Time for a revolution

23rd March 2007 at 00:00
Infants should learn through purposeful play, not from 'disgraceful'


Teaching primary 1 children to read and write with worksheets is "a disgrace", the Education Minister said this week. Hugh Henry is insisting on "a fundamental revolution" in the way five to seven-year-olds are taught.

Purposeful play is the right way to learn at the infant stages, Mr Henry told a conference on education reform in Glasgow: "Unfortunately, in this country we still have some teachers trying to educate children formally and getting them to read and write with worksheets."

His comments coincided with the latest plans from A Curriculum for Excellence, published today, on the early years. It endorses active learning, through spontaneous or planned play, and moves away from formal approaches to literacy and numeracy before the ages of six or seven.

Donald Christie of Strathclyde University told the conference that the biggest problem with the primary to secondary transition stage was that it exacerbated the attainment gap between children, a gap which was itself intensified by the early start to formal education.

Professor Christie said that if the Scottish Executive really wanted to change the first two years of primary to make it more like the pre-school experience, it would have to commit itself to improving the adult:child ratio - ideally along similar lines to Norway, where there are four or five children to one adult.

In an ideal world, he would like Scotland to follow the example of many Northern European countries where compulsory schooling spanned the ages of seven to 16 in one school, with youngsters thereafter choosing the "gymnasium"-style academic route or a vocational option. Failing that, greater efforts would have to be made to help pupils handle the transition better.

Mr Henry ruled out delaying the starting age for school to six or seven, saying he did not think parents in Scotland would find it socially acceptable. But he said he had told HMIE explicitly that P1 and early P2 had to become more like the experience of nursery and that teachers had to be equipped to ensure that happened.

The minister also announced that he had asked for a review of early intervention programmes, including Sure Start, which this year received Pounds 56.9 million, rising to pound;59.9 million. He said the principle of early intervention was right to help struggling families.

"But it is a huge amount of money we are putting in, and we have to ask if we are getting the best results from that," said Mr Henry.

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