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May 23, 2004
When should school start?

Are British children made to start formal schooling too early? Lots of people think so:

What is the right age to start formal schooling - is it four, five or six?

Have we got it right in Britain, where our children start full-time schooling much younger than in most of continental Europe?

This week a school inspectors' report revived this fundamental question: one which cuts to the heart of the conflicting pressures of parental anxiety, obsession with league tables, and fears over the narrowing of the curriculum.

The report by the English inspectorate, Ofsted - Transition from the Reception Year to Year 1 - did not pull its punches.

It said parents had told inspectors they felt their children were forced to start reading and writing "too early".

Interesting argument I think. The suspicion is that "education experts" will use any excuse to chip away at national governmental tests ("obsession with league tables"), not because these are bad, but because they make teachers work better and harder, and deprive them of excuses for failing to teach effectively. Nevertheless, I believe there is a real point here.

The underlying fact here, it seems to me, is that children are, among other things, (human) animals, with a particular sort of (human) animal nature. And if an animal is not yet ready to attend to something, no amount of forcing it to pay such attention will do much good.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:48 PM
Category: Primary schools

I used to think UK school started too early, when I lived in Europe and saw how good the early years education of friends' kids was. I've had three children go through UK reception and primary now, and no longer think it's the timing, but WHAT they do in school, that is the problem. The kids are stressed out by inadequate teaching I'm afraid - somtimes not the teachers' fault as, eg teh National Literacy strategy is, well, a bit rubbish. When my children have had good teachers it has been like watching a huge weight lift off them, it isn't the reading or writing instruction itself that is the problem, but the way it is done (and some of the teaching is so muddled that older children will be just as stressed) Though the school day IS very long for the youngest children.

Comment by: sally on June 1, 2004 02:06 AM
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