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Welsh early-years targets welcomed

New Government targets for children under the age of five in Wales has been welcomed by English and Welsh early-years specialists.

Unlike the English under-fives' targets, which education consultant Tina Bruce has called "an empty vessel", the Welsh consultation document begins with a poem and emphasises the importance of play.

Pat Davies, head of the Early Childhood Unit at the Children in Wales charity, said: "Early-years practitioners in Wales [who] feel that the unique significance of early learning has been respected; that children will receive a broad and balanced curriculum and that the distinctiveness of the Welsh culture will be promoted in a meaningful way through positive experiences . . .

"Reservations continue to be expressed about the narrow view of education espoused in the [English] School Curriculum and Assessment Authority document in which the outcomes are ripe for misinterpretation by providers and parents. "

The charity believes there is less scope for bad practice in the Welsh document because the proposals treat children as active learners and endorse adults' role in developing positive learning.

The Welsh document begins: "When I had a child's talent to see a voice and hear an image . . . In the opening lines of this epic poem "Afon" (River), Gerallt Lloyd Owen longs for the magic of early childhood. It is the time when the world is there to be explored and the adventure of discovery is all around. He has evoked the very essence of childhood . . . the foundation of early childhood education."

In a section called The Importance of Play, the document says: "Children's play is a very serious business indeed. It needs concentrated attention. It is all about perseverance, attending to detail, learning and concentrating - characteristics usually associated with work. Play is work and work is play for the young child."

But as Welsh early-years specialists are congratulating the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales, the author of the proposals, English early-years practitioners are upset about the Government's plans for young children in England.

The British Association for Early Childhood Education fears plans for inspecting nursery education are being watered down, and is so concerned about inspection quality that it is considering taking the radical step of tendering for some of the work itself.

Wendy Scott, chair of BAECE, criticises the advice to inspectors to use SCAA's Desirable Learning Outcomes as the basis for their curricular judgments. She says in a letter to Chris Woodhead, chief inspector of schools: "The Government has consistently stated that it wishes new developments to build on existing good practice, so it is disconcerting to find that what is happening is a levelling down of expectations from the HMI Areas of Learning that have guided the criteria in the past."

The Office for Standards in Education was reluctant to comment on what it called "private correspondence" even though Wendy Scott sent copies of her letter to four MPs and the National Association of Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants.

But a spokesman did say: "We have no choice but to use the Desirable Learning Outcomes, because they are the appropriate benchmarks approved by the Secretary of State."

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