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Co-operation from the start

Quality Education in the Early Years, Edited by Lesley Abbott and Rosemary Rodger, Open University Press #163;9.99, 0 335 19230 0.The Rumbold Report on the quality of early years education forms the starting point and much of the structure of this symposium.

Since the report's production in 1990, it has been a considerable influence on teacher education, in ensuring that appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes are offered to those participating in both initial and in-service training. Also derived from Rumbold is a very strong emphasis on collaboration between education, health and social welfare professionals.

With this clear guidance as background, the authors offer case studies which aim to illustrate quality in action in the early years. Factors are identified which lead to quality experiences; knowledge, skills and attitudes are demonstrated which adults should have in order to provide high quality educational experience. Easily readable material illustrates the general point made at the head of each chapter in a quotation from the Rumbold Report, and at the end of each chapter questions are posed for consideration on the issues raised.

The importance of play is considered, and an approach to play is described which ensures that play is of value to children and does "increase their understanding and improve their language competence".

Parental and child involvement in assessment and record construction is described, and imaginative, appropriate and exciting recording instruments are demonstrated.

Behaviour management is addressed; well-grounded systems can make an impact on children who are difficult, antisocial or disruptive, and it is shown that positive attitudes may be achieved through the medium of the curriculum itself.

Also covered are equality issues in a pre-school setting, the development of language in a multi-lingual setting, and the role of adults in early years education. Partnership between parents and teachers is examined, and the roles of educator and carer in very early years provision are explored.

Case study material also illustrates a quality curriculum for the early years. The teacher, however, seems to be viewed as the provider of structured experiences which challenge and develop children, based, it is claimed, on Vygotsky's notion of assisted learning. Vygotsky, however, argued that children's understanding is shaped not only through active encounters with the physical world but through a period of specific linguistic intervention about the activity with a view to formulating general principles.

Unfortunately, a teacher-dominated pattern of interaction is demonstrated in the case study, and it is advocated that the adult's role is in asking leading questions and providing pupil prompts. It will be difficult to answer the question which the author poses: "How do you ensure provision for quality talk?" based on the evidence presented in this chapter.

Although quality is seen in action through the case studies, it is somewhat disappointing to the reader that in a book on quality education in the early years the authors in their first page avoid defining quality on the grounds that it is influenced by context, mood, feelings and past experiences. A working definition of quality in education, however limited,would have been useful in anchoring the concepts expressed in this book.

Dr Maureen Hughes is headteacher of Milecastle First School, Newcastle.

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