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Help and information about childcare
In these pages is advice and help about childcare facilities. Use the links on the left to find out more.
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Early Learning Goals
a parents guide

In September 2000, a new stage of the national curriculum for schools in England and Wales was introduced by government. This is known as the foundation stage.

This is a new and distinct stage of education for children aged from three years to the end of the reception year. Part of the foundation stage, the early learning goals describe what most children are expected to have achieved by the end of the reception year at school. These goals are organised into six areas of learning. All nurseries and preschools registered to provide free early years education under the nursery grant scheme for three and four year olds have to deliver a quality of provision that enables children to work towards these early learning goals. The goals must be used in the planning of what each nursery or preschool provides for children. They must all monitor children's progress towards the goals and keep parents informed of their child's progress towards these goals. The early learning goals replace the desirable learning outcomes - so in the unlikely event that you visit a nursery or preschool still using the desirable learning outcomes, ask yourself and them just how up to date their knowledge is.

The six areas of learning in to which the goals are divided are

  • Personal, social and emotional development
  • Communication, language and literacy
  • Mathematical development
  • Knowledge and understanding of the world
  • Physical development
  • Creative development

Every learning goal in each of the six areas of learning is broken down into a series of developmental stepping stones. The stepping stones describe the knowledge, skills, understanding and attitudes that children need to learn during the foundation stage in order to achieve the early learning goals.

The areas of learning and the goals are used by staff in nurseries and preschools to plan the activities that they offer to three and four year olds to ensure that they provide a rich and varied range of experiences which enable children to make good progress towards the early learning goals and beyond.

This firm foundation of high quality early years education is essential to prepare children for school and give them the skills to become independent learners. Although the early learning goals and the six areas of learning are fixed and common to all nurseries and preschools, the way in which nurseries work with children to achieve these goals varies considerably. The new curriculum does not prescribe one particular approach although it does identify some elements that must be taken account of and also emphasises the importance of careful planning and assessment of what is provided.

So when you visit a nursery or preschool, you will see a range of different approaches. Some nurseries use a very traditional or structured approach, others allow children greater freedom to choose their own activities and to progress at their own pace. Others may take from the Montessori philosophy, or adopt a High/Scope approach. All will, and indeed are legally required, to provide information to parents about the early years education they offer three and four year olds and will be able to show you how they plan what they offer and also how they make sure that the provision made enables each child to move towards the early learning goals.

Look for the parents notice board, as all nurseries and preschools should have clearly displayed information for parents about the early learning goals and should also tell you of arrangements they will make to keep you informed of your child's progress. The best nurseries will keep you well informed and will also provide you with opportunities to get involved together with ideas of ways in which you can support your child's early education at home.

Generally the early learning goals have been well received by parents and staff alike. All nurseries and preschools have had access to training to get them off to a flying start on delivering the new curriculum. All should have access to a qualified teacher to support them in their planning of the curriculum and all have been provided with information and resources to help them make this fundamental change.

So, as a parent, take the time to read the information provided by your nursery, check when and how you will receive information and progress reports and most importantly find out how you can get involved and support your child's education at home.

All the research clearly shows the immense importance of early years education. Children need to gain the skills, knowledge and attitudes at nursery or preschool that will enable them to become competent independent learners and retain that huge thirst for knowledge and natural curiosity that makes living with and caring for preschoolers such a delight and such a challenge.

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