Speaking at a Westminster Education Forum event, Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement at the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said the underlying theme appeared to be ‘a change from children as active agents in their own learning to more as recipients of what is presented to them'.
He added that the ELGs, which are used to measure children’s progress at the end of Reception, had too narrow a focus on reading books at the expense of maths, overall communication and creativity.
Communication and language had been ‘downgraded’ to listening and speaking, he said, while it is ‘criminal’ that being imaginative was ‘reduced to performing'. 'That’s doing it for the audience - that’s not doing it for the child’s learning’ he said.
Proposed changes to maths, which saw the controversial removal of shape, space and measure, were ‘seriously concerning’ as ‘we are now at a reduction to numbers. Children learn maths in context - if it comes down to numbers we are doing them a disservice'.
‘The overall focus appears to be on children receiving teacher input in the correct manner rather than being enthusiastically engaged. I would argue it narrows the curriculum to focus on technical functional elements.
'From a philosophical point of view it implies a redefinition of the skills and abilities that are considered desirable in young children and by definition the type of people we expect them to become as adults,’ he added.
Professor Helen Bilton, a programme director at the University of Reading, said, ‘It is essential that the primary phase is adjusted to fit the early years phase. If you try to adjust the early years phase to fit the primary phase then you militate against a child’s developing self.
'Early years education cannot be seen as the waiting room for proper education. I ask what is the problem with the National Curriculum being adjusted to fit the early years curriculum?’
The Department for Education’s Susie Owen, deputy director, early years and childcare, said repeatedly that the goals, which are currently being piloted, were in draft stage.
Ms Owen, who was criticised by audience members who said she had not arrived in time to hear the ELGs debate, stressed the importance of hearing sector views, saying, ‘We are not rushing this and we want to get this right for the sector.’
She told the audience that the overhauled goals were based on evidence, and said, ‘We consulted with a huge range of academics. We are really clear these are draft ELGs. We know how important adult-child interactions are and that is reflected in [the] new ELGs.
‘We are clear this is not curriculum - this is just an assessment. We want to free teachers up to spend more time interacting with their children.’
Defending the choice of emphasis on language and communication in the reform of the goals, she said, ‘This is where we are choosing to put our focus. It doesn’t mean we don’t value the other parts which are there.’
In response, panellist and EYFS and year one leader Elaine Bennett said, ‘I would love to know where in the world is the evidence for this. I would love to find the person who said it was a good idea to take away shape, space and measure.
'They haven’t been decided by experts. A lot of them [ELGs advisory panel] had very little early years experience.’