Today's Times rails against the curriculum that ministers have approved for children under five. The normally sane leader writers on the paper seem to have been hoodwinked by some child psychologists into believing that it is 'a threat' for children to learn some of the basics of the alphabet, phonics and how to count while they are enjoying the taxpayer-funded early years education that this government has made a free entitlement for all. It is - let us remember - not compulsory to attend school before the age of five; and any nursery wishing to rely solely on fees is free to do so and set its own curriculum; these proposals are also rather more flexible than the Times report suggests. Moreover, they are informed by a very substantial research project, which has at least as much weight as the academics quoted in the Times, and which has already shown that the benefits of a good early education are long-lasting.
Given that the differences in achievement in later years which it and other papers bemoaned are all too often evident by the age of five - by which time it can be too late to rectify them - what would really threaten toddlers would be for the government to agree with middle class parents and those who oppose education for the under-7s, most of whom happily introduce their three and four year-olds to the alphabet and numbers at home (apparently without 'untold damage') through costly educational games, and deny poorer children the same developmental and educational opportunities. There may well be a case for cutting the 72 goals; there may also be a case for enabling a more proportionate inspection system. What there is not a case for is stripping the educational element from early years education, and making the taxpayer-funded experience entirely a matter of childcare or play. Nursery education is about ensuring that all children are ready to learn; it must continue to be.