When should formal learning start?

11th July 2008 at 01:00
The need to get rid of targets for five-year-olds isn't just an educational issue ("Delay formal classes until 6", TES, July 4)
The need to get rid of targets for five-year-olds isn't just an educational issue ("Delay formal classes until 6", TES, July 4). Pressure on children to learn to read and write at such an early age is only exacerbating a wider and more serious problem in UK society: the poverty of verbal communication skills.

Every year, 3,000 BT staff do voluntary work in UK schools, helping pupils with speaking and listening - and it's here that they see the real impact of parents who do not communicate well enough with their children. In some parts of the UK, up to 50 per cent of children do not have sufficient communication skills to engage with learning when they start school. This is amplified by the reliance on texting, emails and social networking sites, and the rise of a quickfire communications shorthand.

As per the approach in Japan and parts of northern Europe, children shouldn't be taught formally to read and write until they are seven or eight, giving them space to nurture those verbal skills that lead to expressive individuals. The technical skills of reading and writing will soon follow, but they shouldn't be allowed to replace the forms of communication that underpin communities and, ultimately, make us human.

Dave Hancock, Head of education and volunteering, BT.

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