Teachers call for pupils to start school at the age of seven

Teachers call for pupils to start school at the age of seven to stop them being damaged by ‘too much, too soon’ culture

  • Teaching union says curriculum should be focused on play until seven
  • Early testing and formal lessons can be ‘damaging’ for pupils
  • ‘Childhood is important’ says top teaching union official

Teachers claim children are being pushed into formal schooling too early and should have a ‘play-based’ curriculum until they are seven.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT), which represents 327,000 educators, claims imposing a regular timetable and early testing is part of a culture of ‘too much, too soon’ in the education system.

It will debate the issue next week as part of a motion at the NUT annual conference in Brighton.  Teachers will discuss the importance of play and the appropriate foundation of learning for children between the age of three and seven.

The NUT says that formal education at such a young age ‘can be damaging’ for children, especially those who are the youngest in their school year.

The statement is in direct opposition to recent proposals by Ofsted and the Department of Education to start children studying earlier.

Jess Edwards, a primary school teacher and NUT representative from Lambeth, told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘There has been a drive over recent years, especially under the current government, to over-formalise the very early stages of education,’ she said.

‘That’s totally the wrong approach. Really, young children should be doing things like cooking, experimenting with the sand tray and playing games rather than being sat down and adding fractions.

‘We want an age-appropriate curriculum.’

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT said: ‘Childhood is important in its own right and needs to be recognised.

‘The focus on targets and results in nurseries is all too much testing too soon with little regard to the importance of emotional and social development of small children.

‘We cannot start labelling children as young as two years old as failing. Some parents will be unnecessarily worried about the progress their child is making and inevitably their concerns will be transferred.

‘Two is some five years younger than children in many European countries begin more formal education.

‘The difference of course is, that, particularly in Scandinavian countries, there is high quality pre-school provision using a play-based curriculum as an entitlement which does prepare children well for more formal learning later.’

Earlier this month head of Ofsted said every parent should be issued with a ten-point checklist of skills that their children must master before their first day at school.

Launching Ofsted’s first report into early-years education, Sir Michael Wilshaw said that while many parents ‘intuitively’ teach children vital skills, others fail to do so, condemning their offspring to struggle at school.

He warned that too many youngsters have been starting their education unable to use the toilet, follow simple instructions or even make themselves understood.

He also demanded more places for two-year-olds at school-based nurseries, particularly for poorer youngsters, to help them catch up with their wealthier peers. Sir Michael went on to attack the ‘middle-class’ idea that structured learning is damaging for young children.

Meanwhile, a poll has found that children are feeling stressed, anxious and afraid to fail due to a ‘targets’ culture in schools.

Too much focus on meeting targets is having a ‘hugely detrimental’ impact on pupils’ education, according to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

A poll conducted by the union found that pressure to meet particular objectives damages the quality of teaching, with teachers ‘teaching to the test’ and leaving less time for practical or creative work.

In total, more than half (53 per cent) of the school staff questioned by ATL said that targets make their students fear failure and make them stressed.

ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: ‘An over-emphasis on targets is having a hugely detrimental effect on children’s education.

‘In too many cases meeting the targets seems to be more important than children learning and gaining important knowledge and skills.’

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: ‘We totally agree that education should not be an endless treadmill of revision and testing.

‘That is why we are scrapping modules and January assessments to end constant exams and ensure pupils develop an in-depth and lasting understanding of a subject.’

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