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


Memorandum from the Early Childhood Education Forum, the Local Authority Early Years Coordinators Network and the Early Childhood Unit at National Children's Bureau (EY53)


  1.a/  This submission to the Select Committee is on behalf of the three organisations mentioned above. Although these organisations are very different, as shall be described, they have all reached agreement on several issues which concern the remit of the Committee. EACH ORGANISATION WISHES THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CONVERGENCE IN THEIR RESPECTIVE UNDERSTANDING AND VALUES TO BE ACKNOWLEDGED AND TAKEN AS SERIOUSLY AS POSSIBLE BY THE COMMITTEE, PARTICULARLY CONSIDERING THE EXTENSIVE NATURE OF THE NETWORK'S REPRESENTATION.

  1.b/  Both the Early Childhood Education Forum and the Local Authority Early Years Coordinators Network wish to offer verbal evidence to the Committee. They have extensive experience of organising this type of submission and each has had recent meetings with the Minister for Education and Equalities, Margaret Hodge and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Both bodies routinely meet with representatives from central government departments and would welcome the opportunity to meet together with Committee members at a suitable time. The Early Childhood Unit is happy to arrange and convene such a meeting.


2.a/  Early Childhood Education Forum

2.a.i/  The Early Childhood Education Forum is a coalition of interest groups, professional associations, voluntary organisations and local authority officers united in their concern to develop the care and education of young children (see annex for Membership Organisations). The Forum believes that childhood is the most crucial stage of life and has immense potential for growth or for harm. It is therefore essential to value all young children and their families equally and essential to invest in supporting them. The Forum originated in January 1993 and continues to meet regularly on a national basis.

  2.a.ii/  ECEF published Quality in Diversity in Early Learning in 1998 which is a framework to enable early childhood practitioners of whatever professional background to consider, understand, support and extend the learning of young children from birth to eight years. The conditions which best support the continuing learning of the adults who engage with the children are also set out as a critical component of success. Quality in Diversity was produced after a national process of participation and collaboration involving a huge variety of practitioners from all sectors and setting types. Given this the document is remarkable in having been signed up to by all members of the Forum except one. Since publication in May 1998 Quality in Diversity has sold 4,000 copies which is exceptional for a text of its type. It continues to figure in practice across the country.

  2.a.iii/  In preparation for a major consultation meeting with the Secretary of State for Education and Employment held in September 1998 the Forum spent a considerable time setting out a Policy Agenda to which all of its members could subscribe. Quality in Diversity and the Policy Agenda referred to here have been submitted to the Select Committee as part of the Early Childhood Education Forum evidence.

  2.a.iv/  The Forum aims to:

    —  raise public awareness of the needs and potential of all young children in particular addressing inequality and the needs of those who are disadvantaged.

    —  influence public policy in the broad field of early years care and education

    —  promote a national strategy and programmes to support the development of children from birth to eight, to equip them for their future as individuals and as citizens

    —  achieve the allocation of a larger share of gross domestic product for the benefit of young children and their families

    —  ensure high quality national standards for all provision are put in place and to ensure that they are met

    —  develop effective practices for working with young children which can be accepted and used by all early years practitioners

    —  ensure that appropriate training for all those who work with young children is put in place

    —  work towards implementing all our principles and agenda for action.

2b/  The Local Authority Early Years Co-ordinators Network

  2.b.i/  The Local Authority Early Years Co-ordinators Network originated in 1995. It consists of local authority officers drawn from Education and Social Services departments who have pivotal roles in the development of early years education and childcare. Many of them are servicing officers for the Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships and simultaneously play a lead role in bringing the Early Years Development and Childcare Plans to completion. These Partnerships and Plans are the central planning mechanism with which DfEE is staging the expansion of education places for three and four year olds and the expansion of childcare within the National Childcare Strategy. Many of these officers also have responsibilities for developmental and managerial aspects of Sure Start and other funded initiatives.

  2.b.ii/  It is also important to note that the local authorities are required by the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to bring together the Partnerships, which must have extensive local membership. These Partnerships have the right to veto the contents of the Plan even if the local authority accepts it. In such instances the Secretary of State for Education and Employment must intervene. This stresses the importance of the content of the Plans and the Partnerships. They must be comprehensive. The Partnership is required to establish schemes to expand all places, as required by the DfEE, and to design a comprehensive strategy for the provision of all professional training and the maintenance of quality. Each Plan has nine annexes, covering these aspects, and are usually developed to include other aspects such as the provision of places for children with special educational needs. These Plans must interact with other planning mechanisms, and their significance cannot be underestimated.

  2.b.iii/  The Network's aim is to develop and disseminate good practice through routine consultation, information exchange and evidence collection. It sees the achievement of the principles of affordability, accessibility, diversity and quality as fundamental to improving the life chances of children in Britain. Members believe they are uniquely placed to assist government in the definition of those policies/processes which are likely to secure an implementation of their agenda.

  2.b.iv/  The Network, due to the growth in the central government agenda, now meets nationally six times a year. Each session is well attended and all policy developments are discussed routinely. There is significant dissemination of good practice as well as constructive debate about topical dilemmas and difficulties. Key players from HM Treasury, the DfEE, the Home Office and OFSTED are amongst the most recent and regular external contributors to the Network over the past year.

  2.b.v/  Sample topics for the Network's national agenda:

    —  DfEE policy on the regulation of early years education and childcare, including the development of the new national standards

    —  Training, recruitment and retention of early years practitioners

    —  The impact of the Working Family Tax Credit on Early Years Education and Childcare

    —  Sure Start

    —  Discussion with Government Ministers (Margaret Hodge)  Network activity has extended to include quarterly meetings in each of the nine government office regions. Here the national agenda is translated into a local process of informal benchmarking and mutual simulation as well as facilitating general information exchange. The LAEYCN is the most comprehensive network for leading officers in the Partnerships in the country and almost all local authority areas participate regionally and nationally.

2.c/  Early Childhood Unit

  2.c.i/  The Early Childhood Unit, as part of the National Children's Bureau, aims to promote good practice and innovation in services which affect young children. Its work is based on the premise that what is good for young children is also good for society and that action to raise standards so that all children will have an equal chance in life is the single most important issue facing the United Kingdom.

  2.c.ii/  The Unit does this by:

    —  opening up dialogue between the professions, sectors, interest groups, central and local government, parents and children who are key stakeholders;

    —  helping to implement and influence policy at all levels of administration and service delivery; and

    —  by putting time and effort into servicing and chairing national groups such as the Early Childhood Education Forum and the Local Authority Early Years Coordinators Network.

  2.c.iii/  Distinct from issue-based voluntary organisations, the Early Childhood Unit is at the centre of a living framework of and debate which can nourish and change those who are part of it.

  Our starting points are:

    —  that all children should have an equal chance in life

    —  that action to improve the quality of life [to raise standards] for young children is the most important issue facing the United Kingdom;

    —  that dialogue between all stakeholders is essential if services are to progress;

    —  that community enterprise offers the most efficient milieu from which to develop universal services which support young children and their parents.

  2.c.iv/  Project Work

  Integration in Practice: national DfEE funded project to audit all learning support materials to identify common quality areas and exemplars of good practice.

  Working in Partnership: national development programme funded by individual early years development and childcare partnerships and education authorities.

  Playing with Words: national development project to establish a method of working for early years practitioners which will increase the likelihood of pre-school children with speech and language difficulties receiving support before entering reception class.

  Funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation

  2.b.v/  The specialist Early Childhood Unit Library is a unique resource, holding over 7000 items and training materials on many aspects of child welfare, child development and early childhood services.


  3.a/  The Early Childhood Education Forum, the Local Authority Early Years Co-ordinators Network and the Early Childhood Unit wish to begin by restating their commitment to the development of a new model of fully integrated education and care which allows these distinct and honoured professions to work hand in hand. Their view is that such a model should not simply be organisational but rather be a holistic pedagogical approach to support the growth and the "bringing-up" of children and their potential to flourish in their respective home environments. All three organisations see Quality in Diversity as an exemplar of a cross-sectoral, cross-professional framework to support such a pedagogical approach and would like to see it used appropriately in all early years settings.

3.b/  Specific Responses to the Areas of Inquiry

  3.b.i/  The appropriate content of early years education, taking into account the recently published QCA Early Learning Goals:

  All three organisations are committed to a "from birth continuum" model of learning which includes all children and adults. This approach puts the activity of learning and the methods of supporting learning at the heart of all parts of education. Furthermore this approach asserts that as children grow their capacity for learning changes. Whilst there is nevertheless an identifiable continuum of learning, this does not mean that the mechanisms which children have available to them to activate their own learning are the same as adults or older children. Paradoxically, whilst the youngest children are at the height of their capacity to learn (and to learn HOW to learn) they also need most individual attention. Adults, on the other hand, are relatively much slower learners and less able to "learn how to learn", but often benefit most from shared learning and group-led programmes as well as distance learning. There are many such differences within the continuum of learning.

  3.b.iii/  All three organisations assert that the optimal time to nurture and extend children's individual disposition for learning is in the early years and that this period generally corresponds with the age from birth to five or six for most children. The partnership between national education's goals and structures, parents and all early years practitioners over this period should therefore be to engage with every child to ensure that they are able to use their own unique combination of skills and natural attributes to access the curriculum on offer in each sector of education from primary onwards. All three organisations believe that this approach will benefit all children and that it has precise implications for the content of early years education and childcare alike.

  3.b.iv/  Present government led developments represent significant improvements to the nature and pattern of provision which is available to young children and their parents, and have children's needs at the centre. The new partnerships and plans described above are steps in the right direction as is the current activity spearheaded by the Care Standards Bill to unify the system of regulation in early years education and childcare and the complementary initiatives in Sure Start.

  3.b.v/  All three organisations therefore have the view that the appropriate content of early years education will take full account of a from birth continuum model of learning and that prior to statutory school age interaction between practitioners and children will be constructed in order to enable the child to take control of her or his own instinct for learning which needs to be continued in all phases. Within such a system content (curriculum), whilst important, is subsumed by the children's needs to develop their capacity to think and learn. The form of practitioner input which this approach demands is exceptionally rigorous but derives from reflective practice which can be shared across all professional backgrounds. The organisations would therefore argue that early years education content can be expressed as it is in Quality In Diversity in any setting. This would involve each setting, all of whom must have qualified teacher input within the terms of the DfEE funding regimes for early years education, having an agreed description as in "What Practitioners Do" and the "Practitioners Wheel" on pages 47 and 48 of QiD and access to their own observations of the type set out extensively throughout QiD.  The way in which it should be taught:

  All three organisations assert that appropriate content and the way in which it should be taught cannot be separated. As stated above, they argue that content derives from the method of working of the practitioners and this should be defined and monitored within a framework (of which Quality in Diversity is an exemplar). They believe that all children are nurtured and supported as active self-determining learners and above all the method of teaching should mirror and be directed by an understanding of how young children learn through play, exploration, experimentation and talk.

  3.b.vii/  The kind of staff needed to teach it and the qualifications they should have:

  New kinds of Early Years and Childcare qualifications which match the model of practice advocated above, but which allow for a diversity of philosophical approach, are needed. These should be developed from existing qualifications which emphasize reflective practice and ways of supporting it. Teams of practitioners with diverse skills should be present in all settings and their work be co-ordinated and led within a planning framework (QiD). All practitioners should be part of a continuing process of shared professional development.

  3.b.vii/  The way quality of teaching and learning in the early years is assessed:

  Assessing quality demands complex systems of evaluation and related development which should include:

    —  external inspection which is entirely independent but which is informed by self-assessment at the point of inspection

    —  ongoing and meaningful partnership with parents and children

    —  qualitative methodologies which vigorously document every child's progress and helps parents and teachers to support children better: possibly in the style of the Learning Stories model being developed as a national system in New Zealand at present.

  3.b.viii/  The age formal schooling should start:

  All three organisations agree that the important issue about fixing the age at which statutory school begins is that all children are as well prepared as possible to be able to take the best advantage of their education career. There are many studies in this area which highlight the problems that emerge later in life when children have experienced too much formality in their education at an early age. Recent studies about the performance of boys later in life is particularly important here. They would argue that the huge diversity of skills and disabilities which children have need to be taken into account. They are confident that all children will benefit from a longer sojourn within the first stage than being moved as early as possible into statutory education. This will also establish the inclusion of children with special education needs or children for whom English is a second language. In practice, this would mean that the present reception year is firmly placed outside of statutory schooling and into the early years stage; the consequence of this being that children always enter primary school after their fifth birthday—which is not the case at the moment.

  The Early Childhood Education Forum, the Local Authority Early Years Coordinators Network and the Early Childhood Unit at National Children's Bureau

January 2000

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