The under-fives are under review this week as consultation opens on the future of their learning, reports Nadene Ghouri
The creation of a "foundation" stage for children under the age of five came a little closer this week. Radical changes have been proposed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in a consultation paper that covers early-years education from age three through to key stage 1.
The proposals will re-ignite the debate over whether formal education should begin as early as possible, or whether, as in other European countries, nurseries should concentrate on structured play - laying the building bricks for school.
Early-years campaigners have long argued that formal learning in the UK begins too young. They point to other European countries where children do not start school until six, but outstrip their British counterparts in international reading and writing tests just a few years later.
Increasingly, ministers have hinted that any review of the current "Desirable Learning Outcomes" for the under-fives, would look at making the early years a distinct and separate learning phase. However, the QCA's plans only go part way to appeasing the campaigners.
The document proposes a "foundation stage" emphasising social, personal and emotional development, together with the acceptance that younger children develop differently and at their own pace. Children will be expected to know how to form a good relationships with adults, take turns, respect others' feelings and understand the difference between right and wrong.
However, the QCA says any new foundation stage must also ensure children are ready to start more formal schooling at KS 1.
By the end of reception they will be expected to have achieved more formal goals, such as being able to hold a pen or pencil correctly, write their own names, count up to 10, use imaginative language and be aware of mathematical patterns and sequencing.
A new set of early-learning goals would set out expectations for the end of the foundation stage in the same way that level descriptions do for the key stages of the national curriculum.
However, the QCA does point out drawbacks to this approach. Many schools currently plan reception and KS 1 lessons together and some teach reception children alongside older pupils. This may make it difficult for schools to merge a foundation stage with the KS1 curriculum.
Care would also need to be taken to ensure that the learning goals were sufficiently challenging for older and for more able children.
Libby Purves, back page
THE QCA PROPOSES: * a foundation stage to cover children from age three to the end of reception year;
* a clear set of early-learning goals (instead of the current, age-related, Desirable Learning Outcomes) which set out what most children are expected to achieve by the end of the foundation stage. The literacy and numeracy goals are in line with national objectives for reception year;
* an emphasis on social skills and the emotional well-being of young children.
Skills children should have by the end of reception year.
Pre-school children should:
* have the confidence to try things, initiate ideas and speak in a group;
* be able to concentrate and sit still;
* be aware of their own needs and sensitive to those others;
* be respectful of others' cultures and beliefs;
* consider the consequences of their actions;
* understand what is right and wrong and why;
* dress independently and manage their own personal hygiene.
SPEAKING AND LISTENING
* use imaginative language;
* speak clearly and audibly;
* be attentive listeners.
* know the alphabet;
* link letters and sounds;
* read a range of common words.
* hold a pencil correctly;
* write their own names;
* use phonic knowledge.
* count reliably to ten;
* recognise numbers;
* begin to relate to addition and subtraction;
* recognise patterns.
The consultation will run from February 22 to April 30 1999 and concerns early education in England only. For copies of the consultation pack telephone the QCA early-years team on 0171-509 5521 Review of desirable outcomes for children's learning on entering compulsory education