Exclusive: The Minister's View - New goals are set out

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The first five years, the foundation years, are absolutely critical. We know experiences in these earliest years have the biggest impact on how a child's brain develops. It's when children grasp the fundamental skills they need to do well at school and develop as happy, resilient and confident children.

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To make sure every child can reach their full potential, we must tackle any problems early and make sure all children are being given the best foundations for school.

That is why my Department has published for consultation a revised Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), in response to Dame Clare Tickell's report. It is a much slimmer, less bureaucratic framework which I hope will give you, as professionals, more freedom to do what you do best - working with young children.

FOCUS ON CHILD DEVELOPMENT

Three prime areas of learning - personal, social and emotional development; physical development; and communication and language - are the backbone of the new EYFS. And the slimmed-down assessment at age five will judge children against just 17, rather than 69, learning goals. We hope this will give you more time to focus on child development and less on ticking boxes.

We also want parents to engage more in their child's development. A new progress check for every two year-old in education will give parents and professionals confidence children are developing well and pick up early any developmental problems or special educational needs.

This is part of wider work on a new publication, Families in the Foundation Years, which sets out what families of young children can expect. This will be published later this month, alongside a parent-friendly website produced by 4Children, which is working closely with us on the development of early years policy.

FLEXIBILITY FOR FAMILIES

We know that high-quality early education and the work you all do make a huge difference to children's development. That is why we have made it a priority to provide free early education to all three- and four-year-olds and, by 2013, to all disadvantaged two-year-olds.

Later this year, we will be consulting on how we can strengthen the quality requirements for providers delivering the free entitlement and how we can make this entitlement more flexible. This includes looking at how we help families access their entitlement slightly earlier (from 7am) or later (until 7pm) and over a minimum of two rather than three days.

LOCAL APPROACH

For many families, children's centres will be where they access their free entitlement.

Children's centres should be at the heart of community life, where family members of all ages come together, where parents can find support from other parents and professionals and where children can play and develop.

A new core purpose for children's centres sets out the outcomes we want them to deliver, particularly for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable families. These are: child development and school readiness; supporting parenting skills; and promoting child and family health. We have been working with many of you to set out how the best children's centres already do this, and we want local areas to build on this to tailor services for the needs of their local communities.

To encourage local areas to focus on improving these outcomes, we are investing £3m in up to 30 areas to trial payment-by-results for centres. The areas will be rewarded depending on how well they narrow the gap in child development, raise attainment at the end of the foundation years and improve family health and wellbeing.

GREATER ACCOUNTABILITY

Finally, we also want local services to have more accountability to their local communities. That is why all local authorities will be required to publish data on how much they spend on children's centres. We are exploring how parents and community groups could be more involved in running children's centres through governing bodies or co-operative approaches. I know many children's centres are already pioneering great work in this field and we want to learn from them.

We will be publishing a document for all those who work with expectant parents and our youngest children - from health visitors to nursery workers - and for commissioners and funders of services. Working with you, we want to raise the status of this time in a child's life and raise the status of all those working in early education.

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