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Childcare minister, Elizabeth Truss, has launched an attack on nurseries in Britain, saying many are “chaotic”, “where children are running around” and “there’s no sense of purpose”.
She made the comments in an interview with the Daily Mail, where she said, in the UK “free-flow play is not compulsory, but there is a belief across lots of nurseries that it is”.
“In these settings where there aren’t sufficiently qualified staff, and children are running around, we are not getting positive outcomes.
“We want children to learn to listen to a teacher, learn to respect an instruction, so that they are ready for school.”
She wants to see a traditional approach adopted in early years settings, similar to that in France, where “children get into the habit of waiting their turn, of saying hello to the teacher when they come into the room.”
She added: “This isn’t about two-year-olds doing academic work – it’s structured play which teaches children to be polite and considerate through activities which the teacher is clearly leading.
“What you notice in French nurseries is just how calm they are. All of their classes are structured and led by teachers. It’s a requirement.
“They learn to socialise with each other, pay attention to the teacher and develop good manners, which is not the case in too many nurseries in Britain.”
Ms Truss believes this approach will better prepare young children for starting primary school.
The Pre-school Learning Alliance roundly condemned her comments, with Neil Leitch, its chief executive, calling it “frankly astonishing” that the “minister in charge of childcare makes such ill-judged, off-the-cuff statements about what she believes is happening in day nurseries and pre-schools. The picture the minister paints is not one that would be recognised by anyone who knows anything about child development and learning”.
“Day nurseries are not hot-houses of anarchy, as the minister seems to believe. What she says is a gross insult to the profession and to parents who use daycare. What she sees as the ideal French model is regarded by many French practitioners themselves as dull, and uninspiring for children.
“Young children are by nature active, energetic and inquisitive. It is these features that good-quality nursery staff nurture and develop through a balance of child-oriented and adult-led activities. This is not done by making them sit still and upright at desks in regimented rows.
“It is extremely disappointing to have a childcare minister, who praises the quality of provision in other European countries, yet consistently fails to recognise high-quality provision here.”
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, also defended British nurseries saying “The Economist Intelligence Unit report ‘Starting well: Benchmarking early education across the world’ ranked the UK third in the world for quality of early years education.” Whereas early education in France was ranked ninth in the world.
She added: “We agree with the minister that a chaotic environment is not good for children. However planned and purposeful activity does not necessarily have to mean only formal adult-led activity. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) advocates a mixture of adult-led and child initiated learning, which has been shown to aid development.
“Learning needs to be age appropriate and should support the children’s individual needs. Adult led structured learning is important but must be balanced with the opportunity for one-to-one adult:child interaction, this is particularly important for under threes and children with additional needs.”
Last week, Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw, announced from September only ratings of ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ will be acceptable for nurseries and pre-schools. The ‘satisfactory’ rating will be scrapped and replaced with ‘requires improvement’.