Obsessive Changes Leave Nurseries Joyless

Like many nursery school staff, Helen Strange, head of the nursery at Dulwich College Preparatory School in South London, believes that the new national curriculum for under-fives, known as the Early Years Foundation Stage framework (EYFS), has much to recommend it.

“It [the EYFS] has been written with the best of intentions. A tremendous amount of thought and care has been put into this document. The whole purpose is to put the child at the core, and anything that helps them to develop is important,” she says.

However, she shares the views of a number of experts that aspects of the EYFS are too prescriptive, particularly the requirements to make constant written observations of children. “There seems to be an obsession with quantifying everything,” she said. “Children will develop and teachers want to teach. Somehow, this seems to have been lost. It feels as though we are trying to catch the children out – to prove they are not developing. We, the teachers, feel that someone is trying to catch us out for not delivering. We feel on the defensive.

“Teaching and learning should be fun. Teachers want to teach, children want to learn, but so many changes are continually being imposed on us. This takes away the joy of the job.”

George Marsh, the school’s headmaster and chairman of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, is concerned that the EYFS might eventually herald greater interference in his curriculum for older children.

“Does the EYFS mean that we are soon going to get similar levels of prescription higher up the school at Key Stages 1 and 2? One of the most important aspects of being an independent school is that you are free to follow your own beliefs about what is right in teaching. We stuck with using phonics to teach children to read when it was out of fashion in many state schools, but now we have been proved right and all schools are being advised to use phonics again. If we don’t have the freedom to do what we believe, the results could be negative for some children,” he said.

Mr Marsh added that making the EYFS statutory for all sectors would reduce parental choice over the kind of early-years education available to their child.

“Parents might feel that choice is being taken away from them,” he said.

Lighter touch

— Children do not start school until six or seven in many countries. Their nursery provision concentrates on the development of personal, and physical ability – rather than literacy and numeracy

— The emphasis in most other countries is on teaching children how to speak and listen, their emotional development and motor skills

— An Ofsted report that compared the teaching of six-year-olds in England, Denmark and Finland, said England’s curriculum was “more centralised and closely defined”

— The report said that many teachers in England were “caught between the expectations of the foundation stage and the impact of national curriculum testing”

— It added that much more importance was attached in Finland and Denmark to the way six-year-olds developed as people