Who needs education most? The answer is quite simple. It’s the most disadvantaged children.Some children aren’t lucky enough to come from affluent, well-connected or stable families. And for them, the difference between good teaching and bad teaching is enormous: a solid education is often the key to escaping disadvantage.
Bear this in mind when you hear about the campaign to abolish education for young children. Today we had the latest outburst – a letter to the Telegraph outlining a vision for a learning-free world. In this utopia, children shouldn’t start learning until they’re 6 or 7.
Set aside, for a moment, recent reports about children starting school in nappies. Forget that in 2012 fully 40 per cent of Year 1 pupils didn’t meet the usual standard for reading at that age.
Focus, for now, on the fact that educational research suggests the idea is simply rubbish.
We know that the early years are critical to later development. Let children down when they’re young, and it’s hard to catch up. We also know from decades of research around the world that outcomes improve when children are led by a highly-qualified educator. Why would we ignore this mass of evidence?
This doesn’t mean we should abandon play. Far from it: the prophets of dumbing-down fail to understand that there is no contradiction between a fun activity and an educational one. Lots of activities combine both. Story-telling, singing, dancing, or group activities are all teacher-led, but are hugely enjoyable for children.
This isn’t the most galling thing, though. The campaign group maintain a veneer of professional respectability. But they are actually undermining the judgment of many people working in nurseries.
We heard from a parent last week, for example, whose daughter’s pre-school aren’t allowed to ask her to sit down. They can’t ask her to start learning how to spell. Or to write. Or to read.
The reason? That she “has to have a choice” in what she does.
This is madness. Professionals want to provide excellent early years education. And they know how to combine creativity and freedom with developing literacy and numeracy. But the doctrine of “child-initiated learning” gets in the way.
We’re determined to end this situation, by putting our faith in professionals. We’re consulting on making the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (an assessment of each 5 year-old’s development) optional, for example. Our proposed checks are designed to spot those falling behind, not force targets on teachers. And the qualifications we’re introducing for early years teachers are flexible, recognising a range of education styles for the youngest children.
Imagine, though, if that little girl came from a troubled background, or had special educational needs. Kids from leafy suburbs might get a steady stream of educational activities in their early years. Or if they don’t, they might be able to cash in their parents’ connections and wealth later in life.
Not everyone is so lucky. If education starts later, the children that need it most are the ones that lose out.
One of the organisations that wrote calls itself the “Save Childhood Movement”. What sort of arrogance allows them to appoint themselves custodians of childhood, we can only wonder. But for the most vulnerable children, the result of this group’s misguided, regressive, inaccurate, superstitious and dangerous idea wouldn’t save childhood. It would only crush their future.