Non-specialists can succeed
This practical and user-friendly book highlights both the advantages and dilemmas which resulted from the last government's educational policy. The imposition of the national curriculum in 1988 sought to improve education by safeguarding it from the influence of practitioners. As a result, a sort of secondary school subject curriculum was introduced into infant classrooms with a trickle-down effect on pre-school education.
The introduction this year of the "desirable outcomes" for children turning five has two definite advantages: they distinguish the aims of pre-school education from those of key stage 1 and confirm the belief of early childhood educators that there are more appropriate ways to educate the under-fives than with a watered-down version of the primary curriculum.
Yet about half of early childhood practitioners in England and Wales are untrained, and many reception teachers lack specialist training in creating a pre-school curriculum which will get their children off to a good start. Hence the dilemma which faces those who are not confident practitioners of nursery education. They have been given their "outcomes" to aim for; how should they provide for children to achieve them?
Sally Neaum and Jill Tallack don't simply put forward their recommendations as practical strategies. They celebrate and advocate approaches based on the traditional nursery curriculum. The first part of their book seeks to explain and justify the "how", and to show how planning and evaluating the curriculum can underpin the quality - and equality - of the educational opportunities which are offered.
Neaum and Tallack then deal with the practicalities in a way that many will find helpful. Their chapter on physical development, for instance, shows how a nursery developed criteria for high quality outdoor play which will be welcomed both by those seeking to improve their use of existing outdoor space and by those who wish to strengthen their argument for providing outdoor learning space.
Each chapter in the second part of the book focuses on one of the six "areas of experience" on which the desirable outcomes are based - such as literacy, maths and PSE - in a similarly accessible way, using illuminating examples, and providing progress checks.
The authors wisely include professional development in their chapter on equality; the more seriously under-qualified practitioners take their recommendations the more likely they are to seek further training.
There is a list of training possibilities, but equal opportunities for all children and practitioners surely demand a co-ordinated national effort. This book will help identify needs and strategies to meet them.
Vicky Hurst is a lecturer in early childhood education, Goldsmiths' College, University of London