Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)


21 MAY 2008

  Q1 Chairman: We are starting an amazing new adventure today—we are looking at the national curriculum—so it is very exciting for us. We have just finished one adventure, looking at testing and assessment, and this is our new adventure. We think that we are going to enjoy it. Where better to start than with how the National Curriculum impacts on the earliest stage of development in children? A previous Committee—the Education and Skills Committee—looked at that in some depth six years ago and there was an early years report, which we very much enjoyed doing. It is nice to be back in that territory—not that we have neglected it entirely over this time. We are here to learn. There is an Early Years Foundation document and we would like to hear what you think about it—its strengths and its weaknesses. We will take anything that you say today into our deliberations. I am going to ask you all quickly to introduce yourselves. Do not give us your biography again, but say what you think about this new Foundation Stage.

  Bernadette Duffy: I am Bernadette Duffy and I am Head of Centre at Thomas Coram Children's Centre in Camden and chair of the British Association for Early Childhood Education. I welcome the new framework from both perspectives. The principles and commitments in the statutory part of it are sound, although it would be surprising if any document came out that we did not want to develop, change and alter slightly. Overall, however, it is a positive document.

  Anna Firth: I am Anna Firth. I am the Open EYE Campaign Co-ordinator and mother of a little boy who is going through the Foundation Stage at the moment. Open EYE is very much in support of parts of the framework. We are fully behind the four principles—they are very welcome and long overdue—and we are right behind the welfare requirements. We believe that some of the learning and development requirements have been set too high for five-year-olds and some four-year-olds. We would like to see the removal of the information and communications technology goal for those young children, and we want parents to have a real choice. At the moment, if the document becomes statutory without exemptions, there will be no free choice for parents. Those are our three concerns.

  Professor Melhuish: The Early Years Foundation Stage is basically this country's first attempt to produce clarity about what should be done with children in the early years, given that a large amount of Government money is now being put into that. It is right for us to specify the kinds of experiences that children should go through in this early years provision, which to a large extent is Government-funded. It is the first stage in our development of such a curriculum and therefore it will inevitably undergo change as people learn to do it better than they have done previously. We are trying to achieve something that other countries, notably Scandinavian countries, have been working on for the past 30 years. We have been working on it for only a few years.

  Sue Palmer: I come at this from the point of view of an independent literacy specialist. For the last 12 years I have been out on the road for half of every year talking, from an independent point of view, to teachers and practitioners about literacy. I was concerned from the beginning, when curriculum guidance for the Foundation Stage arrived in 2000, that literacy targets were set far too high for five-year-old children. I constantly hear reports from practitioners and teachers in the field—thousands and thousands of people around the country every year—and could see coming the sorts of problems that you identified with the tests and targets agenda in your most recent report. The sorts of problems that come at the moment from practitioners in the field relate to high targets for literacy, specifically these ones, which they think will skew practice and push a more formal approach further and further down, so that we effectively schoolify early years care and education and bureaucratise it through the extent to which accountability is documented.

  Q2  Chairman: Let us get into the questioning and we will drill down on many of those issues. All of you on the panel welcomed the general framework and the general impact of the Foundation Stage document. Could you drill down in a little more depth? You have heard each others' opinions and you have heard some of the reservations. Bernadette, you were full of praise for the document. What do you think about the sort of reservations that you have heard from Open EYE and Anna sitting next to you?

  Bernadette Duffy: I understand the position on the communication, language and literacy goals. Over the years, a lot of evidence from the Foundation Stage Profile suggests that although such goals are achievable for some children, which is great, they do not seem to be consistently achievable for all children at the end of the year in which they become five. So I sympathise with Anna's position that perhaps we have got those goals wrong. Certainly, the British Association for Early Childhood Education feels that they are more appropriate for year one. Therefore, we would wish to see those goals apply to slightly older children, so that the goals are genuinely something that children at the end of their fifth year would be able to achieve, rather than having unrealistic expectations for those children. With regard to parent choice, I come from the Thomas Coram Early Childhood Centre and parent choice is the subject of one of our series of workshops on the Early Years Foundation Stage that we have been doing with the parents at Thomas Coram. My experience has been that parents do not want so much choice but they want good-quality provision, and they want good provision for their children. Certainly, from our work at Thomas Coram for a year, the feedback from parents has been very positive. They like the principles and the commitments, which seem to make sense to them. A lovely comment came from a parent yesterday when she was looking at the unique child principle: it suddenly dawned on her how important it was to praise her child. I am not so concerned about parent choice because, if the provision is good and of good quality, that is something that parents want. However, I share the concerns about the literacy goals.

  Q3  Chairman: Anna, may I ask you a question, before you come back on that? As I have visited early years settings, it has been suggested that children who come from underprivileged or less privileged backgrounds, where stimulation in the home is lacking in terms of vocabulary, praise and all those things that most of us in this field know about, need stimulation earlier and perhaps a different balance of formal-informal education from more middle-class children who have a great deal of stimulation at home. Is there a sense in which you want one setting for more middle-class young kids, and a different setting for the less middle-class?

  Anna Firth: No. There is a crisis of perception about what is appropriate stimulation for young children. From all the evidence that we have accumulated at Open EYE concerning disadvantaged children—I do not put myself forward as an expert, but I can talk about the evidence that I have seen and it is very clear, as I understand it, and Sue Palmer will be able to speak about this far more than I can, that disadvantaged children need more vocal stimulation and less formal drilling in phonics. So they need a more relaxed environment where they will be able to talk and be listened to, and have all the social skills put in place that, for whatever reason, have perhaps been missing. So, no, we are not saying that disadvantaged children should not be stimulated; all children should be stimulated at an early stage. It is a question of what that stimulation is and when that stimulation takes place. However, as I said, Sue Palmer is the right person to deal with that issue.

  Professor Melhuish: Anna has made the good point that the nature of stimulation needs to be adapted—that is how I interpret what she said—to the needs and current developmental status of the child at that point. Some things will be appropriate for a two-year-old, but they would not be appropriate for a five-year-old, and vice versa. We need to be very aware of that. That is why the training of staff in child development who work in the early years is critical, and we have a long way to go. A dichotomy tends to be drawn between formal education and play-based education or experiences, but it is a false dichotomy. Basically, children play and when they play, they learn. In evolutionary history, the reason that man has come to the top of the evolutionary tree is, to a large extent, because he has been very good at learning through play. Play is a fundamental way of learning about your environment and trying out new things. If you allow children to play in the right kind of environments, they will learn about those environments and develop intellectually and socially. However, you cannot leave children to play indiscriminately. You need structuring of their environments, where the environments and experiences that they are offered are appropriate to their developmental level. If you do that, the child's spontaneous interest will often take them along a learning experience, which in other terms would be educational. You have not drilled the child—"You shall learn that this shape means `A' and this shape means `B'"—but you have offered the child the opportunity to learn that, through appropriate structuring of the environment. I am also struck when looking at international comparisons. If you look at those countries with the very highest scores in educational achievement in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), they are often those where formal "education"—as we call it—starts at seven or so. If you go to those countries, you will see that the typical three-year-old is having an immensely full learning environment provided in their pre-school settings and that pre-school attendance is almost universal and involves highly trained staff. Therefore, the dichotomy between formal and play education arouses emotions and powerful feelings, but it is a false dichotomy. We need to consider the learning experiences of the child and how best to encourage them.

  Chairman: Sue, you were nodding away there.

  Sue Palmer: I think that Ted Melhuish is right. If you go to places such as Finland, which comes top of all the charts internationally in literacy, that practice is exactly what you see between three and seven. It is wonderful. The big difference—this is the critical issue—is that formal education officially begins at seven. Because of that, practitioners are free to conduct the sorts of activities and structuring that Professor Melhuish has described. We have formal education effectively beginning at the end of the reception year. That is happening with the Foundation Stage guidance and the National Curriculum, which pushes the beginning of formal education down two years. That has an inevitable effect on the attitudes of the practitioners, who, as we have heard, are less well trained, less familiar with what young children need and have only a guidance framework, which ends by saying that children should be able to, for example, write in sentences, some of which are punctuated. Naturally, that guidance affects what people do. If we were to start formal education officially at seven, as they do in what I believe are more enlightened countries, we could ensure that the foundations that we are putting in really are sound for children's literacy and learning. I think that in a driven country, like the UK, where we care a lot about competition and getting on, if we keep it in the state that it is at the moment, that will inevitably make people think that we have to press on earlier and younger. As someone who has spent a lifetime caring about standards of literacy, I think that that is one of the major things that is holding us back and means that literacy standards improvement has stalled. We are trying to start them too soon. I hear constantly, as I am out on the road, about people with phonics tables for two-year-olds and things like that. One nursery teacher who said to me, "I'd be down on the floor playing with the children and then I'd think, `Oh, I'd better write this down'", sums it up beautifully. The moment for sustained shared thinking is lost, which is what EPPE—the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education Project—found was the most important thing for children's development. The moment is lost because they are busy making a note of it. That is an indication that the schoolification and the bureaucratisation takes over, and you do not lay the foundations that one sees laid so effectively in Nordic and other European countries that do better than us in international comparisons.

  Q4  Mr Chaytor: May I ask Ted about the international research on early years? A lot of this appears to confirm the importance of the kind of approach within the Foundation Stage for children aged three to seven. What does it say about children under the age of three?

  Professor Melhuish: Under the age of three, most countries have a more lax or varied provision than they do from three years upwards. The research evidence shows that children under three are learning. Children's learning, particularly of language skills—just vocal language—is critical to their later education. Some American research, for example, suggests that children's language development by the time they start school is the best predictor of their longer-term educational development. A lot of that language development learning takes place in the first three years. What makes a difference in the first three years is communication to and from the child, with responsive adults and other people who know the child can respond appropriately to them. That facilitates the child's language development and also their social skills, because social skills and language development tend to go hand in hand. The child will become much better able to cope with later learning experiences, if that kind of experience is offered in the first three years. At the moment, we tend to think of zero to three as care and three up as education. That distinction between care and education is misleading, because children are learning literally from the womb upwards. We need to think about the longer-term learning of a child.

  Q5  Mr Chaytor: So in terms of public policy in Britain, what more should be done to deal with the nought to three stage?

  Professor Melhuish: We need to ensure high quality childcare. Also we have found that children can benefit from group experiences and high-quality, centre-based experiences on a part-time basis from as young as two. Disadvantaged children seem to benefit in particular, because if there is a high-quality environment that offers good learning opportunities, the child is getting opportunities that they would not get in a disadvantaged home. There is therefore scope for closing the gap to some extent by improving those opportunities. One thing that the international comparisons show is that pre-school education is probably the most cost-effective method that a country can adopt to enhance its overall human capital.

  Q6  Mr Chaytor: I want to ask Anna about choice. In your opening remarks, you stressed the importance of choice, which is at the heart of your reservations about some aspects of the Foundation Stage. There are 69 learning goals in the Foundation Stage. Which of those 69 do you think parents should have a choice over?

  Anna Firth: Can I deal with the issue generally first and then come to the specifics, please? Parents feel that every child they have is unique and special, but also different. Within one family, parents might have one child who is academically gifted and very vocal, one who has learning difficulties and one who is an incredibly active, sporty little boy, running around. Parents want to be able to send their children, pre-school, when they feel, "This is my time, with my children", to a setting of their own choice. Where I live, for example, we are very lucky, because there is an open-air nursery, which is generally the setting of choice for mothers with active little boys. There are a lot of other nursery settings available, such as Montessori. There is a very small, very lovely Montessori nursery to which a lot of mothers with little girls send their children. There are a lot of other settings. Parents want that choice. What they do not want, and what they fear will happen, is to be told, "Yes, you've got a choice. You can go down the high street and, by analogy, have whatever meal you like. There is an Indian, there is an Indonesian, there is an Italian," but to find when they go into the restaurants that the menus are all the same. That is what parents do not like. They do not like the thought that there will be 69 standard goals that every child will have to comply with. They want to be able to send their child—if they feel that it suits their child—to a setting that does not have to comply with any formal learning whatsoever—a Montessori setting or a Steiner setting, for example. That is the general point.

  Q7  Mr Chaytor: What proportion of parents in the UK send their children to Steiner or Montessori pre-school settings?

  Anna Firth: I do not know the exact percentage.

  Mr Chaytor: Do you accept that it is pretty tiny?

  Anna Firth: I believe that there are 5,000 children in Steiner schools, but a Steiner expert is here. The percentage may be tiny, but it is a fundamental right of parents with children who do not need to be at school to choose the education and learning experiences of their children. That right is enshrined in article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which this Government have signed up to. So parents are not asking for anything that they should not already have.

  Q8  Mr Chaytor: But which of the 69 learning goals should parents be able to opt out of?

  Anna Firth: Following the logic of what I am saying, ideally they should be able to opt out of any of those learning goals. If they want to send their child to a Steiner nursery, logically that must follow. If one is looking more specifically, from the point of view of harm, I would say that the literacy goals, which we know from the experts are already too high, must come out. The British Association for Early Childhood Education has already written to the Ministry saying that those goals are putting undue pressure on settings and practitioners and that they are causing very young children to have a sense of failure and therefore to suffer. I would defer to the experts on the question of which goals. Looking at the list—I am sure that you have it in front of you—it talks about the average five-year-old using "their phonic knowledge to write simple regular words and make phonetically plausible attempts at more complex words". I am very proud of my little four-year-old if he writes a single letter. It is now May, and he will have to be assessed next month. I do not expect him to be able to make phonetically plausible attempts at more complex words. I do not think that that is appropriate, and the experts tell me that I am right.

  Q9  Mr Chaytor: Is there a distinction between the inclusion of some language development objectives and the precise level at which it is expected that five-year-olds should perform?

  Anna Firth: I would like to see the evidence on which this very glossy, expensive brochure has been produced. I would like to see the evidence that says that any of those learning objectives are appropriate for that age group. It seems, looking at the literacy tables, that the evidence points in the other direction. Children in countries such as Finland, where formal learning starts later, do better at 11 in both science and reading, according to the latest PISA table. So where is the evidence that this is good for our children? Sorry, I have slightly diverted. Returning to the question of choice, all the demanding literacy goals should come out. The goals include, "Read a range of familiar and common words and simple sentences independently", and write "labels and captions and begin to form simple sentences, sometimes using punctuation". Those are for five-year-olds, some of whom are actually four. I am sorry, but those are absurd goals to expect a five-year-old to meet, and the figures back up the point that children are not meeting those goals.

  Q10  Mr Chaytor: One of the goals is, "Use a pencil and hold it effectively to form recognisable letters, most of which are correctly formed." Should parents be able to opt out of the requirement that their child be able to use a pencil?

  Anna Firth: Yes. They are five. My elder two children were extremely lucky, because they did the early years stage in France. They went to an outside garderie until the age of almost three. They could have stayed there until four. They then went into the maternelle. I am not putting French maternelles forward as bastions of excellence, because they can be pressurised places as well, but the children were not expected to form letters—they were doing motor co-ordination tasks, including lots of painting. My daughter came home every week with paintings, but my son has not come home with one. When they were outside in the garderie, they were doing lots of painting with big brushes, which seems more appropriate for that age group. Can I mention one other thing that is causing a lot of concern among parents?

  Chairman: Briefly.

  Anna Firth: It is gradually dawning on mothers that, according to the practice guidance, nurseries will have to have ICT for children as young as 22 months to experiment with. Parents are very concerned about that in the light of the evidence that is coming out now, particularly from the American Association of Paediatrics, that children of that age should not be exposed to ICT, because it is damaging for their brains. Introducing ICT into nurseries is contrary to what we now know about brain development. Parents want to opt out of that, because they do not want their children in a setting with computers when their children are still at nursery school.

  Q11  Mr Chaytor: I am interested in the sweeping generalisation about parents. You are basing your judgment on those parents who are most inclined to send their children to Steiner or Montessori schools.

  Anna Firth: No, no, no.

  Q12  Mr Chaytor: I want to explore which parents we are talking about. For those parents who cannot provide a stimulating environment, what would be the consequences of their opting out of the requirement that their children should have developing literacy skills at the age of five? What happens when those kids get to six, seven, eight, nine, 10 or 11? Do you not think that there is a fundamental distinction in respect of the impact of parental choice for those children whose parents can provide a stimulating home environment and those children whose parents cannot?

  Anna Firth: Every child in this country should have access to a stimulating pre-school environment, but the environment should be appropriate for that child's age. From all the expert evidence that I have read, any formal learning at this young age is not good for children, whether they are advantaged or disadvantaged. We know that now, because the study from the OECD has shown quite clearly over a long period of time that children from a disadvantaged family and children from an advantaged family start apart when they start formal education. One can well understand the reasons for that, but by the end of the education process, that gap is bigger. That, to my mind, is clear evidence that what is happening at the moment is not narrowing the gap—it is making the gap wider.

  Q13  Mr Chaytor: So the logic of that argument is—

  Anna Firth: The logic of that argument is that we should not be starting formal education so early. We have now been doing this for years in this country.

  Q14  Mr Chaytor: Accepting Ted's point about the false dichotomy between the formal and informal approaches, surely the logic of the argument is that more should be done to ensure that the children from disadvantaged families do not start at a disadvantage?

  Anna Firth: Yes, absolutely. As I understand it from all the evidence that I have read, what should be happening with children from disadvantaged families is more speech, more language and more socialisation. Then they will do better. Even though, logically, at first blush one thinks that one must put in "more" because those people are disadvantaged, "the more" that we need to put in is not "the more" that we think it is—it is words and stimulation, not formal learning.

  Q15  Mr Carswell: I have a couple of questions. The first is for Ted. It says here that you did an impact assessment about the SureStart programme and that you found that children and participating families showed greater social development. When you did that, did you take into account the possibility that there may be an element of self-selection? Those parents who are likely to be attracted to a SureStart programme might not be wholly representative of the local community.

  Professor Melhuish: Yes, we did take that into account. Basically, we took random samples of families in an area served by the SureStart programme and similar areas not receiving SureStart programmes. So some of those families will be using lots of the SureStart services and others will not be using so many. Similarly in our comparison areas, we have had random samples of families living in similar areas who were not receiving SureStart. The random selection means that the self-selection element was taken into account in the analysis. We also statistically control for social class, parent education, income level and so on.

  Q16  Mr Carswell: Secondly, I should be interested in what Anna has to say and then in anyone who wants to jump in. I am intrigued by some of the things that you are saying. It is human nature for politicians, experts and officials to think that they know best and to say, "We are experts; we have done studies, and we have evidence," and then to take as the default question, "What more should be done?" I do not dispute the value of early-years learning, but I am trying to find out about the wisdom of letting experts foist their expert way of doing things on the rest of us. When sitting on the Committee, one learns that experts do not always know best. First, in the debate about inclusion and special needs, experts got it wrong. Secondly, experts do not always agree with one another. There is a range of opinions among you. Who decides what the experts decide? Surely, there are more effective ways of allowing people to choose outcomes for themselves, rather than saying that the state and the experts know best and that this is how it will be done. I should like Anna, and then the rest of you, to share your thoughts on this debate. Should we have central direction by experts, or should we allow choice to drive things and perhaps even to allow the 500 children's centres do their own thing—let everyone to do their own thing? Perhaps we would then have a better system.

  Professor Melhuish: That is precisely what happened with SureStart programmes in 2000, when they were first set up, and it did not work. Evidence came forward that it was not working and our earlier reports showed that the early SureStart programmes were very diverse, some having some good effects, some having mediocre effects and some having negative effects. With the early SureStart evidence and the EPPE evidence showing that the children centre approach was working—[2]

  Q17 Mr Carswell: Big government centralism did not work, so it needed more big government localism.

  Professor Melhuish: No. In this case, big government centralism initially handed over everything to the community and let it decide exactly what it could do for itself without any guidance or planning. In a situation with a highly skilled, highly developed workforce, that might have worked, but we were delivering a programme into an area that had previously been a policy desert, and people did not know what to do. Some did some good things, and some did some terrible things. What we needed was some structure for them to work within, and that is what SureStart children's centres were about. They were introduced in 2005, as a result of the early SureStart evidence and the EPPE evidence. SureStart children's centres allow adaptation to communities' needs, but they provide guidelines on the sort of opportunities that should be offered to children, and the sort of services that should be offered to families. They offer a light-touch structure to what is provided in a way that had previously not existed. A laissez-faire attitude will work in an environment where everyone knows what they are doing, but when a lot of people do not know what they are doing because they have not done it before, it does not work.

  Sue Palmer: I totally agree with Ted that that was the case and that a lot of money was wasted, but the provision of structure and information is very useful, as long as it remains as guidelines. The minute it becomes law, there is a great difference in the perception of people out in the field. It also closes down the potential for innovation. A new thing has come out recently, which I shall be able to recommend in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, because I think it is brilliant for literacy—it is based on Vygotskian principles—but I shall not be able to recommend it in England, because it will not fit into the Early Years Foundation Stage. That is a statutory framework, and it will close down the potential for moving seriously forward in terms of early years practice. It uses very well structured material based on long-established fact. It is the difference between guidelines and statutory requirements. It is about statutory requirements in the early years, when we are at the beginning in terms of neuroscientific evidence that is coming through. Last week, a book from Susan Greenfield raised new questions about the implications for ICT. New stuff is coming through all the time, and to close it down by creating a legal framework now seems to be tantamount to insane.

  Bernadette Duffy: I should like to make a couple of points. First, we tried not having any regulation or statutory guidance, and as Ted said, leaving it completely free leads to problems. We know that countries with limited regulation tend to have poorer quality provision. That is not because a little group of experts sit and decide on it. The EYFS has evolved over a number of years, building on good practice in England that goes way back to the McMillan sisters at the beginning of the last century. The EYFS represents a good, sound tradition in England going back 100 years. It was developed in consultation not only with practitioners, but with parents who had a say in what should be in it and how it should be. With the exception of the communication, language and literacy goals—there is complete agreement that we could do without those—there is so much good stuff in here that is giving sound guidance to practitioners about what works for children: not just what we fancy doing today, but what seems to work. There is a difference between ICT and computers. There was a lovely example of that with the two-year-olds playing with shells yesterday at Thomas Coram, picking them up and turning them into a mobile phone, because that is what they see in the world around them. I would not suggest giving mobile phones to two-year-olds, but they are growing up in a society where ICT is part of what they do. For example, they all know that you press buttons and money comes out of a machine: that is also ICT. However, the last thing that the EYFS, or any good practitioner, would want to do is put two-year-olds in front of a computer screen or a white board, because there is no good evidence that that is the way in which they learn. The EYFS protects a lot of children. At the moment, three-year-olds are sitting at desks in formal classrooms in uniforms, filling in worksheets. We are told that that is what parents want and it happens because it can be shown that children can achieve the goals when they are five. As long as practitioners can show that they are achieving the goals at five, the way in which they do that is up to them. So some poor practice is going on because of that. I am much happier to have something statutory that says that the principles are about active learning, creativity, critical thinking and sustained shared thinking. Although I sympathise with Steiner colleagues, who may feel that that is restricting them, for the vast majority of children that opens up so many more opportunities than they have at the moment. Although I understand the concerns about regulation, we still need it until, as Ted says, we have a much better qualified workforce, as other countries have. Even other countries in Scandinavia have some curriculum guidance, for example, so that there is some agreement. Overall, there are far more positive things in there that protect children than are outweighed by the regulation side of it.

  Chairman: Paul wants to ask a supplementary question.

  Q18  Paul Holmes: I should like to ask two quick questions, if I may. Anna has been critical of the formal structures that are implied and has emphasised the need for more free play. In the practical setting that you run, how do you strike the balance—or not—between formal and free play?

  Bernadette Duffy: Formal play is a misnomer, because if you are playing it is not a formal situation. As Ted was saying, we do not think of things in terms of formal and informal. We are looking at the interactions between adults and children. We know what works well with parents who know their children well. Picking up on Sue's point in respect of Vygotskian principles, at Thomas Coram, you would see children making mud pies and daisy chains in the garden and turning shells into mobile phones, but you would also see children involved in figuring out the properties of water, including what happens when water is frozen and, as happened yesterday, whether ice cubes defrosted quicker if they were wrapped in newspaper or straw. Lots of good scientific work is done, but it is active and hands-on. As people have been saying, there is also a lot of emphasis on oracy, because children's vocabulary at three is a good indicator of later outcomes. There is a much emphasis on oracy and sustained, shared interacting, which encourages children to think. There is a lot of hands-on experience and there are no desks, no tick-sheets or worksheets and no uniforms. A lot of children engage. Following on from Sue's point about practitioners writing observations when they are with the children: that is not what we do, and it is not what the EYFS says. The EYFS emphasises active interaction with children. Observations are something you write up later on.

  Q19  Paul Holmes: So where are you going to show Ofsted that the children are learning to construct sentences and use some punctuation and all the rest of it?

  Bernadette Duffy: We have just done it. We have had Ofsted in over the past few days and, although I cannot share the results with you, our children are doing very well using the principles in the EYFS regarding active learning. Let me think what I can share. We have strong evidence at Thomas Coram that the EYFS approach is leading to the outcomes that we would want for children across all six areas of learning. There is no conflict between a play-based, active approach to children's learning and having good outcomes for them at the end of the year in which they are five—not when they are four.

2   Note by witness: The Government made all SureStart programmes Children's Centres from 2005. This meant that guidelines for Children's Centres were more highly developed, and the latest evidence suggests that this has been a change for the better. Back

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