Play being 'pushed aside' in nurseries

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The role of play is being sidelined in England's nurseries because of government shifts towards more formal learning, experts say.

Nursery teachers and other child carers will no longer need training in how children learn through play under two key qualifications being drawn up.

Play is central to learning for under-fives and should feature heavily in the criteria, nursery groups say.

There is no contradiction between teaching and play, the government says.

The Department for Education has been consulting on two new flagship qualifications, the Early Years Educator (EYE) and the Early Years Teacher (EYT), designed to increase the skills of those working with babies and young children. They will be required by nurseries in England from September 2014.

Start Quote

I have this fear that we are moving to a position where we are not wanting our children to be children any more”

End Quote Neil Leitch Pre-School Learning Alliance

The A-Level-standard EYE qualification says the worker should "deliver children's early education and development from birth to the age of five" and "have an understanding of how children learn and develop".

It also requires them to "deliver effective teaching and learning" enabling children to progress and be ready for school.

While the EYT requires the teacher to have a clear understanding of synthetic phonics in the teaching of reading and appropriate strategies in the teaching of early mathematics, there is no mention of theories underpinning structured play.

The Department for Education said: "There is no contradiction between teaching children and play. Good nurseries do both - education and enjoyment go hand-in-hand."

But the three major bodies representing nurseries, pre-schools and childminders say not mentioning play is a major omission.

Pre-School Learning Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch said: "Learning through play is the cornerstone of good practice in early years because play is how young children learn and make sense of the world.

"The ability of practitioners to support children's play in this way is an essential skill in promoting children's development and should be recognised in these qualifications. We are very disappointed that it is not."

He said the role of the childcare practitioner was to create the right environment for young children to explore and learn in a way which extends their interests at their own pace.

"This is why we have concerns about the top-down pressure from government that could lead to the 'schoolification' of early years as a result of developmentally inappropriate practice such as having young children sit in rows and hold pencils."

'Explore and develop'

He added: "I have this fear that we are moving to a position where we are not wanting our children to be children any more."

There was a growing culture of "rushing children" to a point where they could produce a return for the economy, instead of following academic evidence that learning through structured play and self-development was the best way to prepare children for a successful education, he said.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said "play should be there in every line" of the criteria.

"Children and babies are learning all the time and they are learning through play - even when they go on to schools. You just can't separate it," she said.

While a spokesman for Pacey, the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, said: "These qualifications contain no requirement to have an understanding of play theory or practice."

This was of particular concern as the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), the official guidelines on how children under five are cared for and educated, is meant to be based on play, it said.

"Early Years Teachers (EYT) must be required to know that children learn through well-structured play, when they have opportunities to explore and develop their own ideas.

"The expectation that teachers will be able to provide adequately for play, without being given any formal knowledge or understanding during their qualifying years, will only set them up to fail children in their early years, when learning through play is a crucial part of their lives."

And Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Play is a fundamental and appropriate part of the early years phase of education and it is therefore disappointing, not to say incomprehensible, that the government has excluded it from their draft framework.

"Structured play is valuable to children in so many ways. Principally, it allows them to develop confidence and enjoy learning new skills. The government should stop sending a message that play does not contribute to child development."

The National College for Teaching and Leadership, which has drawn up the criteria, said educators and teachers would be expected to meet the requirements of the EYFS.

"The EYFS has a requirement for planned, purposeful play and so is already included within the score of the standards and criteria."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    Nurseries only have one purpose, child care so the parent does not have to. They swan off to work so they can afford holidays. The state should in no way subsidise child care. Herd based schools are the problem of education. Look after your own child. Play with it, that is child learning particularly nursery age. No paper stupid qualifications needed, they are mere hoops of gov control & power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    @77. Alan Ward

    You didn't answer the question...

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Why don't the Pre-School Learning Alliance and other professional groups create their own Early Years qualification that caters for structured developmental play as well as preparing children to learn to read and count? Surely that would satisfy everyone... and enable nursery workers to deliver professional support to under-5s in all areas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    this stuff makes me so ANGRY!!! With 'Synthetic Phonics' they've got the name wrong for a start - 'synthetic' means 'fake'. The word they're searching 4 is 'synthesized' - struth! how can u trust 'educators' who can't even use their own language... At this age play is learning - all young creatures play to learn... we're no different. 10 minutes a day using the C-A-T CAT approach is all u need

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.


    Children are easy enough to entertain; they pretty much do it themselves, especially when there are more than one of them.
    don't even insult our intelligence by pretend it's a hard "job," nothing could be easier!

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    @125......Bone idle nursery workers...." have you tried looking after one three year old let alone 5 or 6?

    Why can't toddlers and young children just play? So much important learning takes place through play including socialisation, learning to share, tolerance. Most nurseries / play groups have quiet time, they all eat together and listen to stories. Please let children be children

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    I turned 20 recently and let me tell you, by the time you pass your teens you'll realise just how quickly your childhood has whizzed by - it hardly feels like a week ago I had just started high school.]

    We seriously need to let kids be kids instead of instilling the hardline Gove all work no play ethic from the cradle. It's pathetic, and frankly a little scary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    “You can’t fatten a pig by weighing it” and kids don’t develop by constantly setting benchmarks, creating ‘frameworks’ or assessing them.

    Successive governments have ruined education and health by seeking to change them into ‘statistical factories’.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Ding, dong, dell my childhood has gone down the well!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    @17 - well said! Formal schooling starts far too early in this country. Gerry is right, too - there are too many teenagers leaving school unable to cook a square meal or speak articulately. A balanced education must include practical skills and social development as well as pure scholastics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    it's about time these lazy parasites and bone idle nursery teachers did something useful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Government listen! I pay over £1000 a month to send my children to nursery. I do not want to pay for your prescriptive curriculum, whatever it is. I will choose a nursery that I like. I am not an idiot. I am a voter. I was a Conservative. I am no longer a Conservative. You are interfering with things that you have no right to meddle in. Get out (in every sense).

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    The playwork principles are based on the recognition that children and young people’s capacity for positive development will be enhanced if given access to the broadest range of environments and play opportunities.

    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." George Bernard Shaw

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    These plans have clearly been thought up by people with no clue about children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    I hated having to put my babies into nursery, but we had to because we both had to work. I had a happy childhood with my mother at home, and it would be better to go back to those days. We are no better off than my parents anyway as prices rise to match the family income.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Playing is part of a child's development which leads them towards developing into normal health adults.

    Get it wrong and they may develop into politicians....

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    The motto of every nursery should, perhaps, be 'My Play is my Work.' Free, exploratory play in a well arranged nursery provides a thorough, practical foundation for the curriculum that comes later. We have forgotten that education is about nurturing the individual's health, intellect and character and replaced it with training for the predicted needs of the employment market. This is a tragedy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.


    And how representative of the whole swathe of humankid are those two...?Sounds like a recipe for misery if your don't 'step up' in your nursery Mark! God help anyone who might just not have the natural ability, instinctive drive, huge back-up resources...oh no, just blame the teachers.I despair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    The playwork principles (of which they're are 8) establish the professional and ethical framework for playwork, and describe what is unique about play and playwork, and provide the playwork perspective for working with children and young people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    my partner is a senior nursery nurse/room leader and I believe she is excellent at what she does, including deputising for the manager. She is qualified for her job but originally left school with no formal qualifications. I'm concerned that government in future wants "teachers" loaded with qualifications but with without the social skills needed for 0 to 5 year olds in nurseries.


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