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News - World Headlines

Early Years Sector in The UK Showing How It Can Fight Language and Literacy Decline

In its ‘Moving English Forward’ report, published in March, education regulator Ofsted, although finding a decline in basic reading skills in schools, recorded “There has been improvement in the proportion of children who are secure in all aspects of communication, language and literacy at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage.”

The regulator’s findings reflect well on the approaches that nurseries are taking in developing the abilities of early years children, though related studies from the National Literacy Trust show that making sure twenty-first century generations grow up with an appreciation of language and literature remains a work in progress.

A recent report from the Trust, ‘Children’s Reading Today’, found on the whole literacy rates remain on the decline in the UK, recording that less children embrace the challenges of reading now than in 2005. The Trust’s ‘Young Reader’s Programme’ further highlights the importance of literacy in the early years, stating that: “Reading for pleasure has been revealed as the most important indicator of the future success of a child, with reading attainment and writing ability positively associated with reading for enjoyment.”

This direction is being supported by the revised Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), that came into force in September, having been criticised in its previous incarnation for being too much of a ‘nappy curriculum’ by campaign groups like Early Childhood Action. The focus is now on a more versatile learning programme, made possible through a reduction in the number of key learning goals that providers need to demonstrate, decreasing from 69 to 17. The new EYFS also highlights literacy as one of four leading curriculum priorities – alongside mathematics; understanding the world; and expressive arts and design – demanding from early years providers that: “Children must be given access to a wide range of reading materials (books, poems, and other written materials) to ignite their interest.”

Managing director of South of England based Complete Childcare, Alec Hodson, speaks of the responsibility to language and literacy in the running of its 10 nursery and pre-school learning environments, saying: “This year has seen a rash of reports and ‘studies’ each claiming to have unearthed new evidence of the collapse of language skills in the Early and Primary Years.

“In the nursery sector, we know that we play a major part in the acquisition of the basic skills which every child needs to attain if it is to have a prosperous and productive school career later on. We may be flattering ourselves, but we’d like to think that before children go into their first ‘school’ environment, all the essential building blocks of language – the abilities to speak, listen and understand, and the rudimentary recognition of simple words – are alive and well and ready to be nurtured at school. If we weren’t doing that, parents would quite rightly believe they were being short-changed, as they make choices for their children based on the rounded and fulfilling experience delivered by each nursery..”

The British Association for Early Education advises that providers follow the guidance in their ‘Development Matters’ document, which can be used “at points during the EYFS as a guide to making best-fit summative judgements, with parents and colleagues across agencies, in relation to whether a child is showing typical development, may be at risk of delay or is ahead for their age.”

Although chief executive Megan Pacey stresses that flexibility is essential, she says that: “When using Development Matters it is important to remember that babies, toddlers and young children develop at their own rates and in their own ways.”

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