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All children to start school at age four in primary reforms

5 May 2009 6,162 views 9 Comments

Tim Ross London Evening Standard
All children will be expected to start primary school at the age of four under reforms announced today.

The Government promised funding for full-time places in England from 2011. It marks a significant shift in policy and a move towards lowering the already early starting age for formal education.

Currently children have to start education in the term after they turn five, although many start earlier.

Many who are “young for their year” are kept at home until they are thought to be ready for full-time schooling.

But a government review said parents should not wait until January or the following academic year before enrolling their children and must be told about the “benefits” of starting primary education aged four.

Ministers stopped short of changing the law to force all pupils to start school a year earlier. However, parents warned that the “cruel” reforms would shorten childhood and lead to a generation of institutionalised children.

Margaret Morrissey, from campaign group Parents Outloud, said many children would not be ready for school by the age of four.

“It is going to put tremendous strain on very young children who haven’t reached that stage of development,” she said. “We are left with about three years of being able to call our children our own. After that, the Government will dictate what you are allowed to do with your child — when you can go on your holidays, when you can’t, what you have to do for homework.

“That will go on for the rest of their childhood from four years onwards. It is an extremely sad day.”

Ofsted’s former director of inspection Sir Jim Rose, who conducted the Government’s primary review, admitted that “opinion was divided” about whether children should start reception classes in the September immediately after their fourth birthday. But he said that for children born in the July or August, holding them back can damage their education.

Research has found that pupils who are young for their year can be regarded as “immature” when they reach school and score significantly lower test and exam results than pupils born at the beginning of the academic year in September.

The disadvantage can last throughout pupils’ academic careers and leave summer-born children less likely to go on to university. The review said: “Parents concerned, for whatever reason, about how well their child will thrive in a school environment will need clear guidance on the optimum conditions and the benefits to children of entering a reception class in September immediately after their fourth birthday.”

Under the reforms, four year olds will be allowed to begin primary school part-time. Ministers promised to allow parents the option of leaving their children in full-time nursery education for 25 hours per week.

Teachers will be given more training in how to make early primary schooling less formal with more activities based on play under the plan. The number of compulsory subjects will be dramatically reduced with six broad “areas of learning” to allow teachers more flexibility.

But all nurseries and primary schools will still have to teach the “nappy curriculum” for under-fives, including literacy targets.

The nursery curriculum, known as the Early Years Foundation Stage, expects children to be able to write labels and captions and begin to form “simple sentences” by the age of five. But only 28 per cent of pupils currently reach this level.

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As a mother of a son who was forced to start school at 4 years and 3 weeks old. I am disgusted and shocked by this reform. My son was not ready for school at 4 and therefore struggled during his first year. As a result we employed a tutor for him , in order for him to catch up with older class mates. Parents know there children and should without exception be given the option to let them start school at 5. In my opinion, Scotland have the correct system. The cut of date is end of Feb , so the youngest a child could be is 41/2 years and parents have the choice to start them at as late as 5 1/2 depending on there birthday. It still breaks my heart knowing that l have put my son at a disadvantage in education from the start and l am appalled that parents in the future will be forced to sent there child to school too early. Did they actually speak to parents of summer children?

– Jane, Fareham

Our daughter will be four at the end of August and will start school a couple weeks later. She has been in 20-80% of full time nusery school – at an excellent nursery – for over a year. We have a long journey to our chosen school (with small classes) because we do not believe over 20 young people can be adequately attended to let alone taught anything in one group. However, whilst we are willing to give our chosen school a go, we are currently reviewing leaving the country to obtain an education for her which we feel she deserves. Having been dragged across the floor by one arm by the deputy headmistress when I was 7, and reprimanded for refusing to copy off the blackboard that ‘I have ten fingers and two thumbs’, I’m not backing British education as a winner. I recently read that Prof Joan Freeman, who’s work I admire, is a Govt Advisor. It does not appear to me that much advice has been taken. Is this all a move to get Mothers back in to the workforce a year earlier? (Yes, both I and my Husband work; it should be a choice.) If our education system is so good to merit an extra year, then surely the people who decided this could release to us public masses the details of their research – I am sure after all these years of education we can understand it! For now, we carry out our own assessments of our daughter’s knowledge and levels of confidence and comfortableness; not for SATs of course, but to make sure that this educational experience does not diminish her in any way.

– Marie, Devon

Why is this such a priority now?

I thought the country was skint?

– Ian Gilbertson, Newcastle

Nursery schools afe fine for 4 year olds but state infant schools do not have the resources and crowd too many in a classroom lacking the visual stimulation that you find in a normal nursery. Dare I say it I know of one Finnish child, as that country has been mentioned, who was here for just one year and walked into Tiffin school without any extra tuition. The moral is, keep them out of school.

– Jack Spratt, Richmond, England

Couldn’y agree more, Neil. Apart from your comments, what I would like to know is when are our kids, or in my case grandkids going to be able to learn things like compassion, humour, and other things that can’t/will not be taught in school by the current PC brigade. At age four they are too young to be put into that useless system called education, where the top echelons are not interested in those old fashioned ideas like discipline, but just in preserving their high paid jobs. Not unlike the current batch of ministers. no experience of life, just grand ideas for the masses to be caned with.

– Alan, carlisle uk

How long until the State wants to take the child from you at birth and raise it the correct way? Wasn’t this way of thinking discredited by the Soviet Union’s collapse? The fanily is more important than the State and we all need reminding of that.

– Mark, London

The best educated kids are the Finnish, who start school at seven. Compulsory collective “education” is a form of child abuse – the state assuming parental control – and is extremely bad for children. The state has no business raising kids.

– Neil, London, London UK

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  • Deni, Wales said:

    It makes me so angry. Children should be allowed to be children. Forcing them into the equivalent of a 9 to 5 workforce at the age of 4 is abusive. Even when they get home they’re expected to do homework. Let them play. And let them feel like they’re more important to somebody than just 1 out of 20 in a classroom. What is this country coming to? I’m ashamed to be British. It’s basically the government believing they can do a better job of raising children than parents. They’ve shown even more clearly now that they have no idea. All they do is set children up to feel that they can fail, and to burn out before they even reach their teenage years. I’m disgusted.

  • Sue, Hampshire said:

    My son’s birthday is at the very end of August.It was quite ridiculous to think of a 3 year old boy starting school in a couple of weeks. I exercised his legal right not to sart school then, but to continue to attend nursery on a part time basis until the following September – the term starting after his 5th birthday. The school and Head were arrogant and tried to be emotionally manipulative when I informed them we wouldn’t need a place until the following year – especially underlining that we were unlikely to get a place the following year. In private the foundation teacher told me I was absolutly right. A place was found – but we moved shortly after that so it didn’t matter anyway. I have not regretted the decision to wait a year for one second. My son has just started High school, is confident, enjoys learning and in top sets for most subjects. Parents need to be supported in making the decision not to send their children to school until the legal age they are required to do so – July and August babies should not be expecyed to start school when they are just 4 – it is not just what they do in class but the whole ethos of the playground and the older children which have an enormous effect on their development. I srongly believe the cut-off date for Sept start must be changed, and the age for starting school should not be lower than 5.

  • samantha said:

    I just cant belive some of the things im reading and hearing. I say it again but this country has gone mad.

    Its not going to stop untill our poor little children are burnt out.

    My son is due to start in sep 2 weeks after his 4th birthday. We had wanted to put it off for a year but is putting him straight in at year 1 where expectations are greater fair? I think emotionally he will be better able to cope.
    We then applied for the space and have requested to defer untill jan but after reading these things again we think we should wait. Plus parents need to make a stand for whats right for their children.

    What happens to the premature children who’s milestones are sometimes slower than others because they were born to soon and fall into the july aug born cateagory?

    If they can prove that summer born babies do worse academiclly and often dont make it to uni etc
    and that vital parts of the brain that deal with letters and numbers sometimes do not develop properly untill age 4-7 why oh why do we put children in school aweek after their 4th birthday? Please some one give me a logical reason. It is surley, purley to do with money there is no wellbeing of the child taken into concideration.

  • alison mccracken said:

    i made the same mistake with my first son i did not knoe the system followed the sheep the nursery said he was ready for school, hence my gut telling me he was not. i sent him on advice from nursery biggest mistake i ever made i managed to defer him last year so at least he will not go to seconary school age 11, however the guilt of robbing him of another year at nursery being nurtured has never left me or him i guess he felt abandoned, the damage was done, i now work in a school which makes it worse for me. fortunatley my second son is due to go to school at the summer he will be age 5 and a half i still cant bear to put him in and am thinking of home educating! i do not feel i can let him go into the lions den.

  • Linda said:

    Many parents know and realise that starting school at 4 years old is way too early, but how many know that school is not compulsory? You do not have to send your child to school if you don’t want to, as a parent the responsibility for providing your childs education is yours and yours alone, you may delegate that responsibility to a school but you don’t have to, and if you do decide to home educate you don’t have to ‘teach’, give lessons or reciprocate school in anyway whatsoever, you don’t need permission. Google Home Education, it’s a whole new world! :)

  • Ina said:

    WOW!! Here I am in America trying to find a school for my just turned 4 year old! All this play theory in the day care system and he loves to write and wants to learn to read. He can write all his numbers and asks me to read his (made up words)and letters he writes.
    Children are so much smarter than we were back in the day! Why not give the opportunity if you do have a child that wants to learn. Here he does not qualify for schools because he was born after Dec. 1st!
    I found a sitter who is willing to work academics with him, and am still looking for a school that will actually harvest his love for academics!

  • David said:

    A lot depends on the child, My daughter was ready at 4 years old but was held back a year as her birthday was in January and so she is one the eldest in her group. Had she had the chance to start the year before we would have taken it as she was very disappointed not to go with many of her slightly older friends from nursery.

    My wife and I both have full time jobs, which is sadly required in Britain today – we get no benefits and so it is inevitable that children join the 9-5. Anyone who is fortunate enough to stay at home either is rich or gets a shed load of benefits or tax credits.

    As it is I would like so see school holidays reduced from the current 1/3rd of a year off as it is too disruptive to parents that only have 4-5 week holiday from their jobs.

  • judy said:

    this is a really helpful site for educational purposes – http://www.primaryheadspaperwork.co.uk

  • Autumn said:

    I am in America, so maybe I do not understand what school is like in England, but with that being said, I have a 5 1/2yr old in kindergarten and a 2 1/2 yr old in an early education program. they learn social skills, creative skills, reading, writing, manners, humor, communication skills,and so much more. They are taught through games and songs and art with very little ‘sit at your desk’ instruction. Both of my boys love school and love learning. They learn both at home and at school. I do not understand when some of you say that your 4 year old is not emotionally ready to go to school. Are England’s schools particularly harsh and rigid? My children have always enjoyed learning things – my oldest boy began reading at two because he wanted to learn how, and my two year old is learning to read now and loves it.

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