Leading article: Why toddlers need a curriculum

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The Independent Online

There was a predictable outcry last week when the Government announced that it was extending the principle of a compulsory curriculum to babies and toddlers, the nought- to five-year-olds. But the detractors really should wait to see what is proposed before rushing into print with their objections.

So far, ministers are only consulting over what should be in the curriculum. Initial signs are that it will concentrate on ensuring that children in the care of childminders and nursery nurses receive a stimulating experience. It will also make sure that the minders are checking on their charges' development; in other words, watching how their talking is developing and how confident they are.

While it is expected that the principles of the literacy hour will be extended to children from age three, the idea is not to saddle little ones with a rigid curriculum. Nobody wants them to engage in rote learning. The idea is to allow enough time for play. The groups that have been taken into ministers' confidence over their plans say they detect no enthusiasm for an overburdening curriculum.

Obviously, if the proposals were to turn into a more rigid skill-based curriculum, parents' groups and pre-school campaigners would be right to set up in opposition. But it seems to us to be a laudable sentiment to want to ensure that there is a check on the standard of childcare given to young children.

Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, is to be responsible for policing the new curriculum. While it is the obvious body to carry out this task, it has - to use the words of Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons education select committee - extended its inspection remit at almost the same pace as the British Empire expanded its control of the world. Ofsted will have to be given adequate resources to carry out all this work - policing the nought-to-five curriculum, inspecting adult learning and checking that schools are providing healthy dinners. If it doesn't get the extra staff, it will be in danger of going the same way as the British Empire. That said, Ofsted should be able to inspect services for under-fives to the standard that the nation's children deserve.

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