Is your baby playing with its toes yet? If not the government wants to know why
· Children to be monitored from birth to age five
· New curriculum sets 69 'early learning goals'
London Guardian | March 14, 2007
Babies will be assessed on their gurgling, babbling and toe-playing abilities when they are a few months old under a legally enforced national curriculum for children from birth to five published by the government yesterday.
Every nursery, childminder and reception class in Britain will have to monitor children's progress towards a set of 69 government-set "early learning goals", recording them against more than 500 development milestones as they go.
At five, each child will be assessed against 13 scales based on the learning goals and their score, called an early years profile, must be passed to the Department for Education and Skills.
When children enter compulsory schooling, they should be able to read simple sentences using a phonics-based approach, count reliably up to 10 and sing simple songs from memory, as well as respecting others' beliefs and learning to share and take turns.
The Early Years Foundation Curriculum, which comes into effect from September 2008, replaces non-statutory guidance already in place. If nurseries or other care providers want to opt out of the new requirements, for example because they follow an educational philosophy that introduces reading at a later age, they will have to apply for an exemption, and would have to forfeit any state funding.
The Department for Education and Skills's framework immediately came under attack from the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations (NCPTA) and from the Tories for taking an excessively prescriptive approach and targeting children far too young.
Margaret Morrissey of the NCPTA said: "I think it's really sad that we have reached the point now where instead of reducing children's stress we have increased it ... It worries me that we are expecting children to reach these targets when they have not even had their first birthday."
Anne McIntosh, shadow minister for children, condemned the framework as "formalised learning for very small children" that risked damaging youngsters' development. She said: "It is inappropriate to have such detailed inspection of children this young. We should leave it to the professional judgment of teachers. These new targets mark an unprecedented supervision of children from birth to primary school, and I do not think that they are necessary or will work. Every child is different and develops at different stages in different ways."
The DfES says the framework is a means of ensuring high standards of early education and care that will reassure parents that their child's development is being supported, no matter what form of childcare or pre-school education they use.
Beverley Hughes, the children's minister, denied the goals would lead to a "tickbox approach" to assessing children, though she acknowledged this had happened under the previous system. She rejected suggestions that a 92-page set of practice guidance featuring 513 skills and attitudes children should acquire which accompanies the framework was excessively detailed.
"I don't think it is prescriptive. I think the examples we have got in there are really what brings it to life for practitioners."
She said the framework document was intended for nursery staff to make sure they adopt a "rigorous approach".
"The children's experience will be free, it will be based on play, it will be rich," Ms Hughes said. "But the professionals behind that are required to have a thinking approach to the care of other people's children."
According to the practice guidance, babies from birth to 11 months should be assessed for "the different ways babies communicate, such as gurgling when happy". As they begin to scrutinise the skills children need for writing, carers should note the interest infants show in "the marks they make when they rub a rusk round the tray of a feeding chair".
In preparation for learning about numbers, babies will be monitored on whether they enjoy "finding their nose, eyes or tummy".
Childcare groups broadly welcomed the framework but warned that moves to support children's development by close observation could be jeopardised by government rules stating that one member of staff can look after up to 13 children aged three and over.
Steve Alexander, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, the country's largest voluntary provider of childcare said: "We retain our strong view that the staff to child ratio of 1:13 ... is too low and should be 1:8. This point has particular pertinence given the framework stipulates that assessments through the foundation stage take the form of observation via 'look, listen and note'."
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association, said: "We question how practitioners will be able to give children the right support they need to progress in their learning and development with such a high ratio."
Now pay attention: What your offspring should be doing - and when
· Communicate in a variety of ways including crying, gurgling, babbling and screaming
· Play with their own fingers and toes and focus on objects around them
· Discover mark-making by chance, noticing, for instance, that trailing a finger through spilt juice changes it
· Become absorbed in putting objects in and out of containers
· Get to know and enjoy daily routines, such as getting up time, meal times, nappy time and bed time
· Begin to move to music, listen to or join in with rhymes or songs
· Express feelings within warm, mutual, affirmative relationships
· Make random marks with their fingers and some tools
· Have some understanding of the numbers one and two, especially when the quantity is important for them
· Show increasing control in holding and using hammers, books, beaters and mark-making tools
· Be able to use simple statements and questions often linked to gestures
· Form friendships with other children
· Understand what is right, what is wrong and have a conception of why this is
· Complete a simple program on a computer
· Value and contribute to own well-being and self-control
· Begin to use talk to pretend imaginary situations