Early school tests or play?

Put Tests to the Test

There has been much debate, more so in the UK than Ireland regarding the testing of children in early years education. Yesterday, the Daily Telegraph published a letter from 127 academics, opposing such testing and proposing more play-based learning instead and less political interference. Children play? How awful! The opposition to the letter probably says more about educators and parents than it does about the academics.

One experience I know about was a child whose mother taught in the child’s school. Come the STATS and she got him to do the test in her class, not his own class, then accessed the results of all the children in her son’s class on the school computer. She then proceeded to go round town boasting how her son and the neighbour’s son were the best kids in that class!!! She knows nothing about education. The poor deluded – though proud – mother/teacher doesn’t realise that research in Britain shows that children who perform well in such tests actually perform poorly in later years (see Guy Maxwell’s book What’s the Point of School?) play learn Peter Gray

Regarding the huge benefits of play read Prof Peter Gray’s book Free To Learn – you’ll never send your kids to school again! You can also visit a journal dedicated to play; Journal of Play. Would a government want that? I doubt it since they dictate the curriculum. As Prof Kay Wood has stated in her book Education: The Basics when education is centralised, the government decides what is knowledge. Here’s that letter;

We are deeply concerned about the impact of the Government’s early years policies on the health and wellbeing of our youngest children. The early years of life are when children establish the values and mindsets that underpin their sense of self, their attitude to later learning, and their communicative skills and natural creativity.

Though early childhood is recognised world-wide as a crucial stage in its own right, Ministers in England persist in viewing it simply as a preparation for school. The term ‘school readiness’ is now dominating policy pronouncements, despite considerable criticism from the sector.

The role of play is being down-valued in England’s nurseries. For many children today, nursery education provides their only opportunity for the active, creative and outdoor play which is recognised by psychologists as vital for physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. However, two key qualifications currently being drawn up for nursery teachers and child carers no longer require training in how children learn through play. Indeed current policy suggestions would mean that the tests and targets which dominate primary education will soon be foisted upon four-year-olds.

Research does not support an early start to testing and quasi-formal teaching, but provides considerable evidence to challenge it. Very few countries have a school starting age as young as four, as we do in England. Children who enter school at six or seven – after several years of high quality nursery education – consistently achieve better educational results as well as higher levels of wellbeing. The success of Scandinavian systems suggests that many intractable problems in English education – such as the widening gap in achievement between rich and poor, problems with boys’ literacy, and the ‘summerborns’ issue – could be addressed by fundamentally re-thinking our early years policies.

Instead of pursuing an enlightened approach informed by global best practice, successive ministers have prescribed an ever-earlier start to formal learning. This can only cause profound damage to the self-image and learning dispositions of a generation of children. We as a sector are now uniting to demand a stop to such inappropriate intervention and that early years policy-making be put in the hands of those who truly understand the developmental needs and potential of young children.

Replies to the above letter can be read here; Telegraph letters

Further Reading
The Overprotected Kid. A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without  making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution. By Hanna Rosin for The Atlantic

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