'Too much, too soon'

13 September 2013 - 05:05 By Graeme Paton
A pupil on his first day back at Cosmo City Junior Primary School in Johannesburg. Activists in the UK believe early education has a negative effect on a child's ability to develop
A pupil on his first day back at Cosmo City Junior Primary School in Johannesburg. Activists in the UK believe early education has a negative effect on a child's ability to develop
Image: MOELETSI MABE

Early education in the UK is a case of "too much, too soon", a collective calling itself the Save Childhood Movement states.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, a group of academics, teachers, authors and charity leaders have called for a fundamental reassessment of early education.

They fear the current system in the UK robs children of the ability to play and puts too much emphasis on formal learning .

The letter warns against the possible introduction of a new baseline test for five-year-olds.

The letter was 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.

A spokesman for Michael Gove, the education secretary, said the signatories were "misguided", suggesting they advocated the dumbing down of school standards.

"These people represent the powerful and badly misguided lobby who are responsible for the devaluation of exams and the culture of low expectations in state schools.

"We need a system that aims to prepare pupils to solve hard problems in calculus or be a poet or engineer - a system freed from the grip of those who bleat bogus pop-psychology about 'self image', an excuse for not teaching poor children how to add."

By law, children in the UK must be in school by the age of five, though the vast majority are enrolled in reception classes aged four.

The letter claimed children who "enter school at six or seven" - in line with Scandinavian education systems - "consistently achieve better educational results as well as higher levels of wellbeing".

It would mean putting off the start of formal schooling for up to two years for most children, with experts suggesting they should instead undertake play-based activities with no formal literacy and numeracy requirements.

The Save Childhood Movement will push for a series of reforms, including a new "developmentally appropriate", play-based early years framework, covering children between the ages of three and seven.

Founding director of the movement , Wendy Ellyatt, said: "Despite the fact that 90% of countries in the world prioritise social and emotional learning and start formal schooling at six or seven, in the UK 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, but there is surely something very wrong indeed if this comes at the cost of natural development."

Most UK children start in nursery or reception classes at the age of three or four.

They then move on to formal lessons in the first full year of school aged five and are 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". - ©The Daily Telegraph

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