Too much – too soon? Should we delay starting school until 7 ?
Posted by: Sue Atkins
As a former Deputy Head and Class Teacher I read with interest today’s article in The Telegraph about a campaign to delay the start of formal education until the age of seven which is backed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
While I can see that we have gone too far along the constant testing of children far too early, and while I know as a teacher we need to assess what the children are learning, and while I can see children are rather drowning in worksheets – I’m not sure about starting school until 7 is the best answer.
There surely there has to be a balance between formal learning, play and high expectations and aspirations?
What is your opinion? Should children start school later ?
It is being suggested that traditional lessons should be put on hold for up to two years amid fears that successive governments have promoted a “too much, too soon” culture in schools and nurseries.
In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, the group of academics, teachers, authors and charity leaders call for a fundamental reassessment of national policies on early education.
It is claimed that the current system robs infants of the ability to play and puts too much emphasis on formal learning in areas such as the three Rs at a young age. The letter warns that the Coalition is now ratcheting up the requirements with policies that prioritise “school readiness” over free play.
This includes the possible introduction of a new baseline test for five-year-olds in England and qualifications for child care staff that make little reference to learning through play, they say.
The letter – signed by 127 senior figures including Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the former Children’s Commissioner for England, Lord Layard, director of the Well-Being Programme at the London School of Economics, Dr David Whitebread, senior lecturer in psychology of education at Cambridge University, and Catherine Prisk, director of Play England – suggests that children should actually be allowed to start formal education later to give them more time to develop.
Wendy Ellyatt, the founding director of the movement, said: “Despite the fact that 90 per cent of countries in the world prioritise social and emotional learning and start formal schooling at six or seven, in England we seem grimly determined to cling on to the erroneous belief that starting sooner means better results later.
“There is nothing wrong with seeking high educational standards and accountability, but there is surely something very wrong indeed if this comes at the cost of natural development.”
At the moment, most English children start school in nursery or reception classes at the age of three or four and are taught using the Early Years Foundation Stage — a compulsory “nappy curriculum”.
They are assessed against targets set out in the EYFS, which covers areas such as personal and social development, communication and early numeracy, before moving on to formal lessons in the first full year of school aged five.
Children are then subjected to further assessments in the three Rs at the age of seven.
The Government is now consulting on moving these later assessments in the three Rs forward to the “early weeks of a child’s career at school”.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, said that the best nurseries and primary schools had a “systematic, rigorous and consistent approach to assessment right from the very start”.
The Government has also pledged to drive up standards of child care, including a requirement for staff to hold A-level style qualifications by 2014.
But the Save Childhood Movement claims that the threat of more rigorous assessments for four- or five-year-olds would undermine children’s natural development.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Sir Al, who was the first Children’s Commissioner and is also emeritus professor of child health at University College London, said: “If you look at a country like Finland, children don’t start formal, full-scale education until they are seven.
“These extra few years, in my view, provide a crucial opportunity, when supported by well trained, well paid and highly educated staff, for children to be children”