§ 13. Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
What estimate his Department has made of the number of four-year-olds in reception classes; and if he will make a statement. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Margaret Hodge)
In January 1998, 350,959 four-year-olds were in maintained reception classes in England.
§ Mr. Beith
Is the Minister aware that in rural Northumberland, where successive local government settlements have left schools desperately underfunded, schools feel under pressure to take in four-year-olds to maintain their position at the expense of the viability of play groups? As there are so many four-year-olds, will there be a curriculum for them along the lines of the foundation key stage about which the Minister spoke before Christmas? Or shall we finish up with four-year-olds in sets, as recommended by the chief inspector?
§ Ms Hodge
What matters is not so much the setting in which a child receives that pre-school experience, but the nature of the experience itself and we are focusing on that. That is why we have asked the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority for proposals to review the desirable learning outcomes. Like the right hon. Gentleman, we recognise that what count are skills in listening, speaking and working together, in persistence and co-operation. We shall pursue that agenda and there is no question at all, in anything that has been said, relating to setting.