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Nicky Morgan, Education Minister
Neil Leitch, chief executive of Pre-School Learning Alliance
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The Government is pushing for more school nurseries to take toddlers. It is encouraging schools to do this by removing red tape so they don’t have to register with Ofsted to take two-year-olds.
It also wants school nurseries to extend their opening hours so they mirror adult working days and act as more of a flexible childcare option for parents.
The policy was announced when Liz Truss was childcare minister, but it is still being championed by the new childcare minister Sam Gyimah and education minister Nicky Morgan.
Ofsted reiterated this recently at the launch of its second annual early years report, with chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, saying poor children need to go school-based nurseries at the age of two as that will enable them to catch up with their more well-off peers.
The Department of Education revealed that testing will use a range of assessment styles, including children participating in one to one sessions with teachers answering questions. Furthermore, reception baseline tests will be evaluated by the Standards and Testing Agency and independent early years experts.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “As part of our plan for education, we want to see all children leaving primary school with a good standard of reading, writing and maths, and teachers agree that measuring progress is the best way to ensure primary schools are doing this.
“There is absolutely no suggestion of introducing the kind of formal testing in reception that is used with older children - that would be completely inappropriate.
“These assessments include simple tasks typical for children at the start of reception, such as counting and recognising letters, numbers and everyday objects. Most schools already do some form of assessment when children start in reception, so they already know what care and attention the child needs.”
Critics opposed to the plan claim the Government is just trying to provide childcare on the cheap.
They also argue it is leading to a ‘schoolification’ of the early years, and the money that is being spent on a pilot scheme to explore the success of schools unused to working with toddlers, would have been better spent on existing early years settings.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of Pre-School Learning Alliance said: “Schools may be a very convenient solution to the problem of finding enough places to fulfil the offer, the vast majority of the sector agrees that this is simply not an appropriate environment for our youngest and most vulnerable children.”
He added that using school nurseries to offer childcare for very young children “should only be done where the environment and provision is suitable and of sufficiently high quality and appropriate to their care and development.”
“If the funding supports flexibility in provision, this will help parents juggle work and family responsibilities, but it must be remembered that the primary importance of childcare is that children benefit from high quality provision.”
“The Government must remember that the needs of two year olds are very different to the needs of three and four year olds, especially those participating in the scheme who may have additional needs.
“Decisions need to be based on reality, not inaccurate assumptions. We would therefore urge the government to start engaging properly with the sector in order to gain a better understanding of the practical implications of the two year old offer, the needs of the children that it is intended to support and, crucially, how providers can be best supported to deliver it.”