaigners as a "barrier to work".

  Q1.11  Terms such as "barrier to work" consign the care of children into an abstract category—something to be sorted out in order to achieve another end, and do not convey the fact that very young people are involved. There is a widely-held concern that claims of advantages for child development from daycare use are often used as sugar to help the medicine of back-to-work and "economy prospering" priorities go down easily.

  Q1.12  The analysis, development and enactment of policies relating to the education and care of young children must be shaped by the prioritisation of the unique relational and attention needs of children at this early stage of life. Economic ends must not dominate policies that affect the care and education of children.

Q.2.  Are there real choices for parents and children?

  Q2.1  Different families have different childcare needs and expectations, according to their own domestic and work situations. In order for parents to choose care and education environments that address the needs of their children, it is essential for diversity to flourish within the forms of childcare and early years support and education available.

  Q2.2  Paragraph ES7 of Meeting the Childcare Challenge states that, "parents will always have the primary responsibility for the care and well-being of their children. It is up to the parents to decide what sort of childcare they want for their children".

  Q2.3  Within childcare policies, it appears that the proposals offer substantial verbal or practical support to certain options. For instance, the option of using paid registered childcare for the majority of the time is upheld implicitly above others. The childcare tax credit can only be used in conjunction with registered childcare providers. In effect this means that there is little practical support allocated for the option of one or both parents, and other family or informal carers, looking after their own children for the majority of the time. The assumption appears to be that those parents who choose to forgo an income in order to care for their children for most of the time can afford to do so. This is not necessarily the case, but the desire to be heavily involved in the care, development and education of their young children directs their choice.

  Q2.4  The fact that the childcare tax credit can only be used in conjunction with paid registered childcare also adds weight to the message commonly received by parents—that childcare professionals are the best people to educate and raise their children for most of the time. "Good quality" childcare is related to external care, beyond family and friends. An example of this message is found in the Early Learning Goals document which states that "above all, high quality care and education by practitioners will lead to effective learning and development for young children"[33]. This bias, although well-intentioned, can lead to parents feeling obliged to seek out "professional" settings at an early stage in their child's development—above concentrating on their own involvement and educational influences—in order to secure "quality" input into their children.

  Q2.5  The potential limitation of parental choice can also be more subtle—for example, in proposals outlining the Early Years Development Partnerships, parents are found low down in a list of "childcare experts" where local authorities top the list.[34]

  Q2.6  Within early years education, many parents of three and four year old children feel as though they have no real choice with regard to where they place their children. It is often evident that emphasis is given to the schooling model of early years education. The existence of a free part-time place for all four years olds had led to large numbers of parents sending their children to school-based nursery units or reception classes.

  Q2.7  Many parents do not actually want to do this—they would often prefer more flexibility in terms of content and hours spent at the setting by their children—but feel pressurised to follow this course of action. This pressure can be attributed to the fear of not gaining a place for their child at the start of compulsory education, and also because this schooling model is what is presented as the best thing for children. There have been cases, such as that of a mother of four year old twins, where parents have been told by local councils that their children had to move up into the reception class from the nursery, or their compulsory school places would be lost altogether.

  Q2.8  Within the Early Learning Goals document published by the QCA and the DfEE, it is encouraging to see the endorsement of partnership between parents and practitioners. The document asserts that "parents are children's first and most enduring educators...[35], and that a successful partnership needs a "two-way flow of information, knowledge and expertise". It is encouraging to see that the significance of parental involvement is acknowledged and embraced.

  Q2.9  Within early years settings it is essential that the input, views and involvement of parents are incorporated and encouraged. But in order for parents to be able to make child-centred choices, as they decide initially how their children should be cared for and educated, it is vital that all early years options are supported equitably. This consists of equally supporting those options that allow for flexibility in terms of time spent at home with parents, and diversity within the content of early years care and education available.

Q3.  What are the effects of policies on providers of childcare and early years education?

  Q3.1  Taking the example of universal places for four year olds, it is apparent that such policies have had a significant impact on all providers of care and education. Maintained schools provide two-thirds of the free places for four year olds. In 1998, 55 per cent of four year olds were taught in primary school reception classes where a class of 30 will often have one teacher [36]. In effect the commitment to provide all four year olds with "nursery education" appears to have been met largely by putting under-5s into primary schools.

  Q3.2  Schools often do not have the funding to equip themselves for the specialised needs of four year olds. Despite Government affirmation of the right of parents to defer reception places, local authorities are under pressure not to allow parents to defer because they receive no funding for children not at school—they simply cannot afford to let children start later. Nursery and reception classes have often been overcrowded, but in the words of one primary head teacher— "at the end of the day I need to balance the books[37].

  Q3.3.  We welcome the fact that infant school classes sizes are being regulated as a result of recent legislation. However, because a state school's funding depends on the number of children on the school roll, smaller class sizes and the consequent reduction in funding is already, in some cases, leading to fewer classroom assistants being employed. We recognise that the Government has provided funds for popular schools to build more classrooms, but this does not help schools where there is no room to expand, nor does it facilitate smaller ratios of children to adults within a class. This factor is particularly significant for children in early years classes.

  Q3.4  In 1995, a Social Market Foundation paper[38] foretold the impact that policy would have on the voluntary sector, in particular playgroups. In 1995, one in four of all four year olds attended playgroups that were mostly run by volunteers, usually parents themselves, and places were offered at cost. The report predicted that playgroups would be under serious threat if free places were introduced, as most people would choose school places. Four year olds then accounted for 75 per cent of all children at playgroups; therefore the income for playgroups would be drastically eroded.

  Q3.5  The authors of the Social Market Foundation report calculated that if all four year olds at playgroup in 1995 were to go to state nurseries in preference to playgroups, the cost to the Government would be £600 million. It was also predicted that the knock-on effect of such policies would be to extend entitlement to three year olds. The paper added that with the disappearance of playgroups would go the spirit of voluntarism, the benefits of parental involvement and learning through play. According to many practitioners and parents this all seems to be taking effect at the present time.

  Q3.6  Policies such as the childcare tax credit mean that informal care from friends and family can be undermined. Much of this mutual support takes place in areas of high social need—whether material or relational—where families look after each others' children. The childcare tax credit encourages a switch to formal non-family care, which will effectively undermine the enrichment of community and family relationships.

  Q3.7  Government initiatives such as the Sure Start programme place a welcome emphasis on supporting parents and families, and encouraging parents to "have positive involvement and enjoyment in their children's development [39]. This emphasis is important for all families—across the social spectrum and across the range of settings preferred by different parents.

  Q3.8  It is important for young children to be cared for and educated by people who understand their needs and potential. However, the content and implication of some policies tend to present "professional" childcare and early years education as the best thing for children. This has an impact on parents as the providers of care. Within the Early Learning Goals document, it is stated that "Young children will have had a wide range of different experiences...when they join a setting or school at the age of three, four of five. They need well-trained and qualified practitioners and a well-resourced and planned curriculum to take their learning forward..."[40].

  Q3.9  Such statements give the predominant message that qualifications are needed to provide good quality care and education. Consequently, the potential emerges for parents to be less interested and involved in the education and development of their child, which will increasingly be seen as something separate, and something that is done by other people.

  Q3.10  It is vital that a diverse range of childcare providers are identified and supported through policy—particularly informal carers, local volunteers and above all, parents. The expertise and value of such providers of early years care and education must be acknowledged within policy.

Q4  What are the lessons from other countries?

  Q4.1  With regard to childcare provision which is centred around long hours of daycare, there are lessons to be learned from other countries. In the 1970s in the Netherlands, the model of two earner families with children in daycare was actively pursued and facilitated. There followed a decade or so of family fiscal policies that encouraged parents to take up paid employment wherever possible. However, in 1996, 70 per cent of Dutch parents stated that the growing number of dual earner couples was undesirable in the context of raising children, and that the majority preferred arrangements with the maximum of in-home care[41]. The earlier model is what many British families are being urged towards now—however, Dutch families tried this and decided that it was not as desirable as having more home-based care along with flexible external care.

  Q4.2  In Finland cash benefits are offered to parents of under-threes, as the alternative to a place in a childcare project. In Norway parents who choose to stay and work at home caring for their children gain pension points equivalent to the average income. There is also a two year "time account" which involves a more flexible use of paid maternity leave[42].

  Q4.3  In Norway there is a ten year compulsory school which aims to provide age-appropriate education. It consists of three main stages, the initial stage starting at the age of six. This stage is based on the traditions of kindergarten and school. Education is intended to nourish children's natural sense of wonder, and emphasis is placed throughout this stage on learning through play. Classes of six year olds containing more than 18 pupils have two teachers[43].

  Q4.4  Children in other Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland start their education in nurseries where they are encouraged to learn by play and discovery. They are not taught anything of the three Rs and instead learn about sounds, shapes and co-ordination until they start primary school at seven. All of these countries score in the top ten for reading standards.

  Q4.5  In Sweden the starting age for compulsory school education is seven and in France, Italy, Japan and Switzerland it is six. It is also six in Germany, but children are held back if they are not ready, in Italy it is six. In Japan and Switzerland the starting age is also six. If standards of literacy and numeracy of Japanese and Swiss children are examined by the end of the first year of formal schooling, they are level pegging with British children, who start school earlier.

  Q4.6  There are consistent messages about flexible home-related early years childcare, the importance of play, and a less prescribed curriculum which emerge from the experience of European and other countries.

Q5.  Are we enabling children to learn or exerting pressure to perform?

  Q5.1  The Government has set out its determination to raise standards in schools, in particular with regard to literacy and numeracy, and has stressed the importance of early years education in "laying secure foundations for children's learning". These intentions are welcome in theory, but questions are raised regarding whether the methods used to fulfil these aims are actual good for children.

  Q5.2  Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools, described the Government's strategies for improving standards as "pragmatic, unsentimental and hard-nosed" in his Annual Lecture in 1999. Improving standards within schools has a clear impact on pre-school children, as parents and practitioners see the development of an increasingly close relationship between the two stages of education. The debate surrounding formal education, testing for children of all ages, "performance criteria", a more prescriptive curriculum and target setting in the early years has led to much comment from a range of educationalists.

  Q5.3  Some commentators and practitioners have reservations about the introduction of the "foundation stage" outlined in the Early Learning Goals document. The introduction of a foundation stage can be perceived as the National Curriculum extending "downwards", with the consequence that the pre-school years become more closely related to later school experience, and therefore more related to formal learning. Whilst the reception year does need to lead into Key Stage 1, the former arrangement (desirable learning outcomes) allowed schools to arrange their curriculum as they saw fit. In many schools the reception year has often been a "year of grace" to help children to adjust to school life without the pressure of performing to targets.

  Q5.4  The increasingly perceived links between pre-school and later school education has led to much concern being expressed about children being pushed to attain higher targets than is appropriate for their age. Despite an emphasis on the fact that Early Learning Goals are intended to provide guidance rather than hard and fast tests, they can be perceived as the latter.

  Q5.5  With an increased emphasis on "achieving goals", "making progress" and "succeeding" within early years education, there has been a noticeable public focus on facilitating the academic progress of younger children. Concern regarding this was expressed at the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers where incidents were related of nursery class parents wanting to prepare their children for SATS and of parents of four year olds employing tutors to help them to keep up.[44]

  Q5.6  There is clearly a research debate taking place about whether levels of achievement at the end of the reception year are accurate indicators of academic attainment in later life. Professor Charles Desforges, Head of Education at the University of Exeter, has said that American evidence shows that whenever you have a testing regime there are children who come bottom, and this in effect leads to much anxiety, alienation and depression. He believes that there should be assessment that gives the learner information and not grades.

  Q5.7  Professor Christine Pascal of University College, Worcester, says it is clear that social, emotional and intellectual development for young children cannot be separated. In this sense she believe that the most important aspects of early learning are to do with building up self-esteem, self-confidence aspirations, motivation and socialisation—certainly not a narrow set of targets which are likely to be counterproductive.[45]

  Q5.8  The Early Learning Goals list such aims for the foundation stage as developing "personal, social and emotional wellbeing", "social skills", "knowledge and understanding of the world" and "creative development". These aims are welcome, and are essential parts of a child's natural development. Toddler groups, play groups and nurseries have a key role to play in enhancing such skills and awareness. However, it is our belief that young children benefit most significantly at this stage from dedicated adult attention. They learn primarily from adult role models and from copying what they see adults do, alongside peer activities. Three year olds interact with each other, but need adult help to model behaviour. It is our concern that children who are put in larger group settings with fewer adult helpers per child will not gain from dedicated adult attention.

  Q5.9  Studies in the US following children into adult life show that formal teaching at pre-school age is less useful long-term than informal nursery or flexible curricula. Caroline Sharp, an early years expert, has said that there is no compelling educational rationale for the statutory school age of five or for the practice of admitting children of four into reception classes. [46]. Britain needs to learn from the experience of other countries where formal education begins later in a child's life, and where the early years are a time for nurturing a child's developing sense of curiosity, awe and creativity.

  Q5.10  In the Early Learning Goals document, it is stated within the principles for early years education that "Early years experience should build on what children already know and can do. It should also encourage a positive attitude and disposition to learn and aim to give protection from early failure" [47]. This principle is important in that it encourages engaging with children on an individual level—recognising and building on what a child is already capable of. We would agree that it is very important for children not to be labelled as "failures" at any early age. However, "protection from early failure" could perhaps conceal the fact that making mistakes and learning from them, in a supportive environment, is an essential part of education.

  Q5.11  It is important that in all aspects of early years care and education, there is a continued emphasis on enabling children to learn and develop at a natural pace, that is reflective of their individual characters and needs. Moreover, it is vital that enabling children to learn does not transform into pressure for them to perform.


  4.1  Many of the views that are expressed above are held by a range of agencies and individuals. The public debate surrounding early years education and care has provided an effective forum for such views to be shared, disseminated and considered by parents, practitioners, the general public and Government alike. The latest QCA and DfEE document, Early Learning Goals, reflects the fact that some of the concerns and priorities outlined above have been considered and incorporated within the development of early years guidance.

  4.2  As early years policy continues to be the focus of analysis development and implementation, it is important that several factors are kept at the centre of all discussion:

    —  Evidence suggests that rigorous target setting, testing and formal education too early are not beneficial for the emotional health of children, nor their long-term learning. This must be taken into account at all stages of policy development and practice.

    —  Parents and policy-makers must check their approaches to education—do we incline towards scores, standards and neatly packaged achievements or failures? Young children need environments and atmospheres where they are able to flourish without being boxed into success or failure.

    —  Is there a prevailing assumption within our culture that producing skilled adult workers involves teaching those skills as early as possible? There must be a wide-ranging, flexible and holistic approach to the laying of educational foundations during the early years, which focuses on encouraging self-confidence, wonder and positive relationships.

    —  The establishment of secure and nurturing adult-child relationships must not be superseded by premature academic structures, or dominated by the pressure for primary care-giver parents to go out to paid work.

  4.3  In conclusion, we are encouraged by the attention that is being given to this critical stage of a child's personal and educational development. We emphasise the need for real parental choice in early years education, and for parents to be encouraged in their crucial role during this stage. We trust that an emphasis on learning through play will be retained within early years education.

  4.4  Our hope is that young children will thrive through their unpressured experiences before school, and will have the necessary foundation of security and confidence to achieve well in all aspects of life and education once they start formal education.

CARE for Education

January 2000

31   Appendix 4, Time Out: The Costs and Benefits of Paid Parental Leave, Demos 1997. Back

32   Patricia Morgan, Who Needs Parents? IEA-also quoted by Melanie Phillips in The Sex Change State, Social Market Foundation. Back

33   p5, Early Learning Goals, QCA and DfEE, October 1999. Back

34   Paragraphs ES10 and 5, 10, Meeting the Childcare Challenge. Back

35   p17, Early Learning Goals, QCA and DfEE, October 1999. Back

36   DfEE figures quoted in The Independent, 25 February 1999. Back

37   John Howell, Headteacher of St John's Primary School, Weymouth-featured in the BBC Panorama Programme of 1998, Failing at Four. Back

38   niversal Nursery Education and Playgroups, Andrew Cooper and Roderick Nye, HardData, Social Market Foundation, May 1995. Back

39   p6, para 2.1 Sure Start-A Guide for Trailblazers, DfEE, 1999. Back

40   p9, Early Learning Goals, QCA and DfEE, October 1999. Back

41   p174, Developments in National Family Policies in 1996, European Commission. Back

42   Growing Up in Norway, The Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Children and Family Affairs. Back

43   Growing Up in Norway, ibid. Back

44   "Hot-house children risk stress", The Guardian, 1 April 1999. Back

45   Independent Education, 25 February 1999. Back

46   Observer, 4 October 1998. Back

47   p5, Early Learning Goals, QCA and DfEE, October 1999. Back

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