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


Memorandum from CARE for Education (EYF 15)

  We outline below general comments on the contents of the Report and the Government's response. For reasons of brevity, references to recommendations are abbreviated (R1, R23, etc).

1.   Parents

  We strongly endorse the Government's statement in R1 that "parents are children's first and most enduring educators", and the Committee's call for the "centrality of the parent in the development and education of their child" to be affirmed through a Parents' Charter. Such rhetoric is welcome, but must be reflected in practical implementation. For example, in R19 the Committee rightly calls for the Government to review limitations in practice on the operation of parental choice for entry to primary school. The Government states that it is encouraging primary school admission authorities to allow parents to defer a place when preferred. However, in practice the application of such choice is often dictated by local funding requirements. In such situations, parental choice—based on the aptitude and needs of a child—must be upheld. Diversity of provision must be maintained for individual children.

2.   Babies and Infants

  The Committee recommends in R9 that the years from birth to five plus should be viewed as the "first phase of education". The Government goes on to comment that following development of the Foundation Stage, they are turning attention to "researching best practice with regard to younger children from birth to three". Initiatives such as Sure Start are providing practical and supportive help to many very young children and their families. However, care must be taken that within future research and policy, babyhood and infancy do not become shoehorned into an over-arching, prescriptive, "educational" framework that seeks to channel very young children towards specific criteria and developmental goals. Evidence suggests that parental, family and informal nurture of babies and infants must be encouraged and sustained as core "best practice" in the first phase of children's development.

3.   School: Entry and Style of Learning

  We support the Committee's assertion in R14 that children below school age should be taught informally in ways appropriate to their developmental stage and interest. We also welcome the movement of baseline assessment to the start of Year 1. R15 states that more structured learning should be introduced gradually so that "by the end of the Reception year, children are learning through more formal, whole class activities for a small proportion of the day". Implementation must be monitored—it would be very easy for such activity to encroach upon informal learning, and become too much too soon. In R18, the Committee states that "many argue that the age of school entry was less important than the kind of curriculum and teaching young children encounter when they enter statutory schooling". The Government's response to R19 states that it "believes the quality and appropriateness of the educational experience is far more important than the type of setting a child attends". In response to these statements, we would comment that different settings do manifest a different ethos and distinct expectations. We refer to Scandinavian models of early years care (as opposed to US models referred to in the Report) with significantly more relaxed and informal structures, emphases on creativity, play and exploration, and subsequent high educational outcomes for older children.

4.   Training, Inspection and Diversity

  R26 calls for the expansion of training opportunities—particularly in the voluntary and private sectors—"to enhance the level of teaching skill". R30 calls for a "ladder of training" for Early Years practitioners, R31 calls for every setting outside the home to have a trained teacher on its staff, R37 refers to national targets for training, and Government responses focus on raising qualification levels in early years. We support the availability of opportunities for training, but emphasise the need to value experienced, common sense approaches of many unqualified carers, particularly more mature carers. Opportunities must be optional, and childcare must not become "professionalised" to the point of excluding wider community input. With regard to inspection, we support the Committee's R45—that OFSTED's contribution to schools should be one of support and not stress. In Early Years settings inspection must not introduce a climate of testing and rigorous inspection which results in inappropriate expectations and pressures for this area of care and education.

April 2001

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