Pre-school children should be allowed to learn and develop life skills through play rather than formal, structured learning, according to a new survey.
The survey by the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, which was completed by 2,442 childcare professionals nationally, aimed to provide a snapshot of the state of the sector and to identify the main challenges childcare providers are facing for the future. It involved registered childminders, nannies, nursery workers and managers across all nine regional areas in England.
When asked what one thing they would change about the childcare system to improve the experience of children, the top-ranking issue was allowing children more opportunities to learn through play.
For over fifty percent of respondents, a desire to reduce the emphasis on structured learning and reintroduce a more natural and open approach to childcare through play ranked higher than concerns about Ofsted ratings, child-to-carer ratios or funding.
Liz Bayram, Chief Executive of PACEY, said: “The fact that childcare professionals rank the importance of learning through play above all other issues, including funding of childcare, demonstrates the strength of feeling among practitioners across England.
“Baseline assessment, whereby children are tested on their communication and literacy skills on starting school, is the latest in a series of moves towards the ‘schoolification’ of the early years.
“It is clear most childcare professionals are very concerned that the focus has gone too far; that adult-led activities focussed on supporting specific learning goals for very young children – no matter how playful – is no substitute for free flow, child-led fun!
“The right to play is written into the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child as a fundamental, universal right; and yet in this country we have historically scored poorly in UNICEF’s surveys on children’s sense of well-being compared to other European countries – something which has been attributed by childcare experts to be in part due to a lack of opportunities to play.
“The message we are getting loud and clear from our members is that a conscious move is now needed away from assessments and form-filling, and a return to a more child-led play-based approach for pre-school children.”
Meanwhile, the government has announced that childcare will be a priority for the Queen’s Speech. The Conservatives have pledged to double the amount of free childcare available to three and four years olds in families where both parents work. The CBI welcomed the announcement. Katja Hall, Deputy Director General of the CBI, said: “Increasing free childcare provision is important, and in time we would like to see the gap closed between the end of maternity leave and the start of free provision.”
The government also reappointed Sam Gyimah as childcare minister.