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Tests for four-year-olds are counter-productive

It overlooks the wide differences in development at such a young age

Formal schooling foisted on to young children is causing profound damage, according to a critique of the Government’s so-called “early years” policy from more than 100 teachers and education experts. Youngsters should not be starting school until they are six or seven, they say.

The response from the Education Secretary’s office is predictably robust, dismissing the claims as those of a “powerful and misguided lobby responsible for the devaluation of exams and the culture of low expectations in state schools”.

There are two issues here. One is education in general, and in this Michael Gove is right. “Bogus pop-psychology about self-image”, as his spokesman so colourfully put it yesterday, is indeed no substitute for facts. It is also true that greater educational rigour will benefit the poor more than the rich, who will get it anyway.

But that is not the issue here. This is about very young children, and they have different needs. Not only will the inadequacies of Britain’s schools not be solved simply by tacking on more years at the beginning. Such an approach is also outright counter-productive – as evidence from Scandinavia’s better-performing (and later-starting) youngsters makes clear. Furthermore, it overlooks the wide differences in development at such a young age – risking those children who lag at four never catching up.

Put simply, tiny children need play, not rigour; there is plenty of time for that later on. Mr Gove must not allow his justifiable desire to shake-up the education system to prevent him from differentiating the wood from the trees.