It's early days for early years

We respond to the heated debate about the proposed early years foundation stage. This document, scheduled to become law in September, describes an integration of services for 0-6-year-olds and their families. It is far from perfect, but we applaud it because:

- It is a statutory commitment to play-based, developmentally appropriate care and education.

- Its recommendations for practice are broad and well balanced; the vast majority of it has already been guiding practice for several years in Birth to Three Matters (2002) and Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage (2000).

- It provides a regulatory framework aimed at raising quality among all providers, with appropriate staff-child ratios and well-qualified staff. Through Ofsted, all children will have access to individualised care and education.

- It recognises the central contribution of parents to children's development and requires childcare staff to work with them.

- It specifies the integration of care with education in a multi-disciplinary teamwork context.

The principles on which the early years foundation stage is based include:

- responding to the individuality of each child within the context of loving and secure relationships; and

- creating a stimulating environment that promotes age-appropriate experiences to foster learning and development in every child.

There have been many criticisms of early years literacy teaching, and we have some sympathy with them. We stress, however, that the phonics sections are a tiny part of the document and we do not believe they are sufficient reason to abandon a broad and basically child-centred strategy. The strongest criticisms are levelled at non-statutory documents, but the early years document states explicitly that such teaching is at the discretion of teachers, who must judge when it will benefit their pupils. Let's not abandon a largely excellent document in favour of non-regulation and lack of entitlement to high-quality services.

Professor Kathy Sylva University of Oxford

Professor Iram Siraj-Blatchford Institute of Education, London.

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