The Association for the Professional Development of Early Years Educators (Tactyc) claims young children are being failed by the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and believes that a greater focus on play-based learning would be more appropriate to their development.
The latest EYFS results, published in October, show that just 52 per cent of five-year-olds achieved a good level of development.
The figures are based on a new, simplified EYFS profile, introduced last September, which assesses children as either emerging, expected or exceeding across 17 goals, including reading, numbers and being imaginative.
Early years consultant and Tactyc member Nancy Stewart thinks that an emphasis on academic achievement distorts young children’s early years experiences.
She said: “These new expectations set many children up to be seen as failing, but there is no evidence that the expectations are realistic or desirable for most children of this age.
“While some children will be ready and keen to achieve at this level, evidence shows that children developing their curiosity, motivation, persistence with challenge and resilience in the early years is far more supportive of their future success than learning the 3Rs.”
Tactyc has also criticised Ofsted chair Baroness Sally Morgan's idea of children starting school at two years old, saying it would exacerbate the problem.
Dr Jane Payler, Tactyc chair, said: “Young children need an integrated approach to their care and education, which countries with the best results recognise and offer.
“Inappropriate goals and premature formal schooling will not foster sound foundations for long-term success.
“Rather than even earlier entry to school and ever-higher academic expectations, very young children need individual play-based early years experience.”
In response, a DfE spokeswoman said: “The new streamlined EYFS profile places a stronger emphasis on the areas which are most essential for a child’s development and a greater focus on the key skills children need for a good start in life.
“Our reforms are also focusing on improving the quality of professionals working in the early years and Ofsted has recently introduced a tougher inspection framework to drive up standards in nurseries.”