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

Looking for Forever Families

adopt b&d

The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Adoption Service are calling for potential adoptive parents from across Essex.

Thirty children are waiting to find a home and the Adoption Service is holding a number of informal open information sessions where you can meet members of the adoption team and an adoptive parent and have all of your questions answered.

The 30 children include siblings such as siblings, Sophia (7) and Eddie (5)* who are full siblings and are happy children. They are very close and enjoy playing together. They are normal kids who need a loving family.

*Names have been changed to protect the children’s identities.

Can you make a difference?

We need parents who are able to offer a child the love, care, time and understanding within a framework of boundaries and consistency to meet these children’s needs into adulthood and beyond.

There are many myths surrounding adoption; these information sessions provide an opportunity for you to find out the answers to any questions you may have. Successful adoptive parents will be on hand to give their points of view.

The upcoming event will be held on:

Saturday 5 July 2014, 2pm to 4pm, Broadway Theatre, Barking, IG11 7LS

For information about adoption or to reserve your place at this event please call 020 8227 5555. To apply or find out about future information events please visit www.lbbd.gov.uk/adoption

Subsequent events will be held:

Wednesday 10 September, 9.30am to 11.30am, Dagenham Library, 1 Church Elm Lane, Dagenham, RM10 9QS

Thursday 6 November, 6.30pm to 8.30pm, Relish Café, 2 Town Square, Barking, IG11 7NB

Thursday 4 December, 9.30am to 11.30am, Broadway Theatre, Barking, IG11 7LS

Making East London Home through Furniture Re-Use

The Quakers have always been full of great ideas. For one, they invented chocolate.

I could just stop there, couldn’t I?

qsa logoQuaker Social Action has been at work for 145 years in East London, under the moniker, “Working for a Just World Where People Put People First.”

And this is just the message East Londoners need to hear. Often. This is a high-density corner of the world. Some of us have lots of stuff, while others can’t afford it. But we all live next to each other. And the amount of ‘stuff’ that some of us have can cause problems–flytipping for one. We need people with great ideas to keep things running smoothly.

Enter QSA’s Homestore, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The furniture re-use charity project collects quality new or used furniture donations from businesses and private individuals and sells it on at a low cost to low-income East Londoners, our neighbours. Everything someone would need to fit out a decent family home is on offer at the Homestore Warehouse, at prices that rival even those of charity shops.

I used QSA’s Homestore a few years ago when I moved in with DH. He had a few items from his bachelor days that ahem needed a new home. So I sent a home office desk and a tv console their way. I called Homestore again recently as we’re renovating and have a dining table and sofas that are too small for our growing family. And I became intrigued.

Last week, I brought the girls along for a browse in the warehouse and to meet Jane Williams, who heads up Fundraising and Communications for QSA and Homestore Manager Jim Carling. It’s tucked away in a Stratford industrial estate, quite near to the wonderful new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, one of our favourite new spots to visit. Inside, the Homestore is a cheery, bright place, welcoming for families looking for things to make their homes nicer. It’s not long before the little ones ‘ask’ if they can bounce on the settees.

warehouse floor 2013Jim explains that for every £1 in donation, the Homestore needs to fundraise £2. It is a grand-scale furniture recycling scheme staffed by full-time employees and volunteers. Homestore’s fleet of lorries shuttle between pickup points in seven East London boroughs and back to the warehouse several times a day. Donors are asked to contact Homestore about their donations and these will be pre-qualified before a driver is committed to picking up: It’s essential that any donated items are in compliance with fire and child safety regulations, and the Homestore staff will determine the suitability of your items over the phone or by email.

At the warehouse, furniture is given a quick scrubbing up, and put on sale. Customers of the Homestore must show proof of low income in order to shop here. Donors can give their items in a safe, reliable, and convenient way. And if you’re a Freecycler or EBayer, like we are, you know what this means.

image

Theresa is a teacher in Hackney. She enjoys a home with a lovely view out to the park from picture windows. When she was expecting her baby last year, she needed to move furniture out of her spare room to create a nursery. She chose Homestore to donate her very smart coffee table and a beautiful jumbo cord-covered sofa.


Become a Donor

In order to make its next 25 years a success, QSA is appealing for donations of more good quality furnishings from East London homes. So, instead of Freecycle or eBay, consider donating your furnishings to Homestore.

Donation guidelines are viewable and  downloadable here.

Unfortunately, some childrens’ and baby furniture cannot be donated as the safety compliance cannot be verified. Donated items can have normal wear and tear, so don’t worry about the odd scratch.


Mumsnet Local serves all of the boroughs in which Homestore collects donations. Listings can be found in the following categories–Community Organisations, Eco Services, Removals and Storage–or by clicking directly on the links below.

Summer-Born Campaign Reports Positive first meeting with Chairman of the Education Select Committee

An update signalling progress from the Summer-Born Children campaigners!

summerbornchildren

Graham Stuart MP On Tuesday 13th May 2014, summer born campaigners Michelle Melson, Pauline Hull and Stefan Richter, together with Annette Brooke MP, met with Graham Stuart, Chairman of the Education Select Committee in his Parliament office.

The following is a summary of this meeting:

*Having already forwarded our January 2014 summer born report via email, we summarised the very serious problems being experienced by parents of summer born children, both during attempts to enrol their child in school at compulsory school age and later in their education when forced to skip an academic year, and we outlined our growing concerns about how the Department for Education is handling the situation.

*Mr. Stuart was very shocked by some of the cases we described, and expressed some surprise at the opposition to allowing admissions flexibility for summer born children; he was already aware of research showing disadvantages for some summer born children, and suggested that allowing…

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#BringBackOurGirls. Bring Back Our Empathy

They have been gone for a long time. 23 days on the calendar. A lifetime if one of the girls is your family.

The story is finally on the front pages of the news daily and dominating the World’s political agenda, but those who care have criticised the media for their slow uptake of this story. Reticence? Low public appetite for these types of stories? These voices also have criticised the Nigerian government for their slow or ineffective actions thus far. Endemic corruption? Incompetence? These voices criticised world governments and agencies for not jumping in sooner. We have since learned that at least some of these bodies were ready to act on the first notice of the missing girls.

But it felt, for a long, long time in the last 23 days, that these girls had been abandoned to their fate. That the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, started by Nigerian activist Oby Ezekwesili, was shouting through Twitter and Facebook to a largely empty world, getting echoes back from only those of us who made it our business to find out what happened and to care about hundreds of frightened girls and their families: preaching to the choir.

I speak for myself. I was terrified, angry, sad, wanted to take some action. Something. Anything, other than just feeling helpless. I am still terrified, angry, and sad. But I have taken some action. And I am an ordinary person, raising two little girls nowhere near Nigeria. And I would want them to know that I would fight for these girls, as I would fight for them.

Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Prize winning Nigerian writer, stated so much in a CNN interview:

“It’s one of those rather child-like situations that if you shut your eyes, if you don’t exhibit the tactile evidence of the missing humanity here, that somehow the problem will go away.”

It is not just “a Nigerian problem,” he said.

“I’m calling for the international community, the United Nations – this is a problem. This is a global problem. And a foothold is being very deeply entrenched in West Africa.”

We cannot fail our children. And we are doing just that by ignoring our own humanity. We need to care.

Thing is, lots of people in the “international community” just don’t care. Apathy, indifference, racism. We have gotten used to waiting for the celebrity or politician to come along and say something for us–and they have, in droves. Michelle Obama’s expression of empathy in a photo she Tweeted stands out especially. And she’s gotten a lot more people to care now. If we rely on the celebrity or even political validation of a cause before WE act, we increase the risk of inaction. Empathy is not a democratic process. WE should not wait for others to make us care. WE must speak up for ourselves, expend the energy to care, to weep, to feel angered, to take up some call to action. Or these crimes against children will continue to happen.

Here’s the truth. Some people simply cannot tolerate other peoples’ suffering. I know lots of these kinds of people. Some of these people even have children of their own, whom they put to bed each night and expect that they will be there in the morning. Would be utterly outraged if the police or their government did not jump into action to find them, and would feel betrayed if those around them didn’t care.

But somehow, their empathy switch for these hundreds of girls in a remote part of Nigeria did not switch ‘on’. Or maybe they looked at the news story or their friend’s Facebook update or heard about it and said ‘too bad’, shook their head, and went back to doing what they were doing before.

And that’s wrong. It’s not okay to sit still about this.

And no, we can’t all even realistically help as individuals. But we can and should show that we are affected by something that the Universe itself–if it spoke–would say was just plain wrong.

I am reminded of a movie that I find difficult to watch, A Time to Kill, based on the John Grisham novel. The father, played by Samuel Jackson, killed his little girl’s rapists and abductors. Liam Neeson’s character did the same in Taken. These stories had relatively happy endings. These dads got their girls back and they were reunited, able to rebuild their lives. WE like the way those stories end. Maybe WE are afraid of the way this story will end, because these kinds of stories often end badly. But they don’t have to.

On behalf of these hundreds of girls in Nigeria and children (girls and boys) everywhere else in the world who are abducted, raped, sold into slavery, tortured, killed, and everything else in between, WE are not as outraged as the men in these movies. Perhaps some of us genuinely don’t care, but I have to believe this is a tiny minority and I also must believe that these people must have a biological lack of mental or emphatic faculty.

#BringBackOurGirls is a powerful, direct message to Boko Haram from the International Community: YOU, terrorists, bring back OUR girls. WE, the people who care, their mothers and fathers, sisters brothers, friends, and strangers the world over who want them safely home again. It doesn’t have to end badly. And if it does, we can work like hell to make sure that it happens fewer times and to fewer children.

As Malala Yousafzai has said, using the same WE: “If we remain silent then this will spread, this will happen more and more and more.”

We cannot fail our children. Here’s what WE can do:

bring back our girls