from Times Online Friday October 2nd 2009
Rosemary Bennett, Social Affairs Correspondent
Children at Steiner schools do not use electronic technology until they are seven
Two schools have won the right to opt out of the controversial early years “nappy” curriculum after ministers dropped a commitment that no pre-school child would be exempt.
After their successful appeals, the two Steiner schools will no longer be required to meet the Government’s targets, including making children aged 3 and 4 write simple sentences using punctuation or start to use phonics.
The two schools, which are the first to be allowed to opt out, argued that the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) clashed with the Steiner philosophy, which does not believe that children benefit from the formal teaching of subjects such as English language until they are 7.
They also do not introduce “electronic gadgetry” until children reach that age
When ministers first published the curriculum, which contains 69 different measures for the progress and development of under-5s, they made clear that childminders and all nurseries and schools, state and private, would have to implement it.
The assessment criteria includes being able to dress and undress, sounding out letters, children writing their own name, and using some electronic equipment.
Victory for the two schools, the Wynstones School in Gloucestershire and North London Rudolf Steiner School in Haringey, means that the 40 or so other Steiner schools seeking an opt-out are likely to be given the go-ahead.
Their success has also stiffened the resolve of the many preparatory schools who oppose the curriculum.
John Tranmer, chairman of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, said that it would back any of its 600 members who wanted to opt out.
“We are keen to support any member in asserting their independence, their right to determine what is best for children in their care. If that involves disapplication from EYFS they will have our backing,” he said.
Critics say such a prescriptive set of measurements is not suitable for young children because they develop at such different rates. Most unpopular is the expectation that children should be able to write a sentence with punctuation by the time they reach 5.
Professor Richard House, spokesman for the Open EYE campaign against the curriculum, said that he hoped the victory would open the floodgates for others to opt out.
“When schools share the views of these Steiner schools about literacy and numeracy for such young children it will be hard for the Government to treat them differently,” he said.
“We hope it will also help form a more general legal challenge against the Government’s decision to set compulsory goals for children below the compulsory age of education.”
He admitted that the Government had made the appeal process so difficult that a school would have to be very determined to see it through.
Schools must win the backing of more than half their parents, warn them that funding might be cut and state why they are incapable of meeting each of the targets before they can even get leave to apply.
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