A group of educationalists have sent an open letter to the Daily Telegraph, exclaiming that 'children should not start formal lessons until the age of six or seven'. Yet another can of worms for the British public to debate.
Whilst I think our education system needs to be re-valuated and whilst I disagree with the 'facts and figures' response from Education Secretary Michael Gove, I have to disagree with the letter's plea for children to start school later. Not only from the point of view of a Mother, whose daughter is, at present, nowhere near school age, but nevertheless will be in 3 and a half years. I disagree also, as a successful young woman, who passed through the British education system with little issues.
I started school aged just four years old - I was a Summer baby, so was one of the youngest in my class. My (very) hazy memories were of the excitement of a new uniform, of making new friends and beginning to widen my knowledge through 'play'. I started on a half-day basis for the first few months and went full-time to Reception class the following April. Thus began a lifetime of loving to learn.
I do not agree that the issue lies with children aged four and five starting school. I believe that learning to cope in a classroom, learning to work and communicate with their peers and softening to the idea of education, is a step for forming basic understanding, necessary for further education and later life. Statistics aside, I believe that children need stimulation and if a Reception class offers a smooth and unhurried transition from playgroup, there is hardly a better place for them. Children outgrow their routines, much like they outgrow everything else far too quickly. In my opinion, we do not give our children enough credit for how well they can adapt to new environments and challenges. If a child has been given a sufficient amount of learning at home or in a nursery in preparation, surely the obvious next stage is to progress to the classroom? This latest public letter, in my opinion, serves only to create more paranoia for parents, who are already bombarded with ever-changing rules and advice on the 'do's and don'ts' of bringing up children.
On the other hand the debate, for me, lies not so much in WHEN a school starts teaching a child, but HOW. Reports of homework for four year olds in some schools seems ludicrous to me. The letter in question talks about the importance of fundamental learning skills that are being brought into the education system at far too early an age. The shift of the infamous take-home 'Word Tin' of old, to a full homework schedule, will only ensure that children are tired and lapse concentration during the day. There lies the issue. A child at four or five years old, needs to be able to distinguish the difference between school and home time and given plenty of rest. For a little person, a balance of learning and playtime, of being with peers and teachers and being at home with the family; is the key to a good relationship with education. They are, after all, children and not little adults, their brains are not programmed to absorb the same level of information. The educationalists in this letter, talk about 'children being children', which they should be allowed to be, without added pressure. I believe that this is all possible in a uniformed, classroom environment; if our education system, once again, values the importance of play, for pupils so young.
In short my opinion stands, that there is nothing wrong with children starting school at four or five. This is not simply drawn from 'it never did me any harm'; but more an understanding of a child's need for change and stimulation. The issue now stands with HOW we are teaching our children and whether or not our expectations on education have become far too high. Perhaps a re-evaluation of the value of 'educating play' is what is needed.