Thursday, 12 September 2013

Too much, too soon?

That's the title of a report, published today, by the Save Childhood Movement. Calling for greater emphasis on play in the early years of education, the authors claim the UK would do better to follow successful Scandinavian models of education and start formal schooling at the age of six or seven.

As a parent with a child just a year into his formal schooling, and another having just this autumn started pre-school, I'm very interested in this. I'm sure the head teacher at my son's school is, too. Because reception learning was nothing if not a very skilful blend of play and learning in a lightly structured (but purposeful) environment.

What is astonishing about this report isn't the recommendations (they're pretty much agreed among experts) or the knee-jerk response of the government (negative, needless to say). What is surprising is the tone of the response from the Education Department. Although claiming to have been written by one of Mr Gove's 'spokesmen' I wonder if the language reveals the authentic voice of Mr Gove himself? It's certainly worth quoting at length. Of the report's authors it states...

"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.

And on the subject of what Britain's schools need, the statement claims that...

"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." 

No one can deny that we still haven't got education 'right' in this country. There has been a culture of low expectation in state schools and our children come woefully low-down international league tables. But the fact is (fact, Mr Gove - you like those) that over ninety percent of what we now know about the brain and how children learn has only been discovered in the last twenty years. That's a frighteningly short length of time; clearly too short for many to fully understand and implement the findings.

Some countries manage, though. Others have by happy chance already utilised techniques that are in accord with the latest research. And among those are countries with some of the most successful education systems in the world; countries with consistently high scores for childhood happiness and well-being. Scandinavian countries. Finland, in particular.

And that's a fact Mr Gove.

Go to the bottom of the class.


  1. The more this man opens his mouth, the more deranged and deluded he sounds.

    (That's Gove ,not you Tim!)

  2. Am shaking my head in amazement that a government department would issue a report like this. And thinking to myself that perhaps another year out of the UK system isn't such a bad thing...

  3. When I say 'report' I meant 'statement'. Oh - you know what I mean, Tim!

  4. Having been away from the UK for over 20 years, and having friends and family with kids in the British system, it all sounds very test-orientated and stressful. Not that the USA is a great example of education really, but even in the good independent schools, they start a year later and don't start formal reading and writing till they're 6. Somehow they catch up.
    When I first came here, I was aghast at how late they leave it, but my mother (a retired primary school teacher) thought is was a good idea to leave it until most of the kids could speak properly and be able to perform at the expected level. "You've no idea how hard it is to teach a class of four year olds to read or write when half of them are nowhere near ready", were her words.

  5. Whenever Gove or Truss open their mouths, my head starts to shake involuntarily. I'm rather glad that education is devolved and we can absolve ourselves from this rubbish in Scotland. I still think school age in Scotland is too young, that an awful lot is asked of the very young, and that it's misguided to put so much emphasis on literacy and numeracy in preschool, but at least we do have a national play strategy and a government that gets why play, and particularly outdoor play, is important. Not as good as Finland for sure, but heaps better than the educational climate of England.


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