The “nappy curriculum” of strict learning targets for under-fives risks being undermined after some schools were allowed to opt out of it.
By Martin Beckford, Social Affairs Correspondent, The Telegraph
Published: 6:00PM BST 13 Sep 2009
The kindergartens, which follow a philosophy of not beginning many elements of formal education until children reach seven, will no longer have to make sure pupils can meet the Government’s strict reading and writing targets.
Experts say the decision to allow some exemptions from the Early Years Foundation Stage for Steiner schools will make it difficult for civil servants to refuse requests from other nurseries.
The more providers who are allowed to opt out of some of the 69 goals, the harder it will be for the Government to follow the educational development of pre-school children.
Dr Richard House, of the Open EYE Campaign, said: “The EYFS’s existing shortcomings are largely due to the Government’s single-minded intransigence in insisting that key, controversial aspects of the framework be compulsory and essentially non-negotiable, instead of being empowering professional guidelines.
“However, what was previously only a hypothetical possibility of exemption from some of the EYFS learning requirements has now become a welcome reality.
“On equity grounds alone, therefore, it will in future be very difficult, if not impossible, for the DCSF to refuse exemption applications from other, non-Steiner settings who also have principled philosophical or pedagogical objections to the EYFS literacy, numeracy, ICT and other requirements – whether it be from nurseries, childminders, or from parents themselves.”
The Early Years Foundation Stage, known as the “nappy curriculum”, was introduced last September as a way to track the progress of children before they turn five.
Every childminder and nursery school teacher, both state-funded and private, is required to monitor all of their pupils’ reading, writing, counting and problem-solving schools.
They must assess children on whether they can write in sentences, use punctuation and operate television remote controls.
But some education experts say it creates too much red tape for staff and stifles young children’s ability to play and explore the world around them.
The framework runs counter to the approach of education providers such as Steiner schools, which do not start teaching the three Rs until children are seven and instead emphasise social and creative development.
Two Steiner kindergartens have now been granted exemptions from some of the requirements of the curriculum, under a lengthy appeal process overseen by the Department for Children, Schools and Families but also involving local authorities.
Two schools ahve been given exemptions so far. A further 17 are waiting to hear if they too will be granted opt-outs, and in total more than 40 are expected to do the same.
Wynstones School in Gloucester and the North London Rudolf Steiner School in Haringey will no longer have to follow reading and writing goals including the study of phonics, the linking of letters and sounds. The London kindergarten has also been granted exemptions from the ICT targets.
Janni Nicol, early years spokesman for the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, said: “The majority of Steiner early years settings will be applying for exemption.
“The hold-up has been through local authority involvement but we are hoping that this will be sorted out and they will all have applied by the end of the first term.
“I am very pleased to see that there is an understanding of the Steiner ethos and practice.”
The Schools Minister, Diana Johnson, said: “Recent surveys from important workforce stakeholders tell us that the vast majority of early years providers broadly support the EYFS. Testimony to this is that almost a year since its implementation, only 19 providers, out of over 85,000 have applied for any form of exemption or modification.
“We are delighted that providers are embracing this framework which echoes what the best have been doing for years.”
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