Formal school lessons started too early

Children should not start formal school lessons until the age of six or seven, a group of educationalists has said.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, they said early schooling was causing “profound damage” to children. The experts, including academics and teachers, said there should be more emphasis in the curriculum on learning through play.

A spokesman for Education Secretary Michael Gove said the authors of the letter were “misguided”. Of course you would, because the only expert in Education is you isn’t it Mr Gove? Oh wait …

The signatories, also including writers and charities, said the current system focused too much on formal education, such as the “three Rs”, at too early an age.

They said national policies should be reassessed to make them more similar to education systems in Scandinavia. This is familiar. Didn’t the government try and justify their new primary curriculum based on ‘years of research’ into these particular systems? I can see where the experts are coming from here. If we look at the education systems across Europe, Northern Ireland start lessons the earliest at 4 years old, the remainder of the UK start at 5 years old, but the rest of Europe start at either 6 or 7, with the Scandinavian countries except Norway all starting the latest.

The letter said children who entered school at six or seven “consistently achieve better educational results as well as higher levels of wellbeing”.

It was signed by 127 experts including Lord Layard, director of the Well-Being Programme at the London School of Economics; senior lecturer in psychology of education at Cambridge University Dr David Whitebread, and director of Play England Catherine Prisk.

Another of the experts, former Children’s Commissioner for England Sir Al Aynsley-Green, 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.”

The letter was sent by campaign group the Save Childhood Movement, which will call for changes when it launches its Too Much, Too Soon campaign today.

Group founding director 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 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.”

Currently most children in England go to nursery at the age of three or four before starting school in the September following their fourth birthday and spend a year in reception class. Legally all children in England have to be in full-time education by the term after their fifth birthday.

The spokesman for Mr Gove told the Telegraph: “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’, which is an excuse for not teaching poor children how to add up.”

Mr Gove, this isn’t the first time you are ignoring the experts and undermining them with your pathetic dictatorship ways. When are you going to learn that experts are called experts because they have spent a long time researching education, and are not simply a former journalist walking into a government department job (I wonder who this is?)? The only person who is misguided here is you, so get a grip or get out of your job and let someone who actually knows what they’re talking about in! There has never been of culture of low expectations in state schools. Why would there be? Teachers are trained to expect the most out of their pupils as it’s in the teaching standards that your department set!

‘We need a system that aims to prepare pupils to solve hard problems in calculus or be a poet or engineer’ Really? Is that not secondary education? How on earth is a kid so young going to be able to do that, when they are still learning the world around them? What about people who aren’t interested in those fields seen as you seem to only value those fields instead of saying ‘be in a professional job’? I can’t believe you’ve been allowed to make these comments and to be honest if you can’t be respectful to the profession you head then you don’t belong in the job.

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