State primaries should adopt the Montessori teaching method, which gives children freedom to direct their own learning, an early-years conference heard.
The joint Government and Montessori conference, held at the Institute of Education in London last week, discussed how Montessori's methods were equally applicable in state schools.
The teaching methods pioneered by Maria Montessori allow children to advance at their own individual pace, progressing to a new task only when they have mastered the previous one. In a document launched at the conference, the Montessori Schools Association outlined the similarities between Montessori teaching and the new early-years foundation stage.
For example, the Government's early-learning goal, requiring children to be "confident to try new activities, initiate ideas and speak in a familiar group", is matched with the Montessori aim that children "are curious about new activities being undertaken by older peers".
The support that the Montessori schools have shown for the Early Years Foundation Stage stands in sharp contrast to the stance of Steiner schools.
Although both offer a progressive form of education, Steiner schools have criticised the plan because they want greater freedom to decide when pupils should start learning to read. Montessori teachers are often happy for children to start at four, the foundation stage recommends they start by five, while Steiner schools prefer to wait until children are six or seven.
Montessori representatives were involved in the creation of the new foundation stage, and Ruth Pimental, national director of the foundtion stage, helped to launch the group's new report.
Philip Bujak, of the Montessori Schools Association, said: "We saw this as a very good opportunity to demonstrate how the state sector already uses many Montessori principles in its teaching. It's the root of many branches of good teaching."
There are 540 Montessori schools nationally, of which only four are state schools. Carol Powell, head of Gorton Mount Primary in Manchester, was the first state head to adopt Montessori methods. Her teachers began training two years ago and graduated last December.
Gorton Mount is fully inclusive and many of its pupils come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Since the school adopted Montessori methods, maths and literacy have improved significantly, as have communication skills.
The difference in children's behaviour is also noticeable. "At our Christmas party there were no behaviour incidents at all," Ms Powell said. "The children were sitting at the table, saying, 'Can I give you this?' or 'I've shared my juice with him.'
"And children who might have been underachievers are getting on and working. In an ideal world, every early-years setting would be a Montessori one."