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Let teachers make early years work

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Every country needs authors to remind its politicians that storytelling, reading for pleasure and creativity matter. So thank you, Michael Morpurgo, Philip Pullman et al, for telling Ed Balls that there's more to literacy than punctuation and spelling. But on the issue of the early years curriculum - the cause of last week's literary indignation - it's teachers who know best. A TES poll this week found that nearly nine out of 10 teachers backed the curriculum, not because they are devotees of full stops for four-year-olds but because they see it as "fun and imaginative".

In reality, the new programme is not very different from the one most teachers are already following, though what was once "guidance" has now become compulsory. If anything, it is less formal than its predecessor. Play is the thing, and children are free to pick their own activities for half of their nursery or school day. Teachers like the emphasis on spending time outdoors, and some plan to let children run in and out at will. They believe that child-centred learning - under attack for 30 years - is now firmly in place for the under-fives.

The question for teachers is not what they have to teach, but how it will be assessed. The assessment grid has changed little since the late Ted Wragg lampooned it in his TES column earlier this decade. Teachers still have to assess children's progress against 117 statements using classroom observation, and a third of those we polled thought their workload would increase by up to 100 minutes a week because of the new planning requirements. Professor Wragg would have enjoyed the chat online at the TES staffroom this week, where teachers imagined using the grid amid the hurly-burly of a class of four-year-olds: "Bono demonstrates great physical co-ordination and an interest in trajectories as a way of organising information by hitting the teacher hard." Even Ofsted has said that it thinks the assessment is too onerous. Teachers also point out that planning and setting up outside activities will be time-consuming.

Our best early years education is the envy of the world. This curriculum is modelled on that best. Our poll shows that teachers are trying hard to make it work. If they can negotiate their way through the assessment grid and targets, the under-fives will be better educated than ever before.

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