It recommends that after two years' part-time nursery education, pupils should be able to recognise their own names, count up to five, recite nursery rhymes by heart, play simple ball games. and use basic computer skills. They should also work in groups and express opinions on different smells, tastes and sounds.
But the proposed curriculum does not include spellings, sums or God - leading to a furious row among members of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which has drawn up the framework for ministers. Right wing members of the authority are angry because the curriculum merely says that children should take part in festivals and ceremonies both from their own culture and from others. It does not specifically mention Christianity.
The critics also want nursery schools and playgroups to teach children basic addition and subtraction as well as the letters of the alphabet.
The Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead, agrees with them that there should be more formal lessons for three- and four year-olds. He believes nursery schools must prepare children for the "Three Rs" curriculum which they adopt from the age of five.
Mr Woodhead said yesterday that the nursery curriculum should be neither too prescriptive nor too heavily based on the benefits of play. If four year-olds were ready to learn the alphabet they should do so. "A curriculum being developed for four year-olds ought to have literacy at its heart."
The document is being considered by ministers and officials who are drawing up plans for the expansion of pre-school education. It stresses the importance of play in children's development, and the need for children to feel happy and secure in their surroundings. Parental involvement in their education should be also encouraged, it says.
But Sir Rhodes Boyson, MP, a former Conservative education minister, said much more rigorous standards should be laid down. By five, children must recognise words, do a 12-piece jigsaw and recite both the months of the year and the days of the week, he said.
"If it is just going to be playing around, it is going to be a waste of public money. This should be three hours a day of concentrating. It should be exciting but it should be work."
Margaret Lochrie, administrator of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, formerly the Pre-School Playgroups Association, said the new curriculum sounded similar to the one being used in playgroups."We don't think very young pupils should be taught number and letter work using formal and abstract schemes," she said.Reuse content