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 255.


    Yup - all four.....mores the pity.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    Plain ridiculous, a carefree childhood, if possible, can only be a good thing. Kids need to play, they need to make mistakes whilst playing, they need to know it smarts occasionally and they need to know what's right and what's wrong, and they need to learn how to enjoy themselves, this does not mean being taken to every after school club so mummy and daddy can brag....

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    The problem in this country is everyone thinks they know about education and how it should work, therefore, it becomes a political football. So, those who know how children learn are kicked by those who know nothing about education for those who know nothing about education; whilst those who sell papers perpetuate the myth that educators are stupid, work-shy losers responsible for current evils.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    this is being done to prepare them for a life of servitude and no independent thought .

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    Let the kids play, what is the point of educating them formally until they have learn't basic inter-relational skill and how to live with shoelaces, ties and toilets..... School is bad enough for children... give them a break before that rubbish starts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    All work and no play turns out people like Michael Gove.

    Surely we don't want that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    You shouldn't treat nursery like school. It is imperative that children learn social skills over formal learning. The Government seems obsessed with league tables and worrying about what other countries are doing instead of creating an effective sensible system of education for all children. When are they going to learn that not all children are the same?

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    Play builds vital skills in young children - being able to socialise and interact with others, sharing resources, communicate with peers and adults, being creative - these are much more important than literacy and numeracy in 2 year olds. Rigorous academic learning will do under-5s a severe injustice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    Unfortunately the people making recommendations about all grades are recommending what they liked. To me their recommendations are all about making sure the child will grow up hating learning, and in the end be the one who sits and waits for someone to explain things to them.

    I was lucky, in 1st grade it occurred to me that school was something you had to endure so I did.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    My son is 5. I sneak toys into his school bag, so do the parents of his friends. I hope he enjoys himself.

    When he is older and the work begins, I intend to educate him at home, as I know school is now only about passing exams.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    I had just turned 4 years old when I started school. My parents had already taught me how to write my name, fasten buttons/laces, eat with knife & fork, use good manners etc. Rather than adopt a hot-housing model which clearly doesn't work, how about ensuring parents make sure their offspring can function as well adjusted children BEFORE attending school, which should be later anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    Well look at from the Dept of Education’s point of view

    You have all these people playing at being

    Bankers etc

    and it appears to have taught them nothing !

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    A mathematician once told me his excellence in the field was down to the time he spent playing in sandpits and with his wooden blocks at a very young age. Formative (early years) play is underrated by Gove and his ilk, they haven't got a clue

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    kids are being made to grow up too fast ever wonder why there is so much teenage pregnancy? told too much of the wrong things at a young age and destroys their innocence for sure

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    238 bored23

    Thanks for my new handle & entertaining afternoon.
    Just a final word from Oscar (para-phrased):
    "We are all living in gutter, but some of us are gazing up at the stars".

    If play can help children lift their eyes up to the sky, then it is worth it, regardless of the grades they acheive later in life or whether they use it.

    Perhaps then we will not be "doomed".

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.


    There won't be much pressure if you remove everything they are unlikely to use from all subjects. But my point is that you need to know HOW to do a sum before you put it on a calculator. You may not need to know how to extract a square root but you need to know a square root is required before pressing the 'square root' key

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    Some of the comments here and our examination system mystify me. Education is about understanding and not learning. You may learn to use a calculator but if you don't understand how numbers 'work' you are not much further forward. Any syllabus that overworks kids to learn loads of facts without understanding the reason why is ultimately doomed to failure. I forget facts but understanding remains.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.


    Agreed,but that doesnt really prove anything, as im not saying no maths should be taught but I think only basic at primary + secondary level is sufficient

    By basic I mean things like how to use a calculator just as one example.With the pressures that kids are under with exams etc anyway I dont see the need in overloading them with information they more than likely will never use

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    Some of the disagreements here are more about semantics. I was in a German nursery a few years ago and yes as in Scandinavia formal teaching doesn't commence until 6-7. However, the kids were learning in addition to 'playing'. There were charts and illustrations everywhere & several were multi-lingual so kids were picking up languages earlier than 7. It's the whole learning environment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.


    ' the kind of 'maths' that 99% of people need in their adult lives is not 'maths' as you put it and can be done using Arithmetic on calculators.'

    But you do need to understand which figures and operators to use on your calculator - and it helps if you can work out the rough answer so you can cross check the result for data entry errors.


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