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under5s - early years education

The following has been extracted from the QCA document "Early Learning Goals"

Early childhood is a crucial stage of life in terms of children's physical, intellectual, emotional and social development and of their well being. Growth is both rapid and differential. A significantly high proportion of learning takes place from birth to age six. It is a time when children particularly need high quality care and learning experiences.

The aim of the Government's early years policy is to provide a comprehensive range of services for young children. This includes integrated early years education and childcare provision which will make a positive contribution to children's early development, enabling them to build on this foundation throughout their lives, so providing a sound basis for lifelong learning. High quality care and education for young children will give parents peace of mind and help them to balance their work and family lives.

Education begins in the home and continues there and in a range of settings. Through initiatives such as Sure Start and Early Excellence Centres, the Government is pioneering ways to improve support for families and children before and from birth. The aim is to work with parents and children to promote the development of pre-school children - particularly those who are disadvantaged - to ensure that they are ready to thrive when they get to school.

Since September 1998, a free, part-time early years education place has been made available for all four year old children whose parents want one. The proportion of three-year-olds with a free, part-time early years education place
is planned to rise from the present one-third to two-thirds by 2002. These places are in a variety of settings. Most children transfer to the reception year in a primary school during the year in which they reach compulsory school age, the term after their fifth birthday.

The period from age three to the end of the reception year is described as the foundation stage. It is a distinct stage and important both in its own right and in preparing children for later schooling. The early learning goals set out what
is expected for most children by the end of the foundation stage.

Principles for early years education

Effective education requires both a relevant curriculum and practitioners who understand and are able to implement the curriculum requirements. Children develop rapidly during the early years physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially. They are entitled to provision which supports and extends knowledge, understanding, skills and confidence, and helps them to overcome any disadvantage.

Early years experience should build on what children already know and can do. It should also encourage a positive attitude and disposition to learn and aim to give protection from early failure.

No child should be excluded or disadvantaged because of his or her race, culture or religion, home language, family background, special educational needs, disability, gender or ability.

To be effective, an early years curriculum needs to be carefully structured. In that structure, there should be three strands: provision for the different starting points from which children develop their learning, building on what they can already do; relevant and appropriate content which matches the different levels of young children's needs; and planned and purposeful activity which provides opportunities for teaching and learning both indoors and outdoors.

A well planned and well organised environment gives children rich and stimulating experiences. It provides the structure for teaching within which children explore, experiment, plan and make decisions for themselves, thus enabling them to learn, develop and make good progress. There should be opportunities for children to engage in activities planned by adults, and also those which they plan or initiate themselves. Children learn through play and in other ways. They do not make a distinction between 'play' and 'work', and neither should practitioners. Children need time to become engrossed, work in depth and complete activities.

Practitioners must be able to observe and respond appropriately to children, informed by a knowledge of how children develop and learn.

Well planned, purposeful activity and appropriate intervention by practitioners will engage children in the learning process, and help them make progress in their learning.

Practitioners need to ensure that all children feel included, secure and valued. They must build positive relationships with parents in order to work effectively with them and their children.

Children, parents and practitioners must work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Above all, high quality care and education by practitioners will lead to effective learning and development for young children

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Full details of the Early Learning Goals can be found in the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority publication 'Early Learning Goals' issued October 1999 ref: QCA/99/436.

"This booklet contains the early learning goals and principles and aims for the foundation stage, which includes children from age three to the end of the reception year.

It introduces these goals to all practitioners involved in early years settings. It sets the goals into context, particularly in relation to younger children in the foundation stage."

The booklet can also be downloaded in PDF format from the QCA website at www.qca.org.uk.

under5s - early years education
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