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Editorial: Targeting the basics

The Scottish Office appears happy to tackle head on the notion that formal learning is being demanded of young children before they are ready for it. Douglas Osler, head of the Inspectorate, told a conference on the under-eights (page five) that a sound grasp of basic literacy and numeracy could not come soon enough in primary and that the pre-school experience nowadays of almost all children meant that the traditional gentle introduction to P1 was no longer necessary. A full day at school should not be postponed until the leaves have fallen.

Investment in pre-school care and education, not to mention the early primary intervention which the Secretary of State lauded last week, demands a return. Mothers being able to go back to work should be one benefit. Higher achieving youngsters should be another. Provided that children barely out of toddlerhood are not subject to premature pressures (as some are south of the border in the race for a "good" reception class),no one should question the strategy.

But there remains a lurking suspicion best illustrated in baseline testing. Measuring the achievements of a four or five-year-old with a view to devising the best programme is one thing. Using baseline assessment to prepare the way for primary targets is quite another, for it invites pressure on all young children and possible discrimination against those whose performance is unlikely to be "helpful" to a school.

The Government has recognised the need for programmes combining health, care and education with better opportunities for parents and family life. The strategy has a long way to go but its existence is encouraging for professionals as well as for parents.

The Times Supplements have recently acquired a sister weekly magazine, Nursery World. From next week, in recognition of the growing area it serves and the distinctiveness of the provision shortly to come under the Edinburgh parliament, it will have an edition called Nursery World in Scotland.

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