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By Alan Davies, educational psychologist and author of TeachingTHRASS This month, education secretary Ruth Kelly stated on Sky News, 'We should have a systematic approach to teaching synthetic phonics, that should be taught first and foremost to all children, certainly by the age of five and then, yes, other strategies should come in after that to help and support those readers for whom a variety of methods is appropriate.'

The Early Years Foundation Stage is the subject of a new 'Direction of Travel' paper from the Department for Education and Skills setting out the Government's vision for the EYFS and giving details of the consultation process, which is due to take place next spring. The paper also includes information on the Jim Rose Review of teaching early reading and synthetic phonics, published on 1 December (see News, 8 December). It can be downloaded at www.everychildmatters. gov.uk/news.

Seven early years experts, including Marion Dowling and Iram Siraj-Blatchford, wrote a letter to The Times claiming the Government's 'early start on formal literacy' is not working. They said early years education 'should be about laying sound foundations...

'Now will mothers stop sending children to baby farms', 'Toddlers left to cry at busy nurseries', 'Children neglected at start of the day in many nurseries' - these are just some of the headlines we have seen in the media after Ofsted's briefing 'Early...

1. Does your setting offer to visit children at home before they start with you? 2. Do you offer a range of opportunities for younger children and families to stay and play?

It's a common phenomenon among toddlers, but how much attention should we pay to it? Penny Tassoni explores biting Picture the scene. All is quiet in the toddler room. Children are happily playing, when all of a sudden there is a loud wail. Teeth have met flesh.

Gone are the days when nurseries only had to worry about vegetarian diets. Food allergies seem to be on the increase. At our nursery we have many children with allergies to dairy, wheat, nuts, sweet potato and egg - this last being life-threatening for one child.

Our weekly columnist Beatrix Campbell says the national child index won't give professionals a mandate to act The minister for children, Beverley Hughes, is surely right: the proposed national inventory of Britain's 11 million children, the child index, will not be a 'technological magic wand'. It will not prevent child abuse catastrophes.

12 January Designing spaces for young children Delegates to this course for early years advisors and inspectors can reflect on advice from historical and current, national and international documents, review their current design briefs for early years spaces, and find solutions to challenges.

From talking with a doll, young children can learn how to relate to a real person, says Sophie Pagett Our nation's population is becoming increasingly diverse. People are living longer, family patterns are changing and ethnic minorities are growing. Yet there are still conflicts between cultures and discrimination against people with disabilities and differences.

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