Children are moving targets, not just in their very real energy and exuberance but as a result of the inner dynamo of child development that creates those many small changes which add up day by day. As a Child Psychologist I am in awe of the child’s capacity to grow from a tiny, helpless baby into a confident and capable adult. Quality education and good parenting go hand in hand to accompany the child on that journey to bring out the best in each child. For this to work you have to start from the child and nurture that potential. If you start something too early, whether it is toilet training or fractions, it will only take longer and be frustrating for everyone. So I was concerned to see Professor Wrigley from Leeds Metropolitan University suggest that the revised National Curriculum is trying to steal a march in the Global Race by teaching concepts earlier.
This might be acceptable if it was based on evidence from developmental psychology research or from educational pilot studies but I fear it is only political wishful thinking. I would love to hear from anyone who knows the basis for these changes. So what harm could it do? Shouldn’t we just try it out and see? Surely faster must be better? What could go wrong?
Well here are just a few possibilities. I’m sure you can add some others.
- Children who don’t understand concepts which are introduced prematurely and become frustrated and disengaged.
- Children resort to learning by rote but the lack of understanding prevents them from generalising the knowledge and using it independently.
- Knowledge becomes fragile and easily forgotten requiring frequent revision.
- The increased teaching time required pushes other subjects down the priority list and leads to a narrowing of the curriculum.
- A 2 tier education system emerges with more able children flourishing and their teaching being accelerated.
- A longer tail of SEN emerges which is due to the loss of synchrony between a child’s needs and the pace of the curriculum
- Capable and creative teachers become disillusioned with their role and teacher turn over increases
Of course I don’t know that any of this will happen but what I do know is this: if you get the timing right a child will learn more quickly and with greater enthusiasm. Maybe, just maybe, starting school at 4 years old is starting too early and this could be why Key Stage 1 results are not comparing well internationally. Later might be better. The rest of the world could be onto something.