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Crowd control in Reception

Many Reception teachers have to make up for parents' shortfalls - and they can only do that in small classes, says Carol Bennett. Once again teachers are being slated for falling standards. But none of the statistics takes into account the changes in the children entering school.

Each year, Reception teachers have to accommodate more children who "can't" - who can't manage their clothes, fasten their coats, hold a pencil - and who are reluctant to try to do things for themselves. Of even more concern is many children's poor command of language.

It is all too easy to place blame, but much more important to look at the facts and address the issues.

Most parents today are themselves the children of relatively small families. Many have not seen a child raised, so their first close contact with a developing child is with their own.

In a world of rights and choices, many parents are reluctant to thwart their children. They want to be seen as allies rather than disciplinarians. While this is commendable, children still need boundaries.

Many early years teachers are familiar with young parents coming to them and saying: "I'm so glad he (she) is in school. You can sort him out now. I can't do a thing with him (her)."

The lack of discipline means that these young children expect to be able to do as they like. One reason for Reception class teaching being so exhausting these days is these children's reluctance to be directed; whether it is being told where to go, how to form their letters or how to behave with each other.

We need much smaller classes if the teaching profession is to make up for this shortfall in parental discipline.

Teachers cannot hope to attend to children's many problems in classes of 30 or more; crowd control is all that can be managed. This is not an adequate beginning to school, and children deserve better.

Meanwhile, language development is of even greater concern. Children entering school are now presenting problems with the processing of language. Even if they express themselves well and can make their needs known, they cannot always avail themselves of answers or explanations. A blank face stares back at the teacher who gives an instruction or an answer to a question.

Today's children are surrounded by noise. In supermarkets, at parties, even in the doctor's surgery, they are bombarded with sights and sounds which assault their very young senses. It is no wonder they are switching off.

With their limited experience they are simply not able to discern what they should listen to and what they can cut out. One of the major roles of reception teachers now is to persuade the children to tune in.

For children who watch a great deal of television, the question is not so much what does it do, but what are children not doing when they are watching. The answer, of course, is that they are not engaged in conversation, which demands listening skills as well as speech.

Again, if Reception teachers are to make up for the shortfall, this can only be achieved in small classes. If this government is really committed to raising standards, there must be a serious move to reduce class sizes.

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