Pre-school children should be encouraged to develop early writing skills and an understanding of addition and subtraction, as well as a broad range of English, maths, intellectual and personal skills, according to proposals for early- years curriculum guidelines drawn up by Government advisers.
However, right-wing members of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which discussed the proposals last month, were reported to be angry because there was insufficient emphasis on sums and spelling.
They also apparently disliked the absence of Christianity in the document. It is understood to say children should be helped to develop a sense of right and wrong and personal responsibility, and should take part in cultural and religious events, but does not discuss religious teaching.
The document, drawn up by officials at SCAA and the Office for Standards in Education, was requested informally by Education Secretary Gillian Shephard's task force on under-fives and submitted earlier this winter.
It is based on "Starting with Quality", the 1990 Department of Education and Science-commissioned report written by a committee chaired by former education minister Angela Rumbold.
A SCAA spokesman said:"In our view it puts due emphasis on literacy in terms of beginning to read and numeracy in the sense of beginning to count in the early years.
"Saying it doesn't have spelling and sums is a bit of a tenuous interpretation. "
The task force, comprised of civil servants, is working on plans for meeting the Prime Minister's commitment to make nursery education available for all four-year-olds whose parents want it.
The draft curriculum guidelines, which are expected to be published for consultation later this year, could be used towards assuring quality in the new places.
The proposals are understood to say that, whether they are in schools, day nurseries or playgroups, children should have a broad range of experiences in seven areas: social, language, mathematical, physical, creative and aesthetic, scientific and technical and moral and spiritual. They emphasise the importance of learning through play as well as links with the first stages of the national curriculum.
The language section is believed to say children should listen and respond to stories and nursery rhymes, and develop "emergent" writing skills such as making marks on paper, writing their own names, and trying to convey meaning.
Children would be expected to listen carefully to stories and poems and begin learning some of them by heart. They should recognise their own names in print, as well as other familiar words in the environment.
The maths section is thought to say children should be able to learn about shape and space, using everyday materials. They should compare, sort, match and count and learn about addition and subtraction by using objects.