Education Quandary

'My daughter has just gone from nursery class into reception class. I want her to come home for several afternoons a week until she is five next Easter, but our LEA says she can't. Do we have to co-operate?'
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Well, no. But then again, probably yes. The only legal requirement on you is that your daughter must start school, or home education, the term after she is five.

HILARY'S ADVICE

Well, no. But then again, probably yes. The only legal requirement on you is that your daughter must start school, or home education, the term after she is five. Until then you can do what you like. But different places have different admissions policies, and the bad news for you is that your local education authority says that full-time school is full-time school, no matter what. And as the school isn't willing to bend that rule, and as you want to hang on to her place, there is little you can do except to toe the line.

In fact, many schools would resist having a child pulled out of a reception class for this afternoon or that. They would argue that it disrupts routine, unsettles the other children, and leaves gaps in the absent child's learning. Even very young children, they tend to tell worried parents, "will cope". But at four and a half, some children still find it hard to sit still and concentrate, while others can barely keep their eyes open after lunch. So what do they get out of this coping? Academic advantage? No, it doesn't work like that. Most other European countries keep their children out of school until six or later, and the children do fine. In fact, in one international comparison, the 10 countries that scored highest reading levels had a mean age for starting reading of 6.3 years.

On the other hand, children who start at school when they're not ready are in real danger of having the label "low achiever" slapped on their foreheads, never to be removed, while a reception class that has to take in very young children may struggle to keep all its pupils moving together through the work that the national curriculum says they must do.

Many schools have children start school in January and at Easter, as they "rise five". But obviously not yours. The argument for a full year in reception tends to be that it levels the playing field for children from less-advantaged homes. But while it is clear that such children - indeed, all children - benefit from good, extended, play-based pre-schooling, it is very much less clear what they get from having to start proper school so young.

READERS' ADVICE

Your daughter is not obliged to be in any form of education until she is five, and even then the legal obligation is to educate, not to send a child to a mainstream school. A minority of children globally have the misfortune to be corralled into attendance at an institution for full days. On the Continent most children have afternoons free of rigid "studies" until they are of secondary age. Even in this country, which is fortunately still sane and democratic enough to acknowledge parents as the primary educators of their children, the choice of forum for education is limited only by some parents' desire to delegate some of their responsibility in this regard. Increasing numbers of parents are now opting for a range of options, from Steiner and Montessori schooling to home-schooling, the common themes of which are respect for the individual child and family, a high adult-to-child ratio, a desire to tailor the programme of study to the particular child's talents and needs, and a recognition that a primary-school-age child does not benefit from day-long sessions.

You say that you have suggested to your chosen school that your child attends only part-time. If the school won't meet this need, you should query whether it is the right environment in which to educate your daughter, and explore the alternatives.

Karen Rodgers, Cambridge

If you think education is "a good thing", then the more she gets, the better. That view assumes that what you do at home is not education. I disagree. A child needs to learn social skills as well as classroom skills. Many children on the continent start in the classroom at the age of seven, and are none the worse for that. If you teach her to share and co-operate with others she will be fine.

Ainslie Walton, Aberdeen

NEXT WEEK'S QUANDARY

I'm a new teacher and am scared stiff of having to take class assemblies at school. I'm not at all religious, and I'm not much good at talking in front of big groups, so the whole idea of putting on some act of "collective worship" in front of the whole school is freaking me out. What can I do?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 15 September, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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