The controversial Early Learning Goals will say exactly what children can be expected to learn at three, four and five. Next year nurseries, play groups and child minders will be judged on their ability to 'teach through play' by inspectors from a new Ofsted department.
The guidelines were attacked by parents' groups and opposition politicians as too rigid and centralised. Emma Craigie, of the Let the Children Play campaign, said:'The government is missing the point. What is really valuable for children of this age is free play in which the children set the agenda, not the adults'.
Education minister Margaret Hodge responded:'I am fed up of hearing how unstructured play and free activity are all that a young child needs'. Writing in The Observer (p6), Mrs Hodge said three-year-olds should be expected to concentrate on any single task for a 20-minute period and have a basic grasp of language and colours; four-year-olds should be able to write and copy down the names of their classmates; and five-year-olds will be expected to retell a familiar story in front of an audience.
The guidelines will also recommend games to help children learn. New money has been set aside for extra classroom assistants to cut the adult-child ratio in nursery classes to 15-1.
Mrs Hodge will also announce a new set of qualifications for pre-school teachers and playgroup workers, who will be able to put them towards full teaching qualifications: 75% of childminders and 25% of those who work with pre-school children have no qualifications at all.