Government to set new goals for under-fives

Guidelines for nurseries: Pre-school groups must meet numeracy and literacy targets to qualify for voucher scheme
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Four-year-olds will be taught to write their name, to count up to 10 and to take turns with others under the first national guidelines on what under-fives should learn.

According to the Government's curriculum advisers, the children's progress should be assessed and their parents receive written or verbal reports.

The requirements, published in a paper produced yesterday by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, will have to be met by all nurseries and playgroups that wish to join the Government's nursery voucher scheme.

They have been produced after a wrangle between traditionalists and progressives over how much formal learning should be included and how much play. Sir Ron Dearing, the authority's chairman, said: "They will not necessarily make learning more formal. There is a role for play."

He said play was not mentioned as one of the goals for under-fives education because it was considered a teaching method rather than a goal. However, an activity in which children play at hospitals is recommended.

The document lists what children should learn - before starting school at the age of five - in maths, language, personal and social development, knowledge of the world, physical development and creativity.

It covers morals and religion as well as literacy and numeracy. All four- year-olds, it says, "should develop a sense of what is right and wrong and why. They should take part, where appropriate, in cultural and religious events and sometimes, show feelings, such as wonder, pleasure and sorrow".

They should start to use computers and tape recorders and to play with beanbags, balls and climbing apparatus with increasing skill.

Norma Empringham, an authority official, said there was no question of children not being allowed to continue to compulsory schooling if they failed to reach the specified goals: the aim was to achieve good liaison between the nursery or playgroup and the child's first school.

She said: "Many good nurseries and playgroups already talk regularly to parents about their children's progress. We are proposing a new requirement for them to assess and report on children but the reports would not necessarily be written."

Specialists in early years education were relieved by the paper. Wendy Scott, vice-chair of the British Association for Early Childhood Education, said: "It is better than we feared but there is room for improvement. If you say you expect outcomes and that people are going to be judged by them then you must ensure that there is some form of proper training for teachers."

The authority, which insists that the consultation paper proposes "outcomes" not a curriculum, is inviting comments before 12 October and will send its final recommendation to Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, in November.

Too much sand, not enough sums

Teaching four-year-olds about right and wrong seems to most nursery teachers about as obvious as teaching them how to put their coats on.

The battle to persuade young children to take turns, to share and to get on with other children is waged daily in nursery and primary classrooms.

Most of the proposals in the pre-school education paper are in similar vein. They amount to no more than the good sense that already prevails in many nurseries and playgroups and they will probably change very little.

On the surface, the paper seems to represent a victory for those who believe there is too much sand and playdough in early-years education and not enough reading and sums.

It is a cleverly crafted document of the sort teachers have come to expect from Sir Ron Dearing, the Government's chief adviser on the curriculum and exams.

For weeks, traditionalists and progressives have disagreed over what the under-fives should learn. The traditionalists have argued for the introduction of God, sums and spelling.

Sir Rhodes Boyson, the MP, said children should be able to recognise words, do 12-piece jigsaws, know the months of the year and the days of the week - considerably more demanding goals than the ones proposed.

His opponents, in a draft document produced by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority earlier this year, emphasised the importance of play.

Play features less strongly in the final version but it is not a victory for traditionalists. The goals are serious educational ones. It is not, as some had feared, all about tying shoelaces and sitting still.

Most nursery education specialists are happy that they will be able to continue laying the foundations of reading and arithmetic using the same imaginative games and practical counting activities as they do at present.

There is no question of lining four-year-olds up in desks and making them do pages of sums. Festivals from other religions as well as Christianity will continue to be celebrated.

Even the playgroups say the goals fit easily with their own curriculum guidelines.

The worry is not so much that the proposals will bring big changes to existing nurseries but that they will be misused by inexperienced teachers who will interpret them narrowly. There are currently big differences in the quality of teaching offered in nurseries and playgroups.

Liz Pearson, of the British Association for Early Childhood Education, said: "There is a danger that some teachers in private nurseries and in playgroups where training is more limited will emphasise what is measurable: writing a name, or counting to 10 rather than developing children's imagination and their ability to make choices."

Training is one key to achieving the improved standards Sir Ron hopes will materialise. As he said yesterday, that is not his remit but it is an issue the Government will have to tackle if its goals for under-fives are to be realised.

What the under-fives should be learning

Personal and social development

To take turns

To share fairly

To respect others

To treat property with care

To treat living things with care

To behave appropriately

Language and literacy

To recognise their name and some familiar words

To recognise letters of the alphabet by shape and sound

To write their name using upper and lower case

To know that print reads from left to right and top to bottom

To make up stories and take part in role play

To know that words and pictures have meaning


To use numbers up to 10

To know some large numbers eg their birthdays and house numbers

To use terms such as circle and bigger than

To count and sort everyday objects

To begin to learn addition and subtraction

To know rhymes, songs, stories and counting games

Knowledge and understanding of the world

To talk about where they live and their environment

To talk about past and present events in their lives

To ask questions about why things happen and how they work

To use skills such as cutting, folding, joining and building

To use tools safely

To use taperecorders and computers

Physical development

To move confidently and imaginatively.

To use equipment such as beanbags, balls, wheeled toys and balancing and climbing appartus

To handle pencils, paintbrushes and scissors


To use a range of materials and tools to represent what they see, hear, touch and feel

To explore colour, texture, shape, form and space in two and three dimensions

To respond to rhythm in music and dance

To use imagination in stories and role play