ALL FOUR-year-olds should be able to identify half the letters of the alphabet and five-year-olds should be able to use full stops and capital letters, says new guidance from the National Assessment Agency. It also says that five-year-olds should be able to recognise that other children's cultural backgrounds may differ from their own and express a sensitive interest in this difference.
The guidelines have been drawn up to ensure that foundation stage teachers all use the same standards to assess pupils. Previously, teachers were told only that children were expected to "name and sound letters of the alphabet". Some staff wanted pupils to recognise all 26 letters of the alphabet, while others expected them to know only the letters of their own names.
Previous published standards on punctuation and emotional development were similarly open to personal interpretation, calling only for an ability to "form simple sentences, sometimes using punctuation" and for "a developing respect for own culture and beliefs and those of other people".
Joy Donovan, head of Hannah More infant school in Nailsea, north Somerset, welcomed the clarification. "It is a little bit like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs," she said. "But it does make sure all the grandmothers are sucking the same eggs."
The guidance, which will be sent to every local authority, also recommends that teachers avoid "inappropriate methods" of assessing pupils. Teachers are expected to assess children at this age using a combination of classroom observation and adult-initiated interaction. But a National Assessment Agency spokesman said some had resorted to more formal testing.
"Running formal tests for young children isn't how we visualised the foundation stage," he said. "The profile is just supposed to be a record of what the young child has done at that stage. We don't want it to become a big burden on the teachers or on the pupils they're supposed to be assessing."
But Debbie Hepplewhite, a reception teacher at Brightwalton primary in West Berkshire, believes that it will place an additional bureaucratic burden on teachers. She would prefer to see a complete overhaul of the system.
"The foundation stage profile has become a monster," she said. "We have personalised learning for children, but teachers are all expected to be clones."