Under the new Government plans, announced by the education secretary Nicky Morgan, early years settings will have to teach children as young as two ‘fundamental British values’ in an age-appropriate way to protect them from 'religious radicals'.
The teaching of such values will include learning right from wrong, learning to take turns and share, and challenging negative attitudes and stereotypes. Ofsted will be required to inspect early years providers against this criteria.
Nurseries found to be promoting extremist views will have their early education funding taken away by their local authority. This will include settings that teach creationism as scientific fact.
Currently, there are no rules stating that local authorities cannot fund early years providers such as churches, mosques or charities with extremist views.
The new rules, which have been put out for consultation until 17 October, are designed to bring early years settings into line with similar measures being introduced in schools in the wake of the ‘Trojan Horse’ plot.
It is understood the move is in reaction to responses to the Department for Education’s consultation on early education funding, in which individuals and organisations expressed concern about money going to settings that promote extremist views.
In her first announcement since taking over from Michael Gove as education secretary, Nicky Morgan said, ‘One of the most important roles of the education system is that it should prepare young people for life in modern Britain. I am clear that public money should not be used to support any school or early years provider that does not support this aim because it seeks to promote ideas and teachings than run counter to fundamental British values.
‘There can be no place for extremist views anywhere in the education system. The changes we are making today will ensure that all early years providers and schools are aligned with the need to protect children from views that are considered extreme.’
The Department for Education (DfE) will consult in the autumn on changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage and the General Childcare Register to allow Ofsted to inspect providers on the new measures.
Comments from the sector
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance (PLA), said, 'The Alliance supports the spirit of the Government’s statement as it promotes the fundamental principle that a child’s understanding of the world should never be restricted by a particular view or ideology. We believe that anything which makes a child’s world smaller would be hugely detrimental to their long-term development. The broader a child’s experiences, the more confident and effective they are likely to be at contributing to Britain’s diverse society.
'The Government has defined key British values as individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faith and beliefs. We believe that banning or discouraging particular viewpoints would not be a helpful way of facilitating the development of these values.
'In addition, for many of us, ‘British Values’ is still difficult to define and often subjective so we cannot see how stipulating ‘British Values’ or the state of ‘Britishness’ adds anything that could ever be meaningful to the experiences of young children.'
He added, 'We believe that the EYFS already provides a solid foundation to encourage a child’s understanding and acceptance that we live in diverse communities with many different cultures and lifestyles. The early learning goal, Understanding the World, clearly states that ‘children talk about past and present events in their own lives and the lives of family members…they know about similarities and differences between themselves and others, and among families, communities and traditions.’
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said, 'Good quality provision already promotes the values Ms Morgan wants children to develop. Learning right from wrong, sharing and inclusion are part of the framework of high-quality childcare provision. But while respecting British values children must also are aware of multicultural society they live in.
'However to ensure providers have confidence in the system, the DfE must be crystal clear as to exactly what those rules are. On the one hand promoting creationism will disqualify a nursery from funding but a spokesman for the Government has said bible stories are acceptable. NDNA is keen to support a consultation process which will allow providers to put their views across and help DfE revise the EYFS framework. That way there will be a clear view of what both DfE and Ofsted expect.'
Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said, 'Any form of religious sectarianism or extremism has no place in our schools, but it is disappointing that it is the notion of extremism which is the subject of the first major announcement of the new Secretary of State.
'Early Years and school staff already teach children right from wrong. They are trained professionals who use a valuable play-based curriculum to promote positive interaction. This is an essential part of child development and it is work that has been done in partnership with parents and guardians since time immemorial.
'Well funded and well planned provision, and a developmentally appropriate play-based curriculum will do the most to ensure good outcomes for children. Sure Start services have made an immense contribution to the life chances of some of our most disadvantaged children; but these centres have been decimated by this Government.'
Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children said, 'The principles of tolerance, sharing and respect for others’ cultures are at the heart of all good nurseries and we would be worried if any nursery wasn’t supporting and promoting these values.'
Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), said, 'The decision to grant local authorities additional powers to remove funding from bodies that are promoting extremism is a reasonable thing to do.
'However, proposals to change the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) are of concern. The government is not recognising that the existing early years curriculum already requires nurseries and childminders to develop key skills such as teaching children to take turns and challenge negative attitudes.
'We need to be realistic about what is age appropriate for young children. Childcare providers already set boundaries and help children to know right from wrong.
'Ofsted inspections should assess how a childcare setting is delivering the EYFS, and identify if this is not being done effectively. Ofsted can already tackle these concerns by judging a setting as requiring improvement. We need to ensure that inspectors are making effective judgments in childcare settings every day. However, the Government’s introduction of childminder agencies in September will mean that Ofsted is no longer required to individually inspect childminders who choose to join an agency.
'This is a big reaction to an issue that may not even be there, and that could be tackled by the inspection framework that is already in place.'