Sunday, October 3, 1999 Published at 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
Minister defends under-five targets
The plans are likely to ignite controversy
The government has hit back at critics of controversial new targets for nursery children, saying they will help under-fives develop skills they need later in life.
But the guidelines, which even cover the way children play, have been branded "prescriptive and narrow".
Education minister Margaret Hodge rejected criticism of Labour's pre-school approach.
"I am fed up of hearing how unstructured play and free activity are all that a young child needs," she told The Observer.
"Many children start nursery at the age of three unable to speak properly or communicate. They can't concentrate; they lack confidence and show no enthusiasm for learning; they don't know their colours, they are unfamiliar with numbers and they have rarely seen a book."
She added: "Of course we don't want three-year-olds to sit in rows learning Latin. But equally if we do not structure the activities, the play and the learning they enjoy in their nursery setting, children will not develop the skills they need to succeed in life and at school."
Under the guidelines, a child of three would be expected to be able to concentrate on an activity for 20 minutes, to have developed the motor skills needed for writing and to be able to create a picture with glue and glitter.
By four they should be able to create a café in the nursery school room, taking down reservations from a tin containing the names of all the children in the group.
And by five they should be able to recount a simple story.
In June the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority reported an overwhelmingly positive response from pre-school teachers and parents to a consultation on its review of "desirable learning outcomes".
This came despite criticism from many of the government's own nursery experts that the goals were too formal, and would lower standards and damage children's development.