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An inspector writes

As head of a nursery school I cannot see how OFSTED, tied as it is to subject inspection, can properly evaluate the teaching and learning of children under five, for whom anything but a cross-curricular approach would be totally inappropriate. Inspectors will not see discrete subject teaching in my school.

Will we be penalised because of this? I would also like to know what guarantee I would have that inspection teams, often made up of secondary specialists, "trained" in one day to inspect primary schools, would be in any way qualified to judge the complex educational business of a nursery school.

OFSTED uses the term "areas of learning" rather than "subjects" for children under five. The OFSTED-School Curriculum and Assessment Authority document Nursery Education: Desirable Outcomes for Children's Learning on Entering Compulsory Schooling, defines them as: language and literacy, mathematics, knowledge and understanding of the world, physical development and personal and social development.

OFSTED recognises that the curriculum, comprised of skills, concepts, knowledge, understanding and attitudes essential to children's development, can be expressed in different ways, and that teachers may use "areas of learning", the national curriculum or a combination of both to plan. Equally, it is highly likely that where young children are concerned, areas of learning would be integrated in a "cross-curricular" approach.

Therefore in evaluating children's progress and the quality of teaching in the early years, Inspectors will be primarily concerned with: u the development of particular skills, ideas and knowledge in the context of children's existing understanding, in "an environment which fosters the development of social relationships and positive attitudes to learning and behaviour" and the extent to which children's attainment reflects national trends.

So, for example, in evaluating the school's provision for "knowledge and understanding of the world", inspectors would consider how far the school promoted children's developing knowledge and understanding of their environment, other people and features of the man-made world. Their only concern with subjects would be whether these experiences were providing a foundation for learning.

Again, in the area of creative development, they would hope to find that teachers were providing opportunities for children to use their imagination and to communicate feelings through art, music, dance, story and imaginative play and access to a range of materials, tools, instruments and artifacts.

Inspectors will be concerned with what children know, understand and can do, with their social and personal development, and with the ways in which schools provide effectively for them.

Judgments about subjects, or cross curricular approaches will be related to their contribution to learning, and not to their particular form and nature in themselves.

So your "integrated" approach will be evaluated on its effectiveness, and not by an irrelevant comparison with a subject based approach.

As to your concern about the competence of those engaged in the inspection of nursery and under fives' education, I can assure you that any team unable to command the services of an informed and experienced early years professional would be most unlikely to succeed in a tender.

Equally, any inspector who claiimed experience in a subject area would be expected to demonstrate it with insight and sensitivity across the developmental spectrum from the early years to the end of the secondary range.

Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Write to him at The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171 782 3200.

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