Primary Education

Lord Soley

The Cambridge Primary Review report has recommended that children start school at 6 rather than 5. I have always been attracted to this idea mainly because I know it is practised in a number of other countries that do well on schooling. Looking at the report however it is clear that we also do well in this country and I read one interesting criticism of the review which seemed to suggest that what was done with the time was more important than the starting age. So play learning at school could be just as constructive as play learning at home. It is a more complex issue than I initially thought.

Any views?

8 comments for “Primary Education

  1. 17/10/2009 at 2:30 pm

    For decades, 6 years used to be the age at which children start school in Germany. After the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which’s first report confirmed that there were a number of problems in Germany’s school system, many changes have been made. Among those, a few states like Berlin have decided to lower the age of primary school enrolement to 5 1/2 years.

    Personally, I wasn’t really in favor of that decision. I believe it’s important for children to have a real childhood without some of the pressures that come when you start primary school. Other German states have decided to make the last year of kindergarten not just free, but also mandatory for all children, which is the option I prefer. The idea behind a mandatory year in school or kindergarten is to improve children’s German skills, especially for those children who come from families with a migration background. Tests such as PISA and the OECD Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (OECD) have repeatedly shown that children who spent more time with their peers at a young age will have better language skills giving them an advantage throughout their time in primary school and beyond.

  2. 17/10/2009 at 11:57 pm

    All-out war has been declared between the residents of Chez Nous because you state the report “…has recommended that children start school at 6 rather than 5.

    Not one to usually take for granted the plethora (raft) of news reports stating the same, it would be most helpful if you could quote the bit in the report that has led you to this, er, quote.

    The Nobel Peace prize beckons.

    • Clive Soley
      18/10/2009 at 6:07 pm

      Here it is. Do I get the Nobel early like Barak did?

      • 19/10/2009 at 4:20 pm

        Thanks for the above, though it doesn’t categorically recommend children starting school at the age of 6.

        The feasibility of raising the school starting age in line with these changes should be examined.

        Compare with:

        Children should not start formal learning until they are six…

        The confusion lies with the definition of full-time education, not greatly helped by the Education Bill with the muddying of when compulsory education ends and when work-based learning or training starts, with the even more confusing 14-19 programme re-branding education as learning.

        Challenge Clive: Predict the statutory start and end ages of education for children for the next five years.

        This leads on to another query: if the Bill succeeds, as set out, does parliament intend to change the definition of “children”, if only for the purpose of employers?

        As for the Prize, why not?

  3. 18/10/2009 at 12:01 am

    What you have hit upon is the basic reason behind many schooling methods, why many people will delay their children’s entry to school and why many choose to home educate long term letting their child learn at their own pace. Most children are not ready for formal learning at such a young age.

    Until the mid 1800’s children were, on the whole, not given any formal education. Those that did receive an education received a tutor based education, mostly based on conversations. When they did start school, most did not attend formal lessons till they were about 11 years of age. Modern schooling techniques have been used for such a short amount of time, considering how long humans have been in existence.

    Though we are now a literate world, we all do need to learn a few basic skills to get on with life in the modern world, but the way we go about teaching it is not the way the human brain has been trained to learn over the last few thousand years. Children have always learned by following the example of their elders. They would role-play what they see around them. As and when their curiosity and their abilities grew, those around them taught them through verbal communication and hands on lessons. We can not say we are far superior to our ancestors because we can read and do sums. Most of us would die if we had to spend a month in the wild without any of our modern day amenities.

    So, if other nations, with superior literacy rates to us, do not formally teach their young to read till they are six or seven, and the medical and scientific experts suggest starting at six, then why don’t we wait? And why is the Education Minister trying to get everyone to start formal schooling at 4? Does he know something all the experts don’t? Does he not realize that the children leaving the Finnish school system, where they start formal education at 7, out perform UK students year upon year?

    You mustn’t forget, just because other countries do not start formal education until the children are 6 or 7, this does not mean children do not learn to read and write before that. What it means is that they aren’t formally made to do it till they are six or seven. Most children, so long as they have supportive adults in their lives, preferably their parents, will read when they are ready. They just need to be exposed to words and books, and their natural curiosity will take over. It is only in the past 150 years that we have forced children to learn in a classroom in a one-size-fits-all teaching method. We seem to have forgotten the power of leading by example.
    Here in the UK we have so many children leaving primary school without a good grasp on the basics, and so many leaving their schooling years without knowing how to read: why doesn’t the government listen to the experts?
    A child who learns to read in their own time, at their own pace and who has not been forced into it will be a child who reads for the pure joy of it. To enhance their love of learning is the best thing anyone can do for our children.

  4. Frank W. Summers III
    18/10/2009 at 2:23 pm

    When I was a wee lad in London a truant officer came to my home to tell my parents to send me back to school. As I recall and can reconstruct from a few facts as an adult these were the facts. I was playing hookie as we took many day trips around the UK and some long weekends around Europe. I was not yet five and was only in Kindergarten. The officer said that as a foreigner under the minimum age I was not required to go to school at all but that once I had attended and enrolled I was subject to truancy law.

    In my particular life it is not impossible that this law officer was lying and was put up to it for I was a very shy lad who avoided all but a few other people rather devotedly when possible and perhaps I was milking as much time off as possible. But I wonder if either Lord soley would know the law in the late 1960s in London or one of the commentators might know. Was this real or a ruse?

    In the larger question I think very young children should have good educational opportunities available for support but that family and community events should trump the classroom where good events are available or famliy play is good and safe. If this were the case to the age of seven or eight in as many places as possible I might be happy. However, the infrastructure of primary education has interests which must also be preserved.
    My memories of school in Britain are that school lessons were good but the playground had no plants and I thought that was very bad. Also in my hometown French, Spanish, German and English was the order for origins of last names. There was a Miss Plant and also a Miss Stone in my school and I thought they were teasing me when I asked their names. I cried because I was sure of it and had never met anyone with a name like an ordinary English noun.

    • Clive Soley
      18/10/2009 at 6:09 pm

      It’s quite possible the truancy officer was right – I suspect he was but you would have to delve into the history books to find out.
      I note your teachers names. As I had a Miss Gardner and a Mr Farmer maybe teachers were selected on their knowledge of growth in nature though how Miss Stone got selected must remain a mystery!

  5. Roxy Featherstone
    07/02/2010 at 4:25 pm

    From a home educator’s perspective, this whole argument is utterly redundant. Rather than forcing all children to fit the same prescription, as if you can enforce neurological conformity by fiat, home educators provide an education that is suited to the age, ability and aptitude of the child, as is required of a parent by s7 of the 1996 Education Act.

    This means that some HE children start formal learning at age 2 (yes, aged 2 – and no, this child wasn’t being hothoused, just provided with a suitable ed that he demanded). Other HE children will start formal learning at age 15.

    Should you be wondering, I have seen extremely successful outcomes with both forms of educational provision. The 15 year old, for example, went on to receive the top first in Maths and Computing and numerous prizes at Imperial College London, which seems to suggest that children can carry on playing to very good effect for much longer than we tend to assume!

    We therefore beg Members of the House of Lords to look closely at Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill which will, in effect, destroy the possibility of such educational diversity. Home educators will no longer be able to tailor an education to fit the needs of the child, but will have tailor it to fit the subjective, often prejudiced, and often very ill-informed judgement of a local authority officer who is meant to understand the needs of the child on the basis of one or two short annual visits.

    We will have no come-back in court. If we do not satisfy this individual who barely knows the child, the courts are instructed in the CSF Bill not to consider the quality of education provided, but to enforce the School Attendance Order.

    The Children, Schools and Families Bill will destroy the possibility of appropriate educational provision for many HE children, many of whom would not thrive in schools. Please do not allow it to pass.

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