Why not panic?;Letter

10th April 1998 at 01:00
My heart leapt when I read your front-page headline "Formal schooling may be put off until six". It sank again when I read your comments "Don't panic over early years".

You agree that the arguments of early years educators are persuasive - but you then dismiss them with the unjustified assertion that most five-year-olds are old enough to follow the national curriculum.

Perhaps, you say, the better achievements of Swiss children are due to their teachers being the best paid in the world.

Maybe Belgian children do better because of their excellent pupil:teacher ratios.

But you don't propose that we should follow either of these countries and pay teachers better or radically improve pupil:teacher ratios. And you ignore the experience of other countries which also achieve better results with a later start.

The pressure from the top has finally reached all the way to the bottom - and it has been extended too far. I know no early-years teachers who think we are doing the right thing by forcing ever-younger children into formal schooling. A generation of children (particularly boys) are being put off school for life because some people believe that our obvious under-achievement in international terms can be reversed simply by starting formal education at an earlier age. There is no evidence that this "commonsense" approach is working.

What should we do? I, for one, believe that in contrast to the complacent attitude suggested by your headline, panic would not be a bad starting point.

SID CUMBERLAND 15 Upway Rayleigh Essex

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