When should formal learning start?

11th July 2008 at 01:00
Ministers are right to consider carefully when the teaching of reading and writing should start
Ministers are right to consider carefully when the teaching of reading and writing should start. And if they are concerned about raising standards rather than just making childhood less stressful, they must ignore the advice of those who see a link between the superior educational performance of some Scandinavian countries and their later start to formal schooling.

The Danes give their children as leisurely a childhood as the Finns and Swedes, but their pupils are rarely near the top in international comparisons of educational standards. This is because Danish has a spelling system that is nearly as rotten as ours, which makes literacy acquisition hard and time-consuming.

Recent research has established that the average English-speaking child needs at least three years to master the basics of reading and writing, while the rest of Europe takes just one year, and the lucky Finns need just six months.

If we really want our children to have a less stressful early life, as well as an equitable chance of making good educational progress, we should reduce at least some of our spelling irregularities. English is the only European orthography that has not been improved in any way for the past 300 years; it could do with a major shake-up.

Masha Bell, Independent literacy researcher, Wareham, Dorset.

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