Four-year-olds 'too young for school'

One in three teachers believes classroom entry age should be raised to si

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Wednesday 08 April 2009 00:00 BST

Children should be allowed to delay the start of their compulsory schooling until they are at least six, a third of all primary school teachers say.

Three in four teachers are also adamant that it is wrong to admit children to mainstream classrooms at the age of four, according to a survey published today by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

A government inquiry is recommending that all children be allowed to start school in the September term after their fourth birthday.

Sir Jim Rose, the former Ofsted inspector, believes this will help counter the fact that summer-born children fare worse in exams because they start school at a later age.

His final report is expected to be published within the next month. Today's survey of 700 teachers says many pointed out that children from Scandinavian countries did better in international tests than those in the UK despite the fact they did not start formal schooling until age seven.

Claire Jagger, a primary teacher in Cornwall, said: "I have taught in Finland, Lapland and Russia and have seen firsthand the way in which their seven-year-olds start school ready to learn.

"They are emotionally ready, socially able, physically content and mature enough to deal with the curriculum in school, bringing good solid life experience and a thirst for learning."

Another teacher said: "Summer-born children, especially those born in August, often lack the maturity to cope with school. They would be better off staying at pre-school for longer but there is also a lot of parental pressure for the children to start school so they can go to work. I often feel like a child-minder and not a teacher."

Teachers also said it was important for children to continue to learn through play right up to the age of 11. The survey comes as ATL members prepare to debate later today at their annual conference in Liverpool a call for the return of enjoyment in teaching and learning.

It reveals that two-thirds of teachers believe national curriculum tests for seven-year-olds spoil children's enjoyment of learning. The figure rises to 80 per cent when teachers are asked about the tests for 11-year-olds.

Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the ATL, said: "We have a choice – we can either go on overloading the curriculum and testing children at every opportunity or we can create an environment where children enjoy learning and discovering."

Barry Sheerman, the Labour chairman of the influential Commons select committee that covers education, has also argued that British children are being "hot-housed" into formal schooling too early.

Today's motion calls on the Government to scrap the tests for 11-year-olds and allow children to achieve at their own pace.

The Schools Secretary Ed Balls is piloting a scheme which would allow children to take the tests when their teachers consider they are ready.

However, he told the ATL conference it would be impossible to introduce it by next year.

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