The road to oppression (UK)

Babies to be given marks for babbling

By Liz Lightfoot, Education Editor
Last Updated: 3:13am GMT 14/03/2007

Babies will be given marks for crying, gurgling or babbling under the Government's new curriculum for 0-5 year olds which all nurseries must follow.

Playgroups and childminders will also need to show that they help babies make progress in 69 areas of education and development or risk losing funds.

The new Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum lays down how children are expected to develop from birth to the end of the first year of compulsory schooling, the year in which they turn five. The document, which has the force of law, was published yesterday alongside a book of guidance and cards containing the main requirements and underlying principles.

Beverley Hughes, the minister for children, insisted that it was not a "tick-box" curriculum and that she would be "horrified" if people used it to mark babies on a grid from birth. "It is about getting people to think sensibly about the needs of the children they work with," she said.

But parents' groups accused the Government of putting stress on children by giving targets they should reach before their first birthday and the Conservatives called it "an unprecedented supervision of children from birth to primary school" which would take away childhood.

The Steiner Waldorf movement says its nurseries will not meet the demands of the new curriculum because children are not taught to read until the age of six.

Parents using Steiner nurseries and others not complying with the more formal approach to early-years education will lose state subsidy for their three- and four-year-olds.

"We are in discussion with the Department for Education about how Steiner Waldorf will be able to work towards the early learning goals while keeping its own curriculum," said Janni Nicol, its early childhood representative.

The guidance gives "Dr Spock"-type advice about the emotional comfort babies derive from "snuggling in" and a series of tips, such as placing mirrors where they can see their reflection.

In the first year, babies should "communicate in a variety of ways, including crying, gurgling, babbling and squealing". Between eight and 20 months they should begin to "enjoy babbling and increasingly experiment with using sounds and words to represent objects", it says.

By three years and four months, children will begin citizenship lessons so they understand that "people have different, needs, views, cultures and beliefs, that need to be treated with respect".

Reading lessons will start at the age of three with children taught to recognise sounds and link them to letters. They will progress to learning the 44 main letter and sound relationships - phonics - when they are ready, which the document suggests will be usually by the age of five. But it stresses that phonics teaching should be fun and include games that use sight, hearing and touch.

Handwriting should begin at 16 to 26 months with finger painting, brushes and felt tips and counting at the age of two through songs and games until, between three and a half and five, they can count to 10.

The curriculum which comes into effect in September next year, replaces the existing non-statutory Birth to Three Matters guidance, the foundation stage curriculum for three and four year olds and the national standards for day-care.

Miss Hughes said the first five years were a crucial time for a child's development. "The early years foundation stage is about ensuring quality and consistency across all settings where care is provided for young children."

However, Anne McIntosh, the shadow minister for children, said such detailed inspection was inappropriate. "I believe children should be allowed to find their own level under careful teaching supervision.

We should free up teachers' time to teach. We should allow children to have their childhood and let the professionals do their job. Many fear that setting targets between birth and the age of five can have damaging effects on child development."

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