Kids need time more than tests

UK is slipping down the academic achievement tables in maths, science and reading, compared with countries where kids have two more years’ play than ours

Share

Why not start school at seven? Is the Government’s reluctance to listen to a plea from 130 respected educationalists just because we want kids out of the house, so we can get on with our own lives? Let’s shunt them off to school, police them from early morning to afternoon, so they can be taught stuff we can’t be arsed to, from table manners to potty training.

Increasingly, teachers report children arriving at primary school unable to speak in sentences, still in nappies, and with few social skills. A large number of parents have given gadgets and hours of television, but don’t bother with the one thing that benefits children most: their time – regular time – spent talking, reading and playing together.

In most of Europe, children enter formal schooling at six and in some Baltic countries at seven. The UK is slipping down the academic achievement tables in maths, science and reading, compared with countries such as Finland, Poland and Sweden, where kids have two more years’ play than ours. Michael Gove was too quick to dismiss the Save Childhood Movement, which wants schooling to start at seven, saying that it advocates lower standards. That is bonkers. It is not as if the current system of rigorous testing is making kids more employable at the end of their education. Not when employers say a huge number are illiterate and lack social skills.

Small children have very different rates of learning, but the priority must be to give them social, verbal and co-ordination skills that will enable them to confidently fit in and focus when they start formal learning. They need to be able to complete tasks, to help others, to be in a team, to express themselves coherently. Structured play is an important learning tool that can be calibrated to meet every child’s differing needs.

Now, three- and four-year-olds in nursery and reception classes are taught using the Early Years Foundation guidelines, assessed for personal development, numeracy and communication, before starting formal classes at five.

Another respected educationalist says that teaching small children how to speak and communicate properly is far better than learning to write. Alan Smithers advocates “systematic” learning when children spend structured time talking with teachers and each other, before formally starting to read and write. Testing does not help all children and may harm them, turning them into little failures before they’ve even started big school. 

Total immersion

Six years ago, I experienced an unforgettable night at the theatre, Punchdrunk’s thrilling Masque of the Red Death, at Battersea Arts Centre in south London. It was a clever mash-up of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and the climax, which took place in a former ballroom, was sublime. Last week, I caught the company’s latest production, sprawled over four floors of a huge former Royal Mail sorting office next to Paddington station. Anyone planning to attend The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Tale (to 30 December) gets plenty of instructions: you’ll be wearing a mask, so specs may be inadvisable; no handbags; sensible shoes.

I waited almost half an hour in a small room before being allowed to enter an industrial lift for my “immersive experience”. The masks are hot and don’t add much, and there are many more spectators than at previous shows. The sheer scale meant I felt as if I was missing out on a dramatic gem as I wandered through the huge spaces.  The design and mise-en-scène is superb – this is a wonderful re-creation of seedy 1960s Hollywood – but I never really engaged with the action.

I loved walking on sand, sitting in a tiny cinema, wandering through scruffy makeup areas, cubicles, and tawdry dressing rooms. The bar area was packed: masks could be removed.

Punchdrunk is to be treasured, but I hope its next production is smaller in scale and has a better-focused narrative.

Plain brilliant

My divorce lawyer once gave me very good advice: wear a plain coat to court, no jewellery, look humble. It worked a treat. If only someone had told Lucy Adams this. When the much-mocked BBC Director of HR arrived to give evidence to a parliamentary committee last week, she sported an expensive lilac printed coat which screamed, “High salary [£332,000p.a.], designer choice”. Inside, she displayed too much jewellery  – three rings, silver necklace, earrings. No wonder cheers rang out across the BBC newsroom when she was accused of lying, and castigated for her bizarre interpretation of giving a matter her “immediate” attention – i.e. weeks later. If Adams had any guts, she would bail out now.

Leader Hodge?

As Ed Miliband fails to connect with voters, might there be another contender for leader of the Labour party? Margaret Hodge wins praise from all sides for her incisive chairing of parliament’s powerful public accounts committee. The other day, she announced the Government “had yet to make a convincing case” for the funding of high-speed rail link HS2. Her interrogation of the BBC bosses’ line-up of shame last week was brutally forensic, and she is an excellent communicator.

She has her detractors: she was accused (as leader of Islington Council, 1982-92) of not taking seriously allegations of abuse of children in care. Recently, critics alleged that her family’s business pays minimum tax in the UK; this is not ideal while her committee castigates the tax arrangements of Vodaphone and Starbucks.

Three metrosexual males lead our main parties. Labour needs someone with cojones: Hodge fits the bill.

High society

To qualify as “supertall”, buildings must be over 330 metres (985 feet), often achieved with useless prongs and embellishments. In London, only The Shard is supertall, its top 20 per cent only decorative. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat calls these buildings “vain”: half the skyscrapers in the UAE, such as Dubai’s Burj Al Arab, have 19 per cent of unusable space. And this in a country with plenty of land and few people. London’s South Bank is soon to have several very tall buildings, including a  44-storey tower at Elephant and Castle. A 49-storey building will house flats and a hotel south of Blackfriars bridge; at Nine Elms, the 50-storey St George Wharf Tower nears completion, and the Shell Centre has just announced plans for a high-level expansion. None adds distinction to London’s skyline, and the spaces around them at ground level will be windy and unwelcoming. The trend for macho architecture is depressing, and sums up the current trend for new money and vulgar bling.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high