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Refining the starters' orders;Digest

Linda Blackburne opens the new early years consultation document

Prescription or clarity? That's the big question about the 20-page review of the Government's desirable outcomes for children's learning on entering compulsory education, published last month.

The document aims to expand and clarify the existing controversial targets for five-year-olds. But early years groups have branded it "prescriptive", despite the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's claim to have reflected their opinions, particularly on the issue of greater encouragement of speaking and listening skills.

The new proposals replace the "desirable outcomes" with the "more understandable term, early learning goals" but they keep the original six areas of learning: personal, social and emotional development; language and literacy; mathematics; knowledge and understanding of the world; physical development; and creative development.

Originally, the targets were for children starting compulsory schooling in the term after their fifth birthday. But the proposals recommend a foundation stage for children aged three to the end of Reception. The time extension is reflected in more challenging early learning goals and boxed "extension statements" for more able children.

The 63 goals, which set out what most children are expected to learn by the end of the foundation stage, are in line with the key objectives for the Reception year from the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies.

In maths, for example, children will be expected to count up to 10 and recognise the numbers one to nine. And in writing pupils should be able to use phonic knowledge to write simple words, and make phonetically plausible attempts at more complex words by the end of Reception.

A noticeable change from the original "desirable outcomes" is the omission of any reference to children learning nursery rhymes and songs to aid learning in maths and literacy but Lesley Staggs, the QCA's principal manager for early years, said the goals comprised "generic statements", and curriculum guidance would emphasise the importance of rhyme and other teaching strategies.

The proposals are likely to reopen discussions about the content of baseline assessment schemes, which require the informal testing of all children when they first start school.

The 10-week consultation ends on April 30, when the QCA's early years team will analyse the responses and report to ministers. The Government is expected to make an announcement in June, and the new non-statutory early learning goals will be ready for September 2000.

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