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Early education is an essential element of all children’s development. All three and four year-olds are entitled to 15 hours of free early education each week, for 38 weeks a year, to help them get ready for school. Parents must not be charged a fee for taking up this free place. We will also be strengthening the requirements that early education providers must meet, so that parents can be confident of a high-quality offer whichever provider they choose.
We will be consulting on ways of making the free entitlement to early education more flexible, to encourage parents to take up their child’s full entitlement. We want this to fit with the realities of parents’ working patterns and other needs, so that children can benefit from regular sessions taken over the course of the week. For example, currently the free hours can only be used between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. over at least three days a week, and we are considering making them accessible slightly earlier or later in the day, and over fewer days.
We want to make it easier for mothers and fathers to choose the best quality early education. Ofsted registers and inspects early education, and publishes reports of its findings about the quality of every provider on its website. Many parents already use these reports when choosing early education, and we think that early education providers should display their Ofsted rating so that parents can easily see the level of quality that a setting provides.
We want to make it easier for mothers and fathers to find and use the information available when choosing early education. Many websites offer hints and tips on what to look for. Often just hearing the experience of other parents can be invaluable.
From September 2012 we will be simplifying the framework for early education providers so it is easier for practitioners to use. The framework known as the Early Years Foundation Stage describes the things a good nursery, pre-school or childminder should be doing, what children should learn and what levels of development they can be expected to reach at certain ages. This means that practitioners should help children to be ready to benefit fully from school, and children should experience planned, purposeful play. There will be a mixture of activities initiated by children, and activities led or guided by adults, which will move increasingly towards adult-led learning as children start to prepare for reception class. A public consultation on the proposed new framework is taking place this summer.
The Early Years Foundation Stage also sets out steps providers must take to provide a safe environment for children. In future all nurseries and pre-schools will be required to appoint a designated person to whom parents can talk in confidence if they have any concerns about a child’s safety and protection. Children will also have a key person, whose role is to build a close relationship with them, to help the child feel confident and safe. The key person will be expected to work with both parents and build good communication.
The key person at the nursery or pre-school, or childminder, should be experienced in all aspects of child development. These professionals will help children to develop and learn through play, as well as keeping them safe and helping them to have fun. They should give mothers and fathers lots of feedback about what their child does during the day, what their child enjoys, and how they are progressing. We want them to help parents with ideas and advice about how to encourage their child's learning and development at home. The health visitor will continue to be responsible for a child’s health and development through the Healthy Child Programme.
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