The national curriculum extends now to the very young. The Inspectorate will expect to see nursery schools and voluntary groups implementing the messages of the Curriculum Framework for Children in their Pre-School Year which was launched this week. In time the hope is that the curriculum will form the basis for two years of pre-school education, that is, in the wake of the Government's programme to make places available for more than just all four-year-olds.
The voucher system, which is soon to be laid to rest, initiated closer Government involvement in what goes on in nursery schools and other centres. Schools seeking registration had to open themselves to regular inspection, and a steady stream of (mostly favourable) reports has been emanating from the HMI. But on what basis should inspectors view pre-school education? What advice should staff receive in preparing for an inspector's visit, and more importantly, as a guide to good practice day in and day out?
The framework follows a draft issued by the last government. In turn that owed its principles to a Scottish Office report on the under-fives in 1994. There is little to surprise an experienced nursery teacher or nurse. Play is put at the heart of learning and it is in ways of guiding and using play that staff are encouraged to advance children's learning and emotional and social growth.
The report is attractively produced, easy to read and enlivened by "examples from practice", such as the boy who arrives with a photograph of his baby sister only two hours old. The resulting activity is summed up: "What started as a discussion (communication and language) ended as learning about their own growth and change (knowledge and understanding of the world) and a creative and aesthetic experience."
It is clear that the structure and language of 5-14 are being adopted for a pre-school setting. With most children already experiencing some pre-school education, primary 1 teachers cannot and should not expect to make a "fresh start". If in the past they have been as guilty of doing so as secondary 1 teachers, a glance at the pre-school curriculum should disabuse them.
The Government's next and more difficult task is to spell out how the various providers of pre-school education are to be financed and encouraged to meet the expansion targets.