The TES reports as the Government and Opposition seek policies to flesh out their commitments to pre-school expansion.
Nursery schools where routines inhibit children's opportunities for learning, staff only supervise without engaging in direct teaching, and there is little contact with parents are likely to fail their inspections, according to guidance from the Office for Standards in Education.
OFSTED has advised the independent teams which inspect schools that, in addition to the characteristics which could apply to any school, features of a "failing" nursery school or unit may also include: poor planning and lack of defined objectives; an unstimulating environment, both indoors and out; poor use of space and equipment; low involvement by the children and no monitoring or development of children's social skills and behaviour.
OFSTED, which is working with the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority on proposals for under-fives curriculum guidelines, is analysing responses to a consultation document on the inspection of early-years institutions.
The advice, which is already being used by inspectors, sets out what could be described as "statements of attainment" for judging the achievements of three- and four-year-olds. Although the SCAAOFSTED work is still under wraps, this inspection guidance could point the way to the kind of thinking which is going on.
It says most children between three and four should be able to:
* work in small groups and alone;
* move around indoors and out without anxiety;
* use language to communicate their wishes, feelings and understanding;
* use equipment and resources, including information technology, constructively and imaginatively;
* listen for periods of time in a larger group;
* respond to questions and comments from adults and children;
* be aware of and be able to use their bodies in different ways;
* have a growing sense of their own self-esteem and self-worth.
The attainments for four- to five-year-olds include:
* demonstrate more independence and the ability to take the initiative;
* show more confidence in making choices and in giving reasons for their decisions and actions;
* show evidence of emergent reading and writing skills, such as mark-making and recognition of their own name;
* have an understanding of the purpose of books and be able to enjoy and use them;
* use language to communicate ideas and feelings;
* show an awareness of pattern and number by discriminating and sorting;. * be able to reason and apply their knowledge in solving problems;
* observe, explore and discover for themselves;
* have greater dexterity when using materials and apparatus.
The guidance on how to judge effective teaching emphasises the need for careful planning, intervention by teachers in children's activities to consolidate and extend their learning, and a clear understanding of how young children learn.
A knowledge of child development is not mentioned, signalling a difference in attitude from most early-years specialists, who see it as a central characteristic of a good teacher (see story below).
Another bone of contention will be the statement that the under-fives curriculum should provide links to key stage 1 of the national curriculum. "The continuity and progression in the early-years curriculum should give children experiences and opportunities that will form the foundations of learning at statutory school age; many of the activities planned will lead into the programmes of study", it says. Many specialists believe young children should be free from national curriculum pressures.
The document says the curriculum should be carefully planned and monitored, and should advance children's intellectual, social, emotional and physical development.
It refers to six broad areas of learning: linguistic and literary, mathematical, scientific and technological, human and social, physical, aesthetic and creative. It gives high priority to language development and communication skills. "For example, the teaching should ensure that children extend and enrich their vocabulary, learn to speak clearly, listen attentively and use English confidently."