Tots under scrutiny

New specific guidelines for early years aim towards assessment at five

SHOULD EARLY years teachers get alarmed if babies do not start playing peekaboo or putting marks in their food at the correct age?

Some nursery staff might after publication this week of the early years foundation stage framework. It sets out what is expected of children from birth to the age of five, when children will be assessed against 13 nine-point scales.

It says staff should assess children's "achievements, interests and learning styles" and plan activities to develop self-confidence, respect for others and their ability to learn.

But the framework is about more than just learning. Practioners should also consider the child's welfare, relationships and surroundings. Showing children how to play together is one example given on the quick reference cards provided, which give staff ideas of what to think about and do.

The "keeping safe" card, for example, suggests reading children stories to help them learn who to trust. It also says children should be given the chance to think about what they want rather than having adults decide for them all the time.

Bernadette Duffey, head of the Thomas Coram early childhood centre in Camden, north London, has been involved in developing the framework. She said: "At the heart of it are the principles we believe are important for young children. It draws on research and best practice. It will really be used and not just sit on a shelf."

All early years education providers will get a copy of the guidelines, which include two books, a poster, 24 cards with examples of how to meet standards and a CD-Rom. Training for staff will be carried out by local authorities, ready for when it becomes law in September 2008.

The framework brings together three lots of previous guidance: birth-to-three matters, the foundation stage curriculum, and national standards for daycare.

But the project has failed to resolve certain concerns. Standards for five-year-olds remain largely unchanged, despite fears that some are set too high. Class-size ratios for three-year-olds have not been reduced in maintained nurseries. And there remains no requirement for outdoor play areas.



Birth to 11 months

A boy this age likes playing with his own fingers or toes. The carer is expected to note how a baby fixes his gaze on an object. To help, the carer places the boy somewhere he can look at and grasp toys, such as under a baby gym.

16 to 26 months

A girl this age enjoys scribbling. The nursery worker assesses different marks she makes in clay and playdough. To help her develop, a paper-tearing activity is planned.

22 to 36 months

A nursery worker watches a girl doing up her zip, an example of being able to use her fingers to achieve a goal (fine motor skills).

30 to 50 months

A boy likes drawing big circles with paint. Activities such as swirling ribbons in the air or batting balls suspended on a rope can help him improve the accuracy of his movements (gross motor skills).

By 60 months

Children should be able to form recognisable letters, most of which are correctly formed.

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