Play is foundation for learning;Letter

2nd July 1999 at 01:00
As the charity representing the interests of more than half a million pre-school children with speech, language and communication difficulties, we view with the greatest concern the recent comments of the chief inspector of schools and of education minister Margaret Hodge on literacy and numeracy in the early years.

Children need to acquire an enormous range of skills, especially the spoken communication which many of us take for granted, before they can even begin to learn to read, write and count. Afasic knows this from its own experience, for it is with these skills - auditory processing, memory, sequencing, motor co-ordination to name but a few - that children with speech and language impairments have the most difficulty, and where they most need extra help. They are developed largely through the play of which Chris Woodhead is so disparaging. Denying children these vital years is like trying to build a house without foundations.

We worry at the political agenda apparently driving the Department for Education and Employment and organisations such as the Office for Standards in Education. The very different and more successful practice of other European countries, where formal learning begins much later and reading scores are dramatically better than in Britain, is totally ignored.

And we are distressed that no politician of any influence now appears willing or able to speak up for the children, faced with this additional and counter-productive pressure at a crucial stage in their development.

Lorna Spenceley Deputy chief executive Afasic 347 Central Markets Smithfield London EC1

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