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Monday, October 4, 1999 Published at 18:32 GMT 19:32 UK


Early learning targets set out

The plans will even cover the way children play

New educational targets for nursery school children in England have been published.

The BBC's Sue Littlemore: "A place where toddlers begin to play"
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has set out the revised Early Learning Goals to help ensure that all children can write their own names, count to 10 and recite the alphabet by the end of the reception year in school, when they are five or six.

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.

The goals set out what most children should be able to do by the end of the new foundation stage of the national curriculum.

Margaret Hodge: "We're not asking three-year-olds to sit in rows learning Latin"
They emphasise the importance of "learning through play" after earlier proposals were criticised as being too narrow and prescriptive.

"Children learn through play and in other ways," the foreword says.

"They do not make a distinction between 'play' and 'work', and neither should practitioners. Children need time to become engrossed, work in depth and complete activities."

[ image: Margaret Hodge:
Margaret Hodge: "Children are all too often stuck in front of a tele with a packet of crisps"
The Education Minister Margaret Hodge said the new targets would help children develop the skills they needed in later life.

"The early years of a child's life are critical," she said.

"Helping early years professionals to support children's emotional, intellectual, physical and social development is what the Foundation Stage is all about.

"Inspection evidence shows that clearly defined outcomes lead to higher standards of both education and care. We also know from the consultation on the Early Learning Goals that the overwhelming majority of parents and early years professionals support this approach.

"All children, whatever their background, will have the opportunity to develop vital skills which will lay strong foundations for their future. The QCA has set out clear examples of planned activities through which children can learn and develop. It is vital that teachers and early years practitioners plan activities which are appropriate for the age of the child and its individual stage of development.


Nigel de Gruchy, General Secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the guidelines were a "significant improvement" over earlier versions.

"Inevitably the guidelines will be over-prescriptive for the majority of socially competent families who raise their children sensibly," he said.

"But a sizeable minority towards the more dysfunctional end of the social spectrum need prescriptive nursery education as a substitute for a good family upbringing."

Kay Driver, General Secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers, which has a Nursery Nurses section, welcomed the acceptance of the importance of play but said the government had "become obsessed by targets".

"Our real worry is there will not be enough staff in the classroom to manage all these activities," she said.

Doug McAvoy, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Behind the Early Learning Goals is a recognition that high quality teaching is vital for the under-fives."

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 what are known as the "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.

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