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Pupils starting school too early could lead to 'erosion of childhood'

Just a quarter of teachers think that children are ready to start school at the age of four, according to a new survey.

Despite recent calls from Ofsted for more children to receive an early years education in a school environment, research by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers union (ATL) found that the majority of its members think children should start school later than they do under the current system.

Of those surveyed, 71 per cent said children should start school at five years or older, while less than a quarter (24 per cent) thought that the current school starting age of four was appropriate.

The survey also found that, according to the majority of teachers, today’s children are spending less time with their families than any previous generation. A motion being debated at ATL’s annual conference in Manchester today warns that this could lead to the “erosion of childhood”.

The survey found that 74 per cent of school staff said they thought families spend less time together now than five years ago. Over half (57 per cent) think families are spending less time together than they were just two years ago.

More than nine in 10 (94 per cent) said that this was due to more parents and carers working.

The motion argues that the problem could be exacerbated by moves to lengthen the school day and cut school holidays, which “do not put the child first”.

Families, the motion argues, “need a work-life balance which enables them to spend time together, not more time apart”, which could lead to the “erosion of childhood”.

An early years teacher in a state school in North Yorkshire said: “Some children are placed in before- and after-school care from 8am to 6pm. These children walk around like ghosts, do not talk to anyone, fall asleep frequently, do not progress as quickly as their peers. Their parents are also ‘too busy’ to support them in an adequate way at home.”

Steve Wood, a teacher at a state secondary school in Kirklees, West Yorkshire, said: “The pressures on family time have grown considerably and work-life balance for many parents is an increasingly difficult area – the necessity to stay in work means time spent with children isn't always a priority.” 

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said: “It’s really important for children to have time to be children, to play with friends and spend time with their families. However, increasing living costs mean that for most families it is now unaffordable for only one parent to work.

“Parents in the UK are working some of the longest hours in Europe and this puts a huge pressure on family life.”

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