Young children's education has improved since the introduction of the early years foundation stage (EYFS), an Ofsted report said this week.
The report found that the EYFS, sometimes known as the "nappy curriculum", is popular with almost all those using it. Those who were not keen on it were almost exclusively childminders who saw themselves more as carers than educators.
The EYFS was introduced in September 2008 and is currently the subject of a review being led by Action for Children chief executive Dame Clare Tickell, following complaints from some preschool providers that it leads to learning which is too formal.
But Ofsted's report, The Impact of the Early Years Foundation Stage: A Good Start, concludes: "Concerns were raised when the EYFS was introduced that it would be too formal and put too much pressure on young children.
"However, the children that the inspectors observed during the survey were, almost without exception, enjoying their time."
The report says that an increase in the number of childcare providers receiving good or outstanding verdicts from 59 per cent to 68 per cent was due to the introduction of the EYFS.
Patrick Leeson, Ofsted director of education and care, told The TES that having a single framework was valued by those working with young children. "The evidence is that the EYFS is broadly working and has been helpful in driving up quality and therefore improvement in the sector. There has been greater professionalisation of early years workers, better training and better support," he said.
"What came through the survey is that the sector itself believes it is important that there is one framework."
But Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood and a member of the Open Eye campaign for the EYFS to be made non-statutory, said: "The early years people are terrifically good at making the best of it and they are pleased to see a focus on early years, but what is happening is that the EYFS has brought childcare into the education sector.
"We are not seeing the years up until five as a stage in itself, but simply as a preparation for school. That bothers me and it bothers those childminders who don't want to be professionalised."
The Ofsted report is based on visits to 68 early years providers: 20 childminders, 23 childcare providers and 25 schools. The watchdog said improvements were driven by people prepared to commit themselves to training to improve their skills - and the support being there.
68% - Childcare providers rated outstanding, up from 59%.