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Teachers Worried About Primary School Plans

By Dan Leach

TEACHERS in the North West fear that new government plans designed to improve learning could actually be detrimental to children. 

They worry that recent proposals from Schools Secretary Ed Balls to start youngsters at Primary School a year early could slow their learning development. 

Sandy Holtappel, one of the new pool of casual teachers who provide one-to-one teaching under another government scheme, said:  “I strongly feel that children should not be taught a formal curriculum at such a young age.

“Children should be able to explore, socialise and learn about their environment through a practical based curriculum with first hand experiences.

“We should leave formal teaching until they are older and most importantly when the child shows an interest and are developmentally ready.”

The former Derbyshire Early Years teacher conceded that this kind of standardisation might provide more stability but also said: “Relationships, nurturing and socialisation via their family and siblings is very important and should not be underestimated.

“If a child starts school younger is there enough research/evidence to say whether this in itself could be detrimental?”

Earlier this month Mr Balls said that kids should begin schooling the September after their fourth birthday in order to ‘hit the ground running’. 

However, critics say that many four-year-olds do not have the intellectual or social capacity needed to benefit in this environment.

A coordinator of reception and nursery at a Stockport school, who preferred not to be named, agreed:  “I feel very strongly that four-year-olds need play-based learning at this stage in their development. 

“They need to learn social skills before they can gain from structured learning. 

“At Primary School they are expected to be assessed but the kids are simply too immature at that age.”

These concerns are shared by Dr Kevin Woods, Professor of Educational and Child Psychology at Manchester University.  He warned that starting formal lessons earlier does not guarantee better standards.

He said: “International research does suggest that children need to stay out of formal classroom lessons until they are 6 or 7 and instead have specialised activities that will prepare them to learn how to formulate and translate symbols in lessons.”

And he dispelled the theory that mixing with more advanced children helps others to catch up.

He explained: “Watching a person translate a book does not mean that you will be able to. 

“It all depends on the type of schooling the kids receive and what they would receive otherwise.”

Didsbury mother-of-one Charlotte Simpson, 33, said:  “This is yet another crackpot scheme and another way for the government to take responsibility away from the parents for raising their kids.”

The idea follows a review of the curriculum earlier this year by the government advisor Sir Jim Rose. 

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