Press release

Early learning and children’s centres: government sets out reform

Reforms include a slimmed down curriculum for 0-5-year-olds, more focus on getting children ready for school and free childcare to be more flexible.

A new, slimmed down early years curriculum for 0-5-year-olds, more focused on making sure children start school ready and able to learn, will be introduced next year under changes set out today by Children’s Minister Sarah Teather.

Responding to the Tickell Review of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), the new framework radically reduces the number of early learning goals from 69 to 17. It focuses on three prime areas of learning critical to making sure children develop healthily and happily. These areas form the foundations on which children can then master the basic literacy skills they need for school.

Parents will also get much clearer information on how their children are doing with the introduction of a new progress check for every two-year-old in early education. Parents and professionals can be confident children are developing well and any problems will be picked up early.

As part of wider reforms to Sure Start Children’s Centres and early learning, the Government is looking at ways to get parents and communities more involved in running children’s centres. New plans to be consulted on will also make it easier for parents to plan and balance their working lives by making the free entitlement to 15 hours of early learning and childcare more flexible.

In addition, the Government has made £3million available this year for up to 30 local areas to trial payment by results in children’s centres. The trials will look at how to reward local authorities and centres on how well they reach and support the most vulnerable families to narrow gaps in child development, raise attainment at the end of the foundation years and improve family health and wellbeing.

The key proposals outlined today include:

  • A new focus on three prime areas of learning in the EYFS so children are ready and able to learn at school. These areas are: personal, social and emotional development, physical development and communication and language.
  • A slimmed down EYFS, cutting the number of learning goals from 69-17. The learning goals will be more closely aligned with Key Stage 1 to smooth the transition from reception class to Year 1.
  • Assessment at age five will remain but instead of the current complicated scale point assessment children will be judged against 17 learning goals.
  • A new check for every two-year-old in pre-school settings to pick up early any problems in a child’s development or special educational needs. Going further than Tickell’s recommendation, the Government will require all early years settings to provide this information to parents.
  • New plans, to be consulted on in the autumn, to enable parents to access their free entitlement hours from 7am-7pm, and take the full 15 hours over two days rather than a minimum of three days.
  • A new core purpose for children’s centres, with a stronger focus on school readiness and supporting families. It clearly sets out the outcomes which children’s centres should be supporting.
  • Exploring how we can find new ways of running children’s centres, such as mutuals and co-operative approaches, so parents and communities can be more involved in local decision making and services.
  • New requirement on all local authorities to publish data on how much they are spending on children’s centres in their area to improve local accountability.

Children’s Minister Sarah Teather said:

The first five years of a child’s life, the foundation years, are absolutely critical. We want a system where every child can thrive, regardless of their social background. If we are to tackle the attainment gap and raise life chances, we must start in the earliest years.

We know experiences in these first years have the biggest impact on how a child’s brain develops. It’s when children grasp the fundamental skills needed to do well at school and develop as happy, confident individuals. That’s why today I am setting out a much slimmer, easier to understand early years curriculum. It will give professionals more freedom in how they work with children, and will involve parents more in their child’s learning. Fundamentally, it will make sure we are preparing our children for the challenges of school and beyond. This isn’t just about making sure they can hold a pencil - children need the resilience, confidence and personal skills to be able to learn.

Children’s centres are where much of this work takes place. We want them to be places where communities come together, parents can support each other and children can develop. That’s why we are looking at how to give parents more say in the running of their local children’s centre. This could be through governing bodies, or a co-operative approach where parents are involved in day to day decisions. We are also providing £3million this year for up to 30 new pilots where local councils will be paid for the results they achieve.

Finally, we want to make sure parents get the help and support they need to bring up their children and balance work and family life. Proposed changes to the free entitlement hours will help make sure more children can benefit from early education and parents can juggle their working hours more effectively.

Dame Clare Tickell published her independent review of the Early Years Foundation Stage in March this year. The Government agrees with Tickell that the current system is overly bureaucratic, repetitive and not as parent friendly as it should be. The revised framework is published today on the Department’s website.

Evidence shows that making a difference to children’s achievement in the early years is critical. Pupils who start off in the bottom 20 per cent of attainment at the EYFS profile aged five are six times more likely to be in the bottom 20 per cent at Key Stage 1. Feinstein’s research shows that parental interest in their child’s education has four times more influence on attainment by age 16 than socio-economic background. The new framework will free up professionals to spend more time working with children helping them to develop and the new two-year-old check will ensure parents are properly engaged in their child’s development.

The Government’s reform of children’s centres and the EYFS is part of wider work on a new vision for Families in the Foundation Years. More detail on how the Government plans to support parents will be published in the next few weeks.

Dame Clare Tickell said:

I am very pleased that the Government has accepted the recommendations of my review in such a comprehensive way.

As well as the agreement to slim down the bureaucracy, I know that the decision to support my recommendation for a check for all two-year-olds will make a real difference. We now have a golden opportunity to identify not only any potential developmental and special educational needs children have, but crucially to help parents who need additional support too.

The earliest years in a child’s life provide the foundation for everything that follows. We must make sure that children are supported and encouraged to achieve their full potential as inquisitive, confident and secure individuals.

Anand Shukla, acting Chief executive of Daycare Trust commented:

We warmly welcome today’s government announcement on the free early years entitlement, which Daycare Trust has recommended for some time. Our research shows that while there are currently high levels of take up of the free entitlement, many families do not use the whole 15 hours of free education and care that they are entitled to, because it does not fit with parents’ working patterns.

We also know that there is a huge gap in childcare provision for parents working outside of typical 8am-6pm hours. By allowing the free entitlement to be used over a minimum of two days rather than three, and from 7am-7pm, both parents and children stand to benefit.

The introduction of, and ongoing commitment to, the free early years entitlement has been one the most important family-friendly policies in recent years and we are pleased to see the government continue to build upon this very successful policy. These proposed changes, if adopted, will bring substantial benefits to the lives of hard-pressed families across the country.

Notes to editors

  1. The revised Early Years Foundation Stage Framework (EYFS) has been published for consultation on this website. The new framework will be implemented from September 2012.

  2. The new core purpose of children’s centres, published today for consultation, sets out the Government’s overall goal for children’s centres, and draws on the views of experts in the sector to set out how children’s centres can achieve this. The core purpose of children’s centres is:
    • Child development and school readiness - supporting communication, emotional, physical and social development so children start school confident and able to learn.
    • Parenting aspirations and parenting skills - helping parents to maximise their skills and give their children the best start.
    • Child and family health and life chances - promoting good physical and mental health for children and their parents, including addressing risk factors early on.
  3. The Government extended the free entitlement for all three- and four-year-olds to 15 hours a week from September last year. From 2013, all disadvantaged two-year-olds will benefit. The Government will be consulting on changes to the flexibility of the free entitlement in the autumn.

  4. Local authorities who will be taking part in the Payment by Results trials will be announced in the summer, alongside the criteria they will be measured against. The Government wants to use payment by results as an incentive for areas to focus on the new proposed core purpose of children’s centres, to improve child development and school readiness among young children and to reduce inequalities.

  5. There is a wealth of research available that supports investment in the early years and how critical those first 5 years are for children’s development and future success. The most recent reports from the Department can be found on the publications section of this website.

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