Off to a good early start

Sir Ron Dearing

Sir Ron Dearing outlines SCAA's pre-school consultation.

good pre-school education leads to lasting enhancement of educational performance. In announcing her plans to provide a place for every four-year-old in the country whose parents wish to take it up, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment stressed that education for the under-fives should be of high quality, should provide a sound foundation for the national curriculum, and should give particular attention to the development of early literacy and numeracy.

To achieve this, she asked the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority to do two things. First, to set out what children should aim to achieve by the time they begin compulsory schooling. And second, to consider what guidance, if any, might be needed to help providers to plan educational activities for children which will be appropriate to those learning outcomes.

That is what SCAA has now done. We have drawn on previous thinking such as the Rumbold report, "Starting with Quality", and material produced by local authorities and other organisations. Officers have talked to many groups and individuals with an interest in pre-school education, and have been in close liaison with OFSTED to draw on its knowledge of best practice.

We are now ready to consult on our proposals for brief descriptions of the goals for learning for all children within the normal ability range in six key areas: * the development of personal and social skills, * competence in language and literacy, * their ability to use numbers and begin to develop mathematical thinking, * knowledge and understanding of the world, * the development of physical skills, and * their creative and imaginative powers.

We have not attempted to devise a curriculum. In pre-school education, it is for providers to define the curriculum in each setting; its quality will be judged through inspection. What we have done is to set out desired outcomes that will give children an excellent start when they enter compulsory schooling.

In addition to consulting on these desired outcomes, we shall be asking practitioners whether they would find it helpful to have guidance on educational activities likely to lead to them. Our proposals suggest a range of opportunities for learning which might be considered by providers as part of their curriculum planning, and highlight some features of good practice, such as reporting children's progress to parents, and the involvement of parents in their children's learning.

Besides consulting practitioners we shall also be asking for views from LEAs, professional associations, parents' groups, and other organisations and individuals. We will also host national conferences for practitioners from across the range of provision and send our proposals for comment to a large sample of existing providers.

But we are keen to enable anyone who wishes to let us have views to do so. Final recommendations must be with the Secretary of State by November 10, so the consultation will end on October 12.

For a copy of the pre-school consultation pack, call 0l787 884023 Sir Ron Dearing is chairman of SCAA

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