Nothing bad to report on our nursery

4th January 2013 at 00:00
I want my toddler to be happy, not taught by Dickensian taskmasters, says Jo Brighouse

I've just been on the receiving end of my first report as a parent - a blank one. "Why have I got this?" I asked the nursery manager as I looked at the list of statements next to blank boxes. "Isn't this for you to fill in?"

"Well, yes, but we find it helpful if the parents fill in the boxes first and we tick them if we agree with them," was the reply. Basically, my nursery is getting parents to write the reports for them. I should probably be outraged but it is actually just another reason why I like the nursery so much - the staff would much rather play with the children than sit around filling out paperwork on them.

I'm not going to bother filling in the boxes. Unless there's an obvious problem, why on earth would you need to tick off learning goals for someone whose age is still measured in months? Besides, I talk to the nursery staff every day and they give me all the important information: if my daughter ate her lunch, whether she hit anyone.

The government wouldn't agree with me. In ministers' eagerness to start measuring children's abilities as they begin to crawl, they're talking of a test for two-year-olds and have also been questioning whether people with poor literacy and numeracy skills should be allowed to look after pre-school children.

Yes, I've noticed the odd spelling mistake in my toddler's daily diary sheet but only on days when they eat something tricky, like blancmange. This doesn't bother me in the slightest. The nursery staff are universally conscientious and caring and have a great rapport with the children. I want my daughter to be happy and well looked after; I don't need some Dickensian taskmaster changing her nappies. Besides, if they had kept jelly on the menu I would be none the wiser.

Sadly, my idea of pre-school education is probably seen as hopelessly unambitious in this thrusting new age of tracking achievement from fetus stage. When I was choosing a nursery, I let slip in one of my shortlisted establishments that I was a teacher. The manager immediately rushed me towards their reading schemes, their target cards, their phonics systems and their learning objectives hanging on the walls. The nursery was crossed off my list.

I saw two more nurseries over the next few weeks. One of them was set up as though it were a classroom, where three-year-olds sat in rows to look at flashcards. The final one was full of shiny, colourful toys, engaging staff and busy, happy toddlers who purposefully moved themselves from activity to activity without a progress chart in sight. We signed up immediately.

But while I hate the idea of toddlers being measured, I'm well aware that parental concerns about their child's education are all relative. I may not want her being forced through hoops just yet, but being the child of a middle-class teacher pretty much guarantees that my daughter's going to be locked in the cellar if she ever dares to write "we was" or fails to answer 7x8 correctly.

I am sure that this approach would be seen as decidedly education-lite when compared with some of the wealthier bits of London. On the rare occasions I have visited, I've found myself fascinated by parents competing with tales of home tutors, piano lessons for two-year-olds and toddler meditation.

My one consolation is that the Tarquins and Persephones being weaned on this exhausting pre-school enrichment programme are invariably the children banging their heads against doors or having massive and inarticulate tantrums out on the designer decking.

These are not the children who need nursery. It's the children whose parents assure you they have plenty of "books" at home when they really mean magazines; the children who find it impossible to write about what they did in their six-week holiday because there's literally nothing to write about. Their primary need is not to be measured. They need to be given attention and experiences beyond their home lives, so that when they look back on their early education they can remember more than a list of learning targets.

Jo Brighouse teaches at a primary school in the Midlands.

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