Oh, Just the School Starting Age Issue. . .

Excerpted from the University of Cambridge article “School Starting Age: the Evidence“:

“Earlier this month the “Too Much, Too Soon” campaign made headlines with a letter calling for a change to the start age for formal learning in schools. Here, one of the signatories, Cambridge researcher David Whitebread, from the Faculty of Education, explains why children may need more time to develop before their formal education begins in earnest.”

In the interests of children’s academic achievements and their emotional well-being, the UK government should take this evidence seriously

– David Whitebread

130924-back-to-school

“Back to School”. Homepage banner image by Woodley Wonderworks via Flickr Credit: Nick Page from Flickr.

In England children now start formal schooling, and the formal teaching of literacy and numeracy at the age of four. However, the UK’s Department of Education states clearly that compulsory school age is five.  Children born in the summer months, like mine, spend the entire first year at school in Reception class before they reach compulsory school age. Yes, she will be playing. But she will also start her journey in formal learning, in a formal setting, learning phonics and arithmetic, even ICT.

Am I happy about this? Not particularly, no. I am much happier to have her at home singing her ABCs, visiting the playground, playing with her sister, and freely using her imagination. At least, we have secured the consent of her school to allow her to attend part-time during the Reception year.

I have witnessed the Herculean efforts of the campaigners who head the Summer-born Campaign, giving advice to parents with similar concerns about deferring or delaying admission for their child to primary school. They do this day and night, answering queries that Local Authorities and the Department of Education will not. They help parents to exercise their rights under the law, to wait until their child is five to start formal education, in the Reception year. These parents are successful sometimes, but sadly, some–even those whose children were prematurely born or have developmental issues–are flatly and discompassionately denied. One can only guess that bureaucratic expediency is chosen over the welfare of these children. Or else what?

In our case, we are simply concerned that, but for a few weeks, our daughter would have started her journey in formal education next year. So we lose an entire year at home. We have been reassured by anecdotal evidence that she will cope, and because she’s bright and self-motivated, she will “do well.” Our response is, “Yes, that’s great. We agree. But we wanted that to start when she’s actually of compulsory school age.”

charlie and lola too small for school

Read by Pre-School Platinum of YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8fdu9PMgNo

There is a universe of common sense in the Charlie and Lola book, I am Too Absolutely Small to Go to School. In it, Charlie asks four-year old Lola, “Don’t you want to read words?” and Lola answers “I don’t need to read words and I’ve got all my books in my head. If I can’t remember, I can just make them up.” Lola eventually consents to go off to school, but on her terms. And the school depicted in Charlie and Lola is hardly one of ‘schooliforms’ and rules and formal lessons.

We understand that not all children have the supportive, loving and stimulating homes they so very much deserve, and that this is behind the impetus of the current government to consider the start of formal education at an even earlier age. But is starting formal education in the tender ages going to be the answer to Britain’s social problems? Because it does seem as if recent gestures by Education ministers are aimed at curing social problems rather than reforming the Education system.

And clearly, the research presented by Cambridge, states that the start of formal education, to promote educational goals, needs to go in the OTHER direction.

So here we are, stuck in a malfunctioning politico-educational system in which academics, educators, and parent-led groups are becoming advocates for childrens’ rights and doing battle against Education policy makers and politicians who can’t see the forest for the trees. As a reminder, the government’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that there is an “obligation to ensure that the child’s best interests are appropriately integrated and consistently applied in every action taken by a public institution.”

The Research and Political Action

“A recent letter signed by around 130 early childhood education experts, including Whitebread, published in the Daily Telegraph  (11 Sept 2013) advocated an extension of informal, play-based pre-school provision and a delay to the start of formal ‘schooling’ in England from the current effective start until the age of seven (in line with a number of other European countries who currently have higher levels of academic achievement and child well-being).

We were curious about where the UK stands in relation to the rest of Europe on this matter and, indeed, how these children are faring in comparison with ours.  Compulsory ages for the start of school throughout Europe from the National Foundation for Educational Research’s web site:

4

Northern Ireland

5

Cyprus, England, Malta, Scotland, Wales

6

Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey

7

Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania , Poland, Serbia, Sweden

So have you seen now that the countries who start later have the best results from education?

Let’s use research—-our own and that of the experts–to help determine Education policy that’s in our childrens’ best interest. Let’s leave the anecdotal evidence to the chat boards.

Please read David Whitebread’s original article here.

In England children now start formal schooling, and the formal teaching of literacy and numeracy at the age of four.  A recent letter signed by around 130 early childhood education experts, including myself, published in the Daily Telegraph  (11 Sept 2013) advocated an extension of informal, play-based pre-school provision and a delay to the start of formal ‘schooling’ in England from the current effective start until the age of seven (in line with a number of other European countries who currently have higher levels of academic achievement and child well-being). – See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence#sthash.MpcyBeRB.dpuf
Earlier this month the “Too Much, Too Soon” campaign made headlines with a letter calling for a change to the start age for formal learning in schools. Here, one of the signatories, Cambridge researcher David Whitebread, from the Faculty of Education, explains why children may need more time to develop before their formal education begins in earnest. – See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence#sthash.MpcyBeRB.dpuf
Earlier this month the “Too Much, Too Soon” campaign made headlines with a letter calling for a change to the start age for formal learning in schools. Here, one of the signatories, Cambridge researcher David Whitebread, from the Faculty of Education, explains why children may need more time to develop before their formal education begins in earnest. – See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence#sthash.MpcyBeRB.dpuf

Earlier this month the “Too Much, Too Soon” campaign made headlines with a letter calling for a change to the start age for formal learning in schools. Here, one of the signatories, Cambridge researcher David Whitebread, from the Faculty of Education, explains why children may need more time to develop before their formal education begins in earnest.

In the interests of children’s academic achievements and their emotional well-being, the UK government should take this evidence seriously

David Whitebread

– See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence#sthash.MpcyBeRB.dpuf

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13 thoughts on “Oh, Just the School Starting Age Issue. . .

  1. Reblogged this on Rutland & Leicestershire Families and commented:
    What are your thoughts about the right age for our children to start school?
    If you’re like me, many of your child’s ‘year group’ will be starting school this September and you might have had countless conversations with other parents about whether their little ones are ‘too young’ or ‘more than ready’ to start on their journey through the education system.
    Waving your child off at the school gate is an emotional time for everyone but for those with children born during the summer months – and the youngest in the school classroom – it can be an especially concerning time. I have spoken to mums who’s children will have turned four merely weeks before they are packing their rucksack and putting on their blazer. On the other hand, children born just the other side of the age threshold have to wait several months until they ‘qualify’ for the next academic intake, leaving parents concerned that they are missing out.
    Perhaps you think the system we currently have in place is right, or maybe you agree with the ‘Too much, Too Soon’ campaign. This post which we are re-blogging from London on Toast – the Blog from Mumsnet’s Waltham Forest and Redbridge Editor – raises some very interesting and thought provoking ideas.
    Rutland & Leicestershire Families would love to hear your views.

    • Thanks for the reblog, Sarah. It’s so important to get this first step into formal Education right. The child’s first impression will last a lifetime.

    • All of our children are starting too early. Those who start at ages five, six or seven even are better off–socially, intellectually, all around. That’s what the research says.

  2. Reblogged this on Mumsnet Oxford & Oxfordshire and commented:
    This is very much on my mind at the moment, as a good friend of mine is being, essentially, forced to send her child to school even though he would have been in the year below if she had, to quote “managed to cross her legs another 24 hours”. This issue of him being a whole year younger than some of his supposed peers is only exacerbated by some personal difficulties that have recently been diagnosed as autism. When schools have so little ability (or desire) to be flexible in such cases then we really need new policies to be issued from the top down. In that vein, I have re-blogged an article by my colleague over in Redbridge discussing the school-starting age in this country. Would really love to hear your thoughts on this, especially if you’re personally affected.

    Camilla, Editor

    • The very simple solution of changing the birth range by just a few months would ensure that no child starts school having just turned four. Why can’t they see this very sensible short-term fix?

  3. The most powerful weapon in the battle against the evidence free crazy is to speak it like it is. The groundswell will eventually interrupt into a volcano of commonsense, its ash suffocating DfE madness in its wake. We just have to keep on saying it until enough people get it. You’ve got it all down in such a well articulated fashion – this fellow blogger can appreciated the impassioned hard work that went into this post….. x

    • The ground is rumbling; the lives of children–and I mean the actual lives of children–is so far removed from the places where policy is debated and decided that I fear the issue may be simple relevancy. So yes, it’s up to us to shout to them and make them listen.

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