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Early goals out of reach

Levels expected from five-year-olds may be reviewed as reading and writing scores trail behind. Helen Ward reports

Reading and writing goals for five-year-olds may be lowered, as children leave reception year with academic scores trailing behind physical and personal skills for the third year running.

By the time they are five, children are expected to read simple words and attempt more complex ones, write simple sentences sometimes using punctuation and be able to find information in non-fiction texts.

But this year just 28 per cent achieved the goals in writing and 36 per cent in reading compared to 60 per cent reaching the expected level in PE and 52 per cent in emotional development.

Lesley Staggs, director of the foundation stage for the Primary National Strategy, has now said that the reading and writing goals may be pitched too high.

Ms Staggs, who in a former role at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority led the work on the foundation-stage curriculum guidance, said:

"I don't think it is about five-year-olds not doing well enough.

"There are two questions: are we teaching them well enough and did we pitch the goals ambitiously high? I think the pitch of the goals is very high.

"Part of the difficulty is we wrote the early learning goals to be aspirations. It is very unlikely that all children will have achieved all the goals at the end of the foundation stage."

Ms Staggs is overseeing an informal consultation on the proposed early development and learning framework, which will bring together what is expected of all those working with children from birth to five. The formal consultation, based on the issues raised now such as the target levels, will begin next spring.

A report on the foundation stage by the QCA, published last year, found almost one in four practitioners thought the goals in reading, writing and linking sounds to letters were too challenging.

The report also found most reception classes gave top priority to language and literacy followed by maths.

Teachers told the QCA that they felt they had to rush children into neat, legible handwriting - sometimes before they were ready - and as a result children did not progress well.

They also said there was increasing pressure from parents to "teach"

literacy to three-year-olds rather than letting children learn through play.


Primary forum 24


Joy Donovan, headteacher of Hannah More infant school, Nailsea, Somerset, has worked with three to seven-year-olds for 37 years and is not surprised that most five-year-olds cannot write to the required standard.

"Children that age can have a go at writing, but their knowledge of the way language works is not good because they do not have a lot of experience,"

she said.

"They can have a go and they can convey meaning. But to expect them to write accurately with full stops - well, I know adults who don't do that."

Mrs Donovan said the expectations of children are higher for writing than for other aspects of the curriculum.

She said: "Whoever decided what children should be able to do at a certain age has either set unreasonable expectations or we are all doing extremely badly.

"It has to be a possibility that writing is not taught as well. It is an interesting hypothesis, but I don't think you can assume that given all the data on the quality of teaching in foundation stage and the opportunities given to children. I think it is more likely that somehow the goal was wrong."

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