'Fresh start' at five under fire

As the Scottish Office unveiled a pre-five curriculum this week, the head of the Inspectorate called for an end to the "fresh start" attitude in primary schools.

Echoing the concern of educational psychologists at their conference last week, Douglas Osler said inspections indicated that primaries were as guilty as secondaries of ignoring prior experience. "The fresh start philosophy is alive and well at the early stages of some primary schools just as it is alive, but I hope showing signs of weakness, in the early years of secondary education, " Mr Osler said.

He described pre-five education as "the last new frontier" in education. But he mused whether it owed its expansion to demands for "a virtual extension of school education in order to give more time to accomplish the objectives which compulsory education is finding it increasingly difficult to deliver, or whether it is a genuine reaction to the perceived needs of children in their two pre-school years".

The pre-five curriculum was unveiled by the Education Minister in the 140-pupil Springside primary on the outskirts of Irvine, in his Cunninghame North constituency. After posing on the floor of the nursery class for photographs, Brian Wilson hailed the curriculum framework published by the Inspectorate.

Mr Wilson said the document was "an important landmark in what is now seen as the biggest postwar expansion of the formal education system: the extension of pre-school education as a matter of right to every four-year-old pupil".

He praised North Ayrshire for seizing the opportunity of the Conservatives' voucher pilot scheme to build up pre-school provision. No matter who provided nursery education it should do so to the same high standards, Mr Wilson said. The curriculum framework would provide a firm foundation for all pre-school education in Scotland for many years to come.

All registered centres are required to follow the framework, which was developed by the Inspectorate assisted by a seconded nursery teacher. A Gaelic version will be available later this month.

The framework for children in the year before primary 1 was published in draft form last September by the previous government. The final version takes account of the subsequent consultation. Mr Osler writes in the foreword that it "could be extended in due course to provide advice on an appropriate curriculum for children receiving two years of pre-school education (ie from about the age of three)".

The document emphasises the "important areas of continuity and progression" between pre-school and the 5-14 curriculum. Staff in both sectors should be aware of the links. Meetings and pupil profiles built up over the time in pre-school could be valuable ways of transferring information. Primary teachers should use the information to take account of prior learning.

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