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Government sets out reform of early learning and children’s centres

July 6, 2011 12:18 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Government sets out reform of early learning and children's centres

  • Slimmed down curriculum for 0-5s
  • Parents to be more involved in running their local children's centre
  • Free childcare entitlement more flexible for parents
  • £3million for payment by results trials

Responding to the Tickell Review of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), the new framework radically reduces the number of early learning goals from 69 to 17. It also focuses on three prime areas of learning critical to making sure children have the foundations for school, and introduces a progress check for every 2 year old in early education so parents and professionals can be confident children are developing well.

As part of wider reforms to Sure Start children's centres and early learning, the Government is looking at ways to get parents and communities more involved in running children's centres. New plans to be consulted on will also make it easier for parents to plan and balance their working lives by making the free entitlement to 15 hours of early learning and childcare more flexible.

In addition, the Government has made £3million available this year for up to 30 local areas to trial payment by results in children's centres. Local areas will be rewarded on how well they narrow the gap in child development, raise attainment at the end of the Foundation years and improve family health and wellbeing

The key proposals outlined today include:

  • A new focus on three prime areas of learning in the EYFS so children are ready and able to learn at school. These areas are: personal, social and emotional development, physical development and communication and language.
  • A slimmed down EYFS, cutting the number of learning goals from 69-17. The learning goals will be more closely aligned with Key Stage1 to smooth the transition from reception class to Year 1.
  • Assessment at age 5 will remain but instead of the current complicated scale point assessment children will be judged against 17 learning goals.
  • A new check for every 2 year old in pre-school settings to pick up early any problems in a child's development or special educational needs. Going further than Tickell's recommendation, the Government will require all early years settings to provide this information to parents.
  • New plans, to be consulted on in the autumn, to enable parents to access their free entitlement hours from 7am-7pm, and take the full 15 hours over two days rather than a minimum of 3 days.
  • A new core purpose for children's centres which clearly sets out the types of services that should be universal and those which should be targeted at the most needy families.
  • Exploring how governing bodies and co-operative approaches could be more widely used in the running of children's centres to give professionals, parents and communities more control over how their local children's centre is run.
  • New requirement on all local authorities to publish data on how much they are spending on children's centres in their area to improve local accountability.

Children's Minister Sarah Teather said:

"The first five years of a child's life, the Foundation Years, are absolutely critical. We want a system where every child can thrive, regardless of their social background. If we are to tackle the attainment gap and raise life chances, we must start in the earliest years.

"We know experiences in these first years have the biggest impact on how a child's brain develops. It's when children grasp the fundamental skills needed to do well at school and develop as happy, confident individuals. That's why I am today setting out a much slimmer, easier to understand early years curriculum. It will give professionals more freedom in how they work with children, and will involve parents more in their child's learning. Fundamentally, it will make sure we are preparing our children for the challenges of school and beyond. This isn't just about making sure they can hold a pencil, children need the resilience, confidence and personal skills to be able to learn.

"Children's centres are where much of this work takes place. We want them to be places where communities come together, parents can support each other and children can develop. That's why we are looking at how to give parents more say in the running of their local children's centre. This could be through governing bodies, or a co-operative approach where parents are involved in day to day decisions. We are also providing £3m this year for up to 30 new pilots where local councils will be paid for the results they achieve.

"Finally, we want to make sure parents get the help and support they need to bring up their children and balance work and family life. Proposed changes to the free entitlement hours will help make sure more children can benefit from early education and parents can juggle their working hours more effectively."

Dame Clare Tickell published her independent review of the Early Years Foundation Stage in March this year. The Government agrees with Tickell that the current system is overly bureaucratic, repetitive and not as parent friendly as it should be. The revised framework is published today on the Department's website for consultation.

Evidence shows that making a difference to children's achievement in the early years is critical. Pupils who start off in the bottom 20 per cent of attainment at the EYFS profile aged 5 are six times more likely to be in the bottom 20per cent at KS1. Feinstein's research shows that parental interest in their child's education has four times more influence on attainment by age 16 than socio-economic background. The new framework will free up professionals to spend more time working with children and helping them to develop and the new 2 year old check will ensure parents are properly engaged in their child's development.

The Government's reform of children's centres and the EYFS is part of wider work on a new vision for Families in the Foundation Years. More detail on how the Government plans to support parents will be published in the next few weeks.