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Wednesday, May 5, 1999 Published at 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK


Nursery curriculum 'too much too soon'

Research says very young children children learn best through play

The government's plans to set learning targets for children as young as three have come under attack from nursery experts.

The BBC's Mike Baker: "The proposals would introduce a National Curriculum from age three"
They argue that the proposed "early learning goals" are too formal, and will lower standards and damage children's development.

Sixteen of the government's 18 Early Excellence Centres, set up to highlight the best ways to teach three to five-year-olds, have rejected ministers' draft proposals for nursery education in England.

They say the government is trying to get children to do too much too soon, and is ignoring research which suggests very young children learn best through play.

Julian Grenier of Woodlands Park Nursery in London, one of the government's Early Excellence Centres, said: "Our worry is that many people will look at the goals, and they will think that that's the work they have to do with the young children.

[ image: Margaret Hodge:
Margaret Hodge: "We want the early years to prepare children with the necessary skills so they can read and write"
"Even though the goals are for children aged five and above, and they are working with three-year-olds, they might have their sights on the goals, whereas we feel they should have their focus firmly on the child."

In many European countries, the formal curriculum does not begin until the age of six, seven or even eight.

But these proposals would, in effect, introduce a National Curriculm from age three, setting targets for what children should achieve over the two years of nursery education.

Margaret Hodge and Professor Helen Penn of the Institute of Education debate the government's proposals
The "early learning goals" say that by the end of the reception year, most children should be able to name all the letters of the alphabet, read simple sentences independently, and write sentences, sometimes using punctuation.

Parents at Woodlands agree with the centre's opinion that the goals are too much too soon.

"If they want to splash in mud, and explore what that feels like, I think that's more important than to try and make them sit down and learn to write," said one.

But Education Minister Margaret Hodge said critics had misunderstood the government's intentions.

"What we are really trying to do is make sure that our children at this crucial early stage are ready to learn, ready to develop the crucial literacy and numeracy skills that we want all children to acquire," she told BBC News.

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