Too much – too soon? Should we delay starting school until 7 ?

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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”


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