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The 'Foundation Years': For a New Generation of Mini-Camerons?

19/07/2011 23:09 BST | Updated 18/09/2011 10:12 BST

When New Labour launched its 'toddlers' curriculum' in the form of the Early Years Foundation Stage, laying out more than 500 'development milestones' that children should reach between birth and the age of five, at least this attracted a few naughty snickers from the back row. Did the Nanny State have to take itself quite so literally?

When the Con-Lib Coalition took over, shouting about cuts to state expenditure and the importance of family values and community self-reliance, we might have hoped for a bit more parenting freedom before our children start school (at the tender age of four).

But lo and behold, now this government has announced its own version of the toddlers' curriculum - with teeth. This will include a review of early years qualifications, based on the assertion that 'a highly skilled, graduate-led workforce is crucial to making sure children develop well and are ready for school', and a trial of 'payment by results' in children's centres.

This is because, explains children's minister Sarah Teather, singing to the hymn sheet written by New Labour, 'The experiences of children in their earliest years, good or bad, can shape their future life chances for years to come.' Therefore it cannot be assumed that parents are up to the job - they need 'well-qualified and motivated professionals' working alongside them, from pregnancy onwards.

The obsession with the 'early years' - or, as re-branded by the Con-Libs, the 'foundation years' - has shot through the roof in recent times. At a conference in September, academics will examine the increasingly bizarre claims made about neuroscience and the effect of parenting on babies' brains. In the wider world, the assumption that the state needs to get its grubby mitts on our kids before they have time to be let down by their unsupervised parents is sometimes greeted with bemusement, but often accepted as common sense.

I think it's time to get properly offended by the professionalisation of the toddler years. It should not be the government's role to replace our Mini-Mes with a bunch of Mini-Camerons, schooled in the art of jumping through official hoops before they can even use knives and forks. The mind boggles about what can possibly be meant by 'payment by results' in the context of child-rearing.

I am doubtful whether parents want or need 'a highly skilled, graduate-led workforce' breathing down their necks as they change nappies and hang out in playgrounds; and in any case, early childhood is about nurture through affection, not training for 'future life chances'. Ministers should learn to pick on somebody their own size.