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


Memorandum from Devon County Council Curriculum Services (EY 58)

1.  Within the "Forward and Principles" for early years education, it is surprising that no consideration has been given to adopting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 31. There seems to be an undue emphasis on identifying disadvantages and early failure. Whilst needing to recognise and support children in those circumstances, it is important that the philosophy of children being rich in potential and capable of making significant contribution as an individual or within a group should not be under estimated.

  2.  Early years education is a complementary role alongside that of parents. It is a role that needs to be developed as a mutual responsibility for the benefit of the young child who will eventually make their own contribution to society. The development of self confidence, personal growth, belief in themselves and in the people around them will equip the young child with the appropriate attitudes towards learning for life, enthusiasm, motivation, commitment and trust.

  3.  It is good to have the principles, aims for the foundation stage so clearly stated, but important to recognise that the principles and aims can only be achieved if the early years setting:

    —  has the appropriate trained adult ratio to the number of children;

    —  that the environment indoor and outdoor is appropriate in space with access to quality resources, which can be retrieved by children;

    —  that "time" is used in a supportive way recognising the childrens developmental stage of learning—the need to rest from activities, to have opportunity to move freely in a safe secure space, indoor/outdoor;

    —  that the activities are flexible, so that children can respond to them in a way that is conducive to their individual learning patterns;

    —  that adults are trained observers, so that they can recognise and respond to the developmental needs of the children to maximise their learning potential.

  4.  Play is a child's work. It is good to see it clearly visible and underpinning the features of good practice in the early years. It would also be beneficial to pursue the need for in-service training with parents—to encourage parents to understand the philosophy of play and encourage parents to support children's play in perhaps a more structured, creative challenging way than that which is advertised by TV or department stores.

  5.  The diverse needs of children need to be supported in a constructive way. For example at present pre-school children are supported in pre-school settings by portage workers. The support is discontinued when the pre-school child is admitted to school. The support should continue across the settings.

  6.  Special educational needs and disabilities, inclusive education is paramount, but it must be supported by appropriate resources for the mutual benefit of themselves and other children. The parents must be part of the process, so that they have a complementary role to their children's learning and understanding of the needs of their child.


  7.  It is reassuring to see the Early Learning Goals are seen as areas of experience, which cross the curriculum boundaries. Hopefully goals will not be seen as an end in themselves. The presentation of the document is much more user friendly and will lead to a more professional interpretation of matching the educational needs for young children. They clearly demonstrate the overall:

    —  importance of persona, social and emotional development underpinning every area of experience;

    —  the importance of language and giving the children the confidence to speak, listen and interpret literacy in its widest sense;

    —  mathematical development being seen as investigative, explanational activities enabling the curiosity of the child to be instrumental in their learning;

    —  knowledge and understanding of the world based on first hand experience with adults alongside the child, supporting and extending the child's learning in a wealth of experiences;

    —  physical development—the need for the child to be active in space and with a range of apparatus and different opportunities;

    —  creative development—a rich environment in which creativity and expressiveness are valued, resources from different cultures—activities which are imaginative and enjoyable.


  8.  Young children need to be seen as persons in their own right, to be actively listened to, empowered to contribute ideas, hypothesise, predict and to ask critical questions of themselves and others.

  9.  Children need the opportunity to take and hold responsibility, to be independent and interdependent and to recognise the important role they play in their family and wider social setting of the Early Years Environment. Early Years Practitioners need to provide the permitting circumstances which enable young children to learn in a creative challenging way which does not either undermine their individuality or their developmental stage of being. Early Years Practitioners need to be receptive to the young child's needs, to establish the relationships and attitudes which encourage and nurture mutual trust and respect. Strong enough to counter any uncertainty or diversity and subtle enough to create a climate of learning for both adult and child alike. At any one time an Early Years Practitioner is an enabler, facilitator, craftsman, creator, mentor, friend, investigator, explorer, scientist, builder, story teller, dramatist, mathematician, arbitrator, interpreter, co-constructor of learning, reflecting the "Hundred Languages of Children" and celebrating the professional integrity of the Early Years Practitioner.

  10.  The role of anyone having responsibility for, or working with young children, is one of great significance and value. To be an advocate for young children is to hold a huge responsibility for society in general, and this needs to be recognised by the whole of society.

  11.  The culture within any early years environment needs to be one built on positive attitudes and relationships between all involved in the process. Early years practitioners need to provide the condition for learning, so that the young child can be an active learner and within the opportunities provided, explore possibilities and make meaning from problem solving. Children learn naturally through first hand experiences, by discovery, curiosity, working through structured play situations, having the opportunity to be inventive, creative and being allowed to make mistakes. The practitioner increases the possibility of learning taking place through close observations of children's play activities and interactive dialogue with the children.

  12.  The practitioner needs to establish a climate for learning, so that child and adult are part of the process together. The teaching is such, that learning can take place. Teaching goes alongside the children's learning. The practitioner compliments the child's individual learning, by suggesting ideas or solutions to support or extend the learning that is taking place. Children need to be empowered to believe that they can succeed, so that they become confident learners. The environment to support young children's learning, must have appropriate resources accessible and displayed in such a way that children can manage and use them as they wish. Young children need to feel instrumental in the learning process and have ownership and accountability over the activity being explored or investigated.

  13.  Young children are active learners. They need space indoors and outdoors for physical activity to complement their developmental stage of learning. At any one time the learning will be covering aspects of the Foundation Curriculum or reflecting elements of the Early Learning Goals according to the individual child themselves, aptitude, achievement, talent and interest.

  14.  The learning environment needs to reflect the opportunities on offer, so that the children can select, choose, within other activities of the planned curriculum. There needs to be a wider range and variety of equipment to support their varying interests, stages of development and previous experiences. There has to be a balance between activities so that natural rhythms are kept and encourage children to make connections between learning experiences. Children need opportunities to think, or talk, to explore, to take risk and test out with themselves in a safe secure environment. Every emphasise should be given to children to learn through first hand experiences (processes rather than products). A play based curriculum which allows children to be actively engaged in their learning, to ask the questions, to find the problem to try out ideas, consolidate knowledge and make new understanding, maximises on the learning processes.

  15.  An educational experience which allows children and adults to co-construct the learning and teaching, so that together they plan, communicate and share ideas, offers a rich potential for the teacher and the learner as one.

  16.  Early years practitioners need to be committed "professionals" who understand the developmental stage of the children, emotionally, physically, socially and intellectually. Those working within early education need to recognise and value the importance of these foundation years. They need to understand about child development, the complexities of learning and the craft of teaching. They need to be aware of the importance of interpersonal skills, working relationships within the Early Years team, parents, other agencies within the community. They need to be enthusiastic and advocates of Early Years, recognising the uniqueness of the foundation years of learning. They need to recognise the important role they play in taking young children's learning and development forward. They need to be researchers within their environment, able to reflect, think, observe, present practice and contribute to developing ideas, policies and practice for the benefit of the children.

  17.  Early years training is an essential requisite for an early years practitioner. A range of training qualifications are available to support early years. There needs to be appropriate recognition given to the responsibility of the post, depending on the nature of the role in management and organisational terms. There should be appropriate recognition given in financial terms. Within settings there are a range of constraints and demands on the practitioners, which need to be recognised.

  18.  Assessment of quality should be ideally done through "Self Assessment" and "Self Evaluation" a continuous review, with all concerned. Overall accountability given to the Management Group/Governing Body through the leadership of the named Early Years Manager/Head of the Early Years Organisation, with the support of recognised LEA facilitators.

  19.  The young children themselves should be involved in reviewing their work, planning what they are going to do, what did they achieve, what did they discover. There should a network of support and training alongside colleagues in neighbouring "cluster groups" local training organisations through LEA professional development and National Early Years networks, ie Early Education.

  20.  In line with our European Neighbours formal schooling should begin when a child is six years old. The foundation stage could then really establish the building blocks to complement this crucial development stage for life long learning.

Devon County Council Curriculum Services

January 2000

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