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Early years issue

The assumptions underpinning the debate on Durham University's early years research (TES, August 31) are flawed and the key issues obscured. First, on whose authority is it assumed that under-5s should possess specific "cognitive abilities"? These all just happen to be directly related to formal learning, and (surprise, surprise) go on to form the dubious metric against which developmental "progress" and government policy success are assessed.

A burgeoning literature now suggests that "more is less", "later" is developmentally better than "earlier", and that to introduce young children to unbalanced intellectual learning is a waste of resources and can do long-term damage by wrenching children into adult awareness before they are ready for it. Children are not developmentally ready for formal schooling at this age.

Worse, the current system expediently pre-decides that children will start formal schooling at age fourfive. Only then is all policy (pound;21 billion's worth) geared towards shoehorning them into that system, irrespective of whether they have a natural developmental readiness for it. Then, the Government gets criticised to the extent that its very expensive policies fail as they inevitably will as these work against the grain of children's natural development.

By contrast, a child-centred, sensitive society would do it the other way around: first, making informed decisions about when it is developmentally appropriate for children to begin formal learning, and only then designing the work-life-school system so as to dovetail with children's emerging learning capacities. It would also surely find far better ways of spending pound;21bn for the good of young children.

Dr Richard House

Research Centre for Therapeutic Education,

Roehampton University, London

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