And, rather unsurprisingly, the DfE struck-out (in both senses of the phrase).
The simple question boiled down to:
When should playtime end, and proper school begin?
A fair question too, since there’s huge variance and unclear outcomes:
- The independent (and international) sector welcomes children as young as three.
- The maintained sector currently goes for up to 15 hours per week of pre-school provision from the age of three, and then eases youngsters in around their fifth birthday.
- And yet some countries – with enviable results – don’t start “teaching” their children until they’re seven.
The concrete operational stage of brain development kicks-in around then, with logic and reasoning beginning to be deployed and physical concepts beginning to be understood. So pupils need to’ve been tooled-up, ready to hit the ground running by then.
- What knowledge and skills are needed?
- Who should meet that need? What’re the parental responsibilities, preschool provision duties, and what is the KS1 teacher’s purview?
- How formal should it be for best results?
- How much provision is required?
- Can it be funded, and how can it be organised?
Psychologists have identified two distinct phases of brain development in the first 7 years: the sensorimotor stage (0-2yrs) and the pre-operational stage (2-7yrs). The first phase is about the baby exploring new experiences and learning about causality, time and space. The second phase is where symbols and language become important, and where memory and imagination are developed. Relationships between things are discovered and problems are solved.
Surely it’s an imperative to ensure that ALL children receive the positive experiences that create strong synapses in the brain. The question then is how to do that effectively:
- With parenting classes and parent mentors?
- With creches / mother & toddler groups / pre-prep for all?
- By enhancing delivery at such places?
- All of the above?
And then there’s the thorny issue of the SoS’s idea of a base-line test. More testing, when many in the profession think that students are already over-tested!