The Cambridge Primary Review, released last week, encouragingly made reference to pre-primary by recognising the importance of the early years. The Report maintained that education for young children is too narrow, too prescriptive and introduced at too early an age. The Review finds that “The English insistence on the earliest possible start to formal schooling, against the grain of international evidence and practice, is educationally counterproductive. The Early Years Foundation Stage should be renamed and extended to age six, and early years provision should be strengthened in its quality and staffing so that children are properly prepared – socially, linguistically and experientially – for formal learning.” Extending the EYFS to the end of year 1 was the recommendation of the government’s own Early Education Advisory Group, nearly two years ago, as well as the suggestion that the school starting age should be reviewed. Gillian Pugh, a former head of the National Children’s Bureau, who chaired the Review, also confirmed this view saying that when children are introduced to formal learning too soon it can have the opposite effect, putting children off the whole idea of learning for a long time. She added “There is no research evidence that an early access to formal learning does children any good and a lot of evidence that it can actually do some harm.”
These views accord with those of the Open EYE Team and give substantial weight to our concerns. We have consistently expressed the view that the EYFS statutory framework for learning & development has the potential to be damaging to the emerging love of learning so inherent in the nature of the young child, with its developmentally inappropriate requirements.
Whilst Open EYE recognises the concerns of parents that children should learn the 3Rs, it is important to emphasise that these basic skills are easily achieved through a less formal and more age appropriate approach when children are given sufficient time, in a developmentally appropriate way. This fact is borne out by the reports from many European countries, where children start school much later, but where the 3Rs seem to present much less of a problem.
The Cambridge Review is highly encouraging to the OpenEYE group with its commonality with what we, and others, have been saying to the government now for two years; but which seems to have been systematically ignored. The title of our film ‘too much, too soon’ seems to have hit the nail right on the head and, though the findings of this Review are all very encouraging, they will need to be ‘actioned’ before we can feel confident about any positive impact on improving the well-being and future success of our youngest children. It is gratifying to the Open EYE group to see the connectedness between early years and later now being given serious attention in an holistic way.