No time left for play: Under-fives to face 69 'learning goals' in toddlers' curriculum


Last updated at 23:16 23 March 2008

Children under five could lose the freedom to play thanks to a "toddlers' curriculum" that imposes 69 learning goals on pre-school youngsters, teachers warned yesterday.

They fear the regime could become a box-ticking exercise, with nursery staff and childminders under pressure to follow it "to the letter".

Teachers' leaders warned that forcing formal learning on young children could make them anxious and spoil their enjoyment of school.

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Delegates at the annual conference of the National Union of Teachers will today call for a rethink of reforms that give the state a say in the raising of under-fives for the first time.

The curriculum applies to all 25,000 private and state nurseries in England from September and 70,000 childminders.

It sets out 69 early-learning goals that every child should reach after a year at primary school.

These cover writing simple sentences using punctuation, using the "phonics" system to attempt to read complex words and beginning to grasp addition and subtraction.

Under the Early Years Foundation Stage, children will be checked against more than 500 development milestones before they are five, including whether they babble and gurgle as babies.

But NUT general secretary Steve Sinnott said: "There needs to be a debate on how much should focus on play and a formal curriculum."

He fears examiners will just try to "tick the boxes", leading to a "culture of compliance" instead of creativity.

Mr Sinnott added that the curriculum would work only if it was "left to the teachers' judgment".

He insisted teachers must have flexibility to tailor the curriculum to the needs of individual youngsters, including pupils with limited speaking skills.

He said: "If the teacher believes the three-year-old does not have any language at all, and there are one or two youngsters who, because of their home environment, come in with very limited language indeed, that's what the teacher is going to concentrate on."

A Government report suggested half of pupils in some areas fail to speak properly by the age of five.

Tomorrow, the NUT will debate the reform under the motion: "The imposition of an overly formal academic curriculum can distort young children's learning experience.

"These occur most naturally and effectively through a subtle combination of free play, movement, rhythm, repetition and imitation."

The union says its campaign against the curriculum is backed by childcare expert Penelope Leach, while more than 6,000 protesters have signed a No10 petition.

Ministers say it will help all children reach their potential and close the achievement gap between rich and poor.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families added: "The early years foundation stage is about learning through play.

"It does not prescribe teaching methods for young children nor prescribe any testing whatsoever.

"It sets a series of goals so parents and nursery staff know whether a child is developing properly."

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