16 January 2008

Stop Abusing Children!

If you listen to the educational researchers who currently hold sway in the United States - including those advising every current presidential candidate - Republican and Democratic - no one in the Scandinavian nations or in Germany learns to read - "it is impossible," they imply, to learn reading without explicit instruction at the youngest ages. Of course years of moving this instruction down have done nothing to improve reading among adolescents - in fact, evidence is that these tactics help few and damage many - a tough set of facts hidden within the statistical fictions of large studies conducted by people with curriculum systems to sell.

Now the "No Child Left Behind" disease has jumped the Atlantic, and now infects the British Labour Party. And now 3 and 4 year olds are threatened with the nightmare of age inappropriate reading lessons which will likely exacerbate dyslexic conditions and teach young children to hate books and reading. It is a disaster in the making which may only be stopped by concerted political action. If you are a British citizen, please read the petition below, and sign it if you agree.

- Ira Socol

Dear All:

Please, please, please . . . if you have a problem with 3 and 4-year-olds having to learn to read and write (outrageously, this becomes law in the UK in 9 months time for all nurseries – not just state-funded nurseries), then please sign the following Downing Street petition: just click on this link and follow the instructions

They (the gov't) just haven't got it. They think the sooner a child starts something, the better it will be; the notion of age appropriateness doesn't seemed to have crossed their mind. There is masses of evidence (e.g. formal schooling in Germany starting age 6/7, etc) demonstrating that delaying formal learning and letting children learn through just playing is no hindrance to later literacy. In fact it helps.

If you want to sign the petition, please do it today, as to get over 1,000 signatures in a couple of days apparently gets 'registered'. Current total 469 !

Full text of this Downing Street Petition:

We, the undersigned, petition the Prime Minister to commission an urgent independent review of the compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) policy framework, and to reduce the status of its learning and development requirements to `professional guidelines'.

We recognise the government's good intentions in its early-years policy-making, but are concerned about the EYFS legislation, which comes into force in England next September.

Our concerns focus on the learning and development requirements, as follows:

1. They may harm children's development

2. They will restrict parents' freedom of choice in childcare and education

3. Their assessment profile requirements may place an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on those who care for young children

4. Recent evidence suggests that government interventions in education generally may not be driving standards up and may be putting too much pressure on children

5. There is significant evidence to suggest that introducing formal education too early is damaging to some children in both the short and the long term, especially to boys. Consequences may include the development of unpredictable emotional and behavioural problems, unwarranted levels of stress, damage to children's self-esteem and erosion of their enthusiasm for learning. Research has shown that 5 year olds drilled in reading and writing were outstripped four years later by children whose first year at school was more socially interactive and stimulating. Such evidence suggests that in practice (notwithstanding the reassurances offered in the legislation) the approaches to teaching that will be encouraged by broad-brush EYFS targets - such as that by the age of 5 children should "begin to form simple sentences, sometimes using punctuation" - are likely to be those which may be harmful to young children.

6. The EYFS will be mandatory across all settings – childminders, nurseries, playgroups, schools (including independent schools). We appreciate that the Government's intention is to ensure the same high standards everywhere, but we believe that this could be better achieved by investing the necessary resources in comprehensive staff training across the field. We do not accept that the EYFS encapsulation of child development reflects the views of professionals worldwide, nor do we accept that it is acceptable to mix developmental milestones with aspirational outcomes.

We note that the law allows for the Government to make regulations regarding exemptions to EYFS. However such exceptions are to be made only at the request of individual parents, and it will therefore be impossible for parents to find a childcare or educational setting which takes a different approach to the EYFS and therefore does not teach to its learning and development requirements. This is an unprecedented restriction of parents' freedom to choose how their children are cared for and educated. It may actually increase the use of informal care, with accompanying lower standards in some cases.

7. The EYFS profile demands that carers assess children against 117 different assessment points. With less than a year to go until implementation, arrangements for carers to receive training and ongoing support are seriously inadequate. Without such training and support there is unlikely to be any consistency of assessments and random "box-ticking" is a real probability. Even once trained to do it, assessment and recording will add significantly to the workload of those who care for and work with young children. It may skew the way staff observe and interact with those children, and the paperwork required will certainly take up valuable time that could otherwise be spent with them.

8. Recent evidence – including the reports of the Cambridge Primary Review, and the latest OECD PISA report (the "international league tables") - suggests that government-driven changes in education have been largely ineffective in driving up standards and may at worst be adversely affecting both educational standards and the quality of children's educational experiences. We see no reason to believe that the EYFS learning and development requirements would break this pattern.

In conclusion we believe that this unprecedented legislation could lead to harmful long-term consequences and therefore contradicts the responsible "precautionary principle" which should surely be exercised in all early-year state policy-making.


1 comment:

Carlotta said...

Have already signed the UK petition. Have witnessed far too many home educating children learning to read at age 8 plus and then rapidly going on to outperform their schooled peers to think that the sort of early pressure that is currently proposed is ENTIRELY UNWARRANTED and is often extremely damaging.

And of course the damage isn't limited to the field of literacy. Have recently read a book by Barbara Tizard entitled "Young Children Learning" which without an apparent agenda, exposes the idiocy of much early years nursery education: the paucity of child/adult interaction, the lack of embedded and implicit knowledge in most conversations between staff and child, the anxieties that assessment creates in the child and the resulting deficits that the teacher falsely imagines that a child has...etc, etc and ergh.

Tizard contrasts the nursery provision with the great richness of the interactions between child and mother, the shared knowledge, the fact that the child is much more likely to initiate the conversations and to ask the questions, (ie: be motivated to learn), the fact that the child is much more likely to challenge the answers she is given, the greater complexity as well as idiosyncracy of the issues that are dealt with...eg: motivations, very tricky moral issues, past and future events, complex comparisions etc, etc. BT also draws attention to the often unintentionally educational content of many of the child/mother conversations.

Her insights ring so very true that it seems quite bizarre that they are not more widely acknowledged. As it is, every policy maker and every parent could usefully read Tizard, it seems to me.

Apologies. I usually strive to leave calm, considered comments, but so many young children are being damaged unnecessarily by their early (and later...I think Tizard's critiques apply to the schooling of older children too) educational experiences and it only looks set to get worse, that it is very hard to remain relaxed about this.

Am finally beginning to get a better handle on why we now home educate: both my children repeatedly said they were bored stiff in playgroup. At least their teachers had the grace to just gave up on us, and didn't ask me to make the home environment more boring as my nursery school teachers asked of my mother.