01 November 2018
By ‘little extras’ do we think the government means providing as Sue Palmer explains ‘ a rich, diverse environment inside and outside. Staff who know how to play with children in these environments and a training program to support staff to deepen and extend their professional skills’? Quality costs money and the expression ‘you get what you pay for’ perfectly fits our current UK education system.
The UK needs to seriously invest in quality developmentally appropriate education for children. Although of course to do this the government would need to come down firmly on the side of a child centred approach to learning rather than an early start to formal education!
Our national culture favours an early start to education. The UK has one of the earliest school starting ages in the world. However, our early start has nothing whatsoever to do with education or knowledge of child development. When the state school system began in 1870 the starting age was set early to get the poorest children out of their homes and off the streets as quickly as possible to then process them quickly so that they could enter the workforce. The sooner education started the sooner these now educated children could begin working.
Personally I’m not sure that that thinking has changed. Governments still seem to favour this approach to closing the gap and supporting children in poverty. Early schooling and government funded free preschool provision seems to still be about the end product, sustaining our workforce and economy. The intentions may well be good and I passionately support efforts to close the achievement gap. However, the glaring problem is that in order to be successful the early childhood provision must be quality. It must be developmentally appropriate provision so that it does not ultimately add to some of the glaring social problems that we face today. It’s not enough to get them in early and pour on knowledge. I use the word ‘on’ as opposed to ‘in’ on purpose as my 21 years of teaching have shown me that an inappropriate knowledge based curriculum delivered by an adult to children will merely wash over them. At best something might stick, at worst you create reluctant learners and the gap widens.
We need a knowledge based curriculum that is developmentally appropriate for the age and stage of the child. There is a wealth of research telling us what our youngest citizens need inorder to thrive. We live in an age where this research is accessible and yet many of our youngest children have to suffer inappropriate provision. There are still an alarming number of children who start school and are expected to begin formal education sat at a table with an adult led activity expected to carry out pencil and paper work. Or worse still ( in my opinion) are the early years settings who say they value play and the child but who marginalise it and devalue it by putting children through a rota of adult led and adult directed tasks with a smattering of play when they have finished working with an adult. They are truly missing the most valuable and crucial learning tool that we possess. It is of course play. Play in all its forms has the power to change everything. Educators, parents,the government and our society as a whole must recognise the importance and power of play in order for us to provide an education system for our children that ensures that they thrive. I wonder if a government that spends £420million on the state of our roads and £400million on the state of our education system can ever be persuaded to help?