Your Views: Establishment ignorance is obvious to our children

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ELIZABETH HANCOCK'S article ("My 13-year-old son took drugs", Education, 3 March) is the first article I have ever seen that expresses an almost realistic attitude towards the issue of young people's recreational drug-taking, written by those who consider the issue a problem. I went to a state school, yet I, too, first tried smoking dope at 13 with new school friends (and I, too, told them I'd done it before). Speaking as someone who now is 20, Sam Hancock's prediction that he'll be doing Class A drugs by that age seems fairly realistic.

However Elizabeth Hancock's attitude still illustrates why drug taking is considered a problem, or actually more of a threat, by parents and the establishment. Drug taking is seen as deviant or a refuge from problems, rather than simply recreational. When young people begin to drink alcohol, and many are actively encouraged to by their parents, it is never asked what gap they are trying to fill by drinking.

I am not condoning recreational drug taking, but it is a reality of young people's lives today - and the ignorance of parents and establishment on this subject is obvious even to a 13-year-old.



Take the pressure off

I REFER to the article "The worst years of their lives" (Education, 25 February).

If only the "powers that be" would take on board the findings of Professor Christine Pascal. I have been involved in the teaching of early years' children for over 25 years, and never in all that time have I been so deeply concerned as to what we are doing to our young four- to five-year- olds. A four-year-old child has been on this earth for 48 months - yet look at what is being asked of them. Professor Pascal's (and previous) research shows how we should be developing the four- to five-year-old curriculum, and yet we are heading in the opposite direction!

I now regularly witness children in school who are suffering from too much pressure. Unrealistic demands are being made by parents and school.

Once a child is emotionally damaged she/he is scarred for life. We are being asked to make children chase targets - that is not "teaching".

It's time the nation came to its senses and remembered that children are EXACTLY that, and not 2ft 6in adults trying to meet their sales quota for the month. Why can't children be allowed to develop at their own pace without external pressures labelling them a failure before they start.




IN THE Thirties, in the bad old days before the era of child-centred education, I started school at five-plus. In the afternoons we got out our little oval rush mats and we lay down for a rest. Some of us fell asleep.

In the Sixties, my daughter started school at five-plus. She could have gone a term earlier, but I deemed her not ready, because after a full morning at nursery school, and lunch, she fell fast asleep.

Now we near the year 2000, I hear that just four-year-olds are not only required to go to school for whole days, they are required to sit through literacy hours and numeracy hours. When the Government in its wisdom declared nursery education for all, and provided the money, I do not believe that it was envisaged that pre-school children would be swallowed up in reception classes meant for five-year-olds.

Although some bright and lively children thrive, others become tired, bewildered and discouraged. Certainly not a good basis for future life- time learning. You can fail at four nowadays. There should be no standard requirements for four-year-olds. A happy and confident child is the one ready for the learning experience, not a child who has come up to some arbitrary standard.




THE TARGETS set by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority may technically be for five-year-olds (Your Views, Education, 4 March). The point being made in Maureen O'Connor's welcome article was that they are being inappropriately applied to four year olds, because so many children are being put into reception classes too soon.

Three and four year olds need high quality nursery education with properly qualified nursery teachers and assistants, in small groups and with plenty of space for creative and constructive play. All the pre-literacy skills should be part of this. Reading and writing should not. Stressing them out by pushing them into the world of targets and literacy hours too soon will rebound, as small children turn against school and begin to play up before they have even started.

The problem with boys in particular will only get worse. Small children need to learn that school is rewarding and that learning is for life. Our European neighbours think we are mad.



Let's get stretching

FOR WENDY Earle ("Expecting too little could cost us a lot", Education, 25 February) it is axiomatic that "adults have a responsibility to stretch and challenge children". In the fearful, headlong rush to conform to every set of Government guidelines, many schools are beginning to lose sight of this most basic principle.

Just after our daughter started Year 2, she brought home a letter asking parents not to let children bring in toys or other personal objects as "the demands of the national curriculum" meant that it was no longer possible to find school time to talk about such items. For many children, school provides the only sympathetic environment for such expression.

Last week, in another infant school, I finally heard what I'd been dreading, but more than half-expecting since last September: "Oh we've done away with the afternoon story-time. I mean, you can't do that and the Literacy Hour, can you?"

Well, perhaps you can't, but if the purpose of state education is to ensure children are not disadvantaged by lack of parental attention (for whatever reasons) schools have a responsibility, not only to be sceptical of the state-of-the art claims of publishers for their reading schemes and big books, but also to examine thoughtfully the instrumental subtexts of the Literacy Hour itself.

Many schools now desperately need to think again about definitions of literacy and its uses. Too many are allowing the requirements of the Literacy Hour to obscure the view.


Education Consultancy


I AGREE wholeheartedly with the concern of Anne Fine and Helen Cresswell and others that we expect far too little of our children's ability to appreciate literature.

For nearly 20 years, I worked as a house tutor, teaching children who were off school for weeks or even months at a time. Our remit was to keep them abreast of the work they would be doing in class, so we naturally liased closely with their schools. I was often appalled at the reading matter they were given.

One 10-year-old child, bright but physically handicapped, from a poor house without books, was given a book to read that a normal five-year- old would have considered babyish. I took The Secret Garden in one day, read the first chapter then told her to read the next two by my next visit.

When I returned she had finished the book and was clamouring for more. When I suggested to her (special) school that she revelled in being stretched (in other subjects such as maths as well) I had a very frosty reception.

Another girl of 13, whom I would describe as "middle stream" was expected to read a book so full of the most appalling American psycho-babble that I couldn't bear to finish it. To my pupils' great relief we abandoned it in favour of Jane Eyre. Again, she lapped it up, racing ahead of what I had actually set her, not at all troubled by "difficult" vocabulary.

I could supply many more such examples. Don't let's deprive our children of challenge - that way lies boredom and disaffection.




I want my money back

THANK YOU so much for bringing to the attention of the public the scandal of "second career" teachers who, like myself, can't find jobs! ("View from Here", Education, 25 February).

I left industry in 1991, and have had nothing but a diet of insecure positions and part-time contracts, after spending pounds 20,000 in retraining.

If the pensions-selling fiasco sets a precedent, then I also want my money back - for being seduced into believing there was a need for well qualified science teachers.


Woodhall Spa


Please send your letters to Wendy Berliner, Editor, Education, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL. Include a day time telephone number. Fax letters to Education on 0171 293 2451; e-mail:

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