Direction and the damage done;Letter

20th August 1999 at 01:00
Your broadly welcoming leader on the Office for Standards in Education's new responsibilities for all early-years childcare facilities (TES, August 6) contained several tacit assumptions that cannot pass unchallenged.

First, you state that "small children need both care and education'', a view that crucially fails to distinguish between education and learning. Non-directive, "holistic'' philosophies (such as Steiner Waldorf) offer a wholesome learning environment in which young children quite naturally become the leaders and the architects of their own learning through unstructured play and freely-chosen imitation.

As long as the environmental provision and atmosphere are appropriate, then not only is there no need to "educate'' them in any adult-prescribed or manipulated way, but such directed education may well have harmful effects in both the short and long term. (On this view, structured, adult-guided early-years education is educationally unnecessary and developmentally inappropriate).

You also assert that the French "structured programme of learning and play is based on a sound understanding of child development'' (and that we should therefore follow suit). Just whose "sound understanding'' is being invoked here? There exists, of course, a wealth of countervailing empirical evidence pointing to a very different understanding of child development; and what is required is an open debate between these opposing viewpoints, rather than the uncritical assertion of OFSTED's side of the argument.

Finally, you refer, seemingly positively, to the notion of young children being stimulated "intellectually'' - the appropriateness of which is, again, highly contestable, and the wisdom of which is being challenged in professional literatures as diverse as education and neuroscience.

More generally, OFSTED's latest incursion into early-years education is just the latest example of the state-sanctioned "control-freakery'' that is rampaging through our culture and which, in an early-years context, may well be significantly damaging a whole generation of our young children.

Dr Richard House Norwich Steiner Education Initiative 13 Denbigh Road Norwich

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