TARGETS FOR TOTS
The introduction of a compulsory framework for early-years foundation-stage education rings alarm bells for those of us working with young children. ("Do little ones need formal lessons?", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 28 February).
As an early-years principal working with children from aged two, my reaction is that one size does not fit all. For very young children to flourish and develop a lifelong love of reading and writing, educators must adopt sympathetic approaches, based on the individual child's interests and capabilities, rather than the child's age as matched to a set of prescriptive targets.
More important than formal assessment is the teacher's ability to identify each child's "catalyst", or springboard, for learning. For most very young children, the medium through which they make sense of the world and become successful future learners is structured play. Any framework needs to recognise that this is key to the young child's intellectual development.
While expecting accountability and the highest standards from early-years professionals, I value the opportunity to deliver best educational practice from around the world and see any move to impose a single prescriptive pedagogy as a retrograde step.
Anne Stewart, Assistant principal, ACS Cobham International School, Surrey
I am surprised that the Government is attempting to impose any sort of curriculum and testing for the under-fives, despite documented evidence from Scandinavia of the folly of this. Formalising early-years education can only create more problems later, particularly with dyslexic students who will develop a sense of failure early on. Iram Siraj-Blatchford says that "children's reading at 10 is predicated on their vocabulary at three". Would introducing formal education in the early years make any difference?
In Scandinavia, children do not start school until they are seven and are emotionally more prepared. If we are expecting children to read, listen, communicate and write, we need to give them the tools to practise these skills with. Reading requires knowledge of the alphabet; listening is another activity that needs reinforcing; writing needs good motor control, preferably at early years.
What I am discovering in my role as a learning support teacher, however, is that children from 11 up have severe disadvantages due to things like weak pencil control, poor reading, spelling and communication.
We should ask ourselves why this is happening. I think the answer is complex. Structured programmes that include reading, spelling and handwriting will be beneficial to everyone in the class. If this formal education begins too soon, however, students will continue to be put off education. Reading will be difficult because the letters look like something from outer space and so on. Where success breeds success, failure breeds failure.
Sandra Young, Solva, Pembrokeshire
I read Hilary Wilce's article with dismay and delight. My delight is easy to sum up: well done, The Independent for giving this story space. My dismay is that, in spite of so much research showing that young children need to be allowed to develop their own appetite for learning, politicians still feel that they know best .
One of my daughters taught herself to read at four because she had an inbuilt passion, stimulated by being allowed to find it; the other didn't read or write until later, but instead put all her attention into singing, dancing and art.
Appetites for learning develop naturally, at an early age. This natural development does not conform to a model where everybody has to achieve the same goal at the same time.
To try to control and manipulate this learning is nothing short of catastrophic. A child's joy of reading or numbers, which may arrive naturally as late as the age of eight or even 10 or 12, could be ruined forever if forced at the age of four.
Barry Durdant-Hollamby, Forest Row, East Sussex
While I agree with Peter Inson ("If we can't trust adults, children will lose out", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 28 February), he has missed an important point about having two adults at Brownie and Scout meetings. Should the one adult be taken ill or have to deal with an emergency, another adult is necessary to look after the other members of the group.
David MacVitie, former ADC Cub Scouts, Market Deeping, Lincs
In your Quote of the Week (28 February), Tam Fry is reported as asking: "Do we want brilliant mathematicians who can read and write well, but are so fat that they die early? Or do we want well-rounded children who are fit enough to be parents and hold down jobs?"
I would prefer active, healthy, children with broadly developed interests who are fully equipped with communication skills and show no fear of mathematics – and who, when they become parents, will have children in the same mould.
Christopher Baker, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, University of Manchester
WHY TESTING WORKS
I read with interest the ongoing debate about aptitude tests for university admissions ("Aptitude tests 'are biased against comprehensive school pupils'", The Independent, February 28). They are still seen to be controversial for a number of educationalists, yet have been embraced and used successfully for a number of years. Aptitude testing and training is complemented by formal assessment in many professional spheres, including medicine, IT, law and construction – supremely skilled jobs with high levels of responsibility. If it works for these industries, why can it not be applied earlier on in UK education?
Geoff Chapman, Head of communications, Prometric EMEA, Manchester
I read with interest how David Threlfall's father used to deal with his son's bullies, by persuading him to confront their ringleader and give him a bloody nose. (Passed/Failed, EDUCATION & CAREERS, 31 January).
The incident calls to mind an occasion in my own schooldays when my form master, normally the mildest of men, caught two lads molesting an inoffensive, smaller boy. The culprits were marched into the classroom and each had "three of the best" administered to the "seat of understanding" with a handy gym-shoe. Neither re-offended and one subsequently became a bishop in the Church of England. Both Threlfall's dad and my schoolmaster would be brought before a magistrate if they acted similarly today. Such is progress.
D r Bob Heys, Ripponden, West Yorks
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