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Centres of early-years excellence

I was rather surprised to find myself in agreement with some of the points made by Professor Alan Smithers on baseline testing (TES, November 29). I entirely agree that the proposals represent "measurement gone mad". However, I must take issue with other points, especially his statement that any existing early-years excellence in this country "is in the health service rather than education itself".

To dismiss the impressive work being carried out in some nursery schools, centres and classes in the face of a bombardment of legislative and ideological pressure contrary to good practice, is to insult the dedicated and talented nursery staff who daily enrich children's lives and provide a wonderful foundation for lifelong learning. Some of the best educational practice one could hope to see can be found in the nursery sector, where, unfettered by the national curriculum, teachers have continued to skilfully support and extend the all-round development and learning of each child.

Good nursery teachers know that education is about more than being able to "read, add and behave", although they do ensure that children have a sound and appropriate start in these areas too. While lack of suitable training (initial and in-service) and little on-going support and development have led to some nurseries being less than excellent, it is unfair to imply that this is the whole story. Good nursery education encompasses so much more than the mechanistic approach to concept development Professor Smithers appears to be advocating. Such a simplistic analysis is as pernicious as the proposed tests he rightly condemns.

HILARY FAUST Hillfield Avenue, London N8

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