Oh dear... just when I thought I could be positive and blog nicely- Mr Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw comes out of the woodwork and announces that pre-school education is failing the poorest children in the UK. He goes on to say that pre-schoolers are unprepared for school, have poor language and can't hold a pen properly...oh and they can't identify numbers!
Dreadful isn't it? Or is it? What exactly does this mean? The assumption that most poor children are badly served by pre school education is a little bit simplistic. We are assuming that the lack of preparedness is all down to the provision... of course lack of stimulation and support at home might have a teeny bit to do with it... or lack of opportunity from financial limits within the home... or parents who have never had adequate role models as children themselves-so perpetuating the issues above. Admittedly, these issues need addressing but its the parents who need the help as much as the children-and we did have something called Surestart for this didn't we?
Moving swiftly on-wouldn't want this to become political... are we wishing to eradicate childhood completely? We are seriously talking about formal education from two years are we? With testing and assessment no doubt? I feel that we are forgetting those children who are not ready-or are immature. I have varying views on pre school-mainly drawn from experience with my own children and grand children and from my teaching career. Certainly, there is a place for it and many parents have to rely upon early years provision because they work, but should we be forcing toddlers into formal learning? Whatever happened to experiential child centred learning? Oh I forgot...Mr Gove happened! My three children all nurtured in exactly the same way produced three very different responses to nursery and Reception education.
Number 1 son- was shy, quiet and lacking in confidence-not great at socialising. We lived in the East End of London and in a multi cultural multi ethnic environment. He began nursery at 3. He took to it like a duck to water. He enjoyed it, interacted, learned to be sociable, grew in confidence and when Son number 2 arrived two weeks after his 3rd birthday he relished the time away and never missed. He struggled in Reception but then fond his feet higher up the school and is now a communicator and journalist. So one point in favour of pre-school education.
Number 2 son-was outgoing, boisterous, inquisitive and demanding-we moved back north to a lovely local pre-school, rural setting not much diversity. I had to drag him kicking and screaming every single day. Socially he was fine, educationally a kinaesthetic learner, a bit of a disparity between verbal learning and written-but hated every moment of pre-school-indeed only really enjoyed school at Sixth Form level. He was found to have dyslexic tendencies at age 17-always seemed to under achieve-until University and then came out with a good 2:1-like his brother.
Daughter-late addition-went to pre-school at 2.5years. Loved everything, confident, quick, read at 3, counted added, subtracted by 4-a natural! Socialised well and enjoyed her time. Now at University in 2nd year Journalism degree.
I can't account for any of these reactions-we did the same things with each, they all had opportunities and child centred provision-but had either of the boys been channelled into a regime of formalised learning we would probably have lost them. Its all a matter of readiness individually and remember these children are very young-plus each cohort has a wide year age difference so why would we expect them to have the same bench marks and achievements? I realise my children had the advantages many are not lucky enough to have-but the variety of maturity and readiness is immense without the socio-economic problems many are beset by. Many have never eve learned to play and to experience things-they haven't been read to, or played with-Wilshaw is correct in this-but surely the problem must first lie with remediating the parents? Surely much of the input in early years must be their job not pre-schools and minders? Some of these parents are products of the exact same issues their children are experiencing and the pattern of inadequate parenting must be addressed by educating the parents-not formalising pre-school education.
I have grave doubts that Mr Wilshaw has even considered talking to the many excellent professionals who lead Early Years. Let them take the lead-I don't oppose nursery and pre-school education but please let it be child-centred rather than data driven and formal! I don't want my grandchildren processed like meat in a sausage factory-I want a safe, inspiring, interesting environment for them to play, experience , experiment and enjoy-let early years education have some of that old sparkle and magic-a little bit of awe and wonder. Or is that too much to ask? Perhaps we ought to hothouse babies as they leave the womb and get them working... and then there's the embryos....