Formal schooling before the age of six or seven can cause “profound damage” to children, British newspaper The Telegraph reported quoting an influential lobby of almost 130 experts.
Traditional lessons should be put on hold for up to two years amid fears that a “too much, too soon” culture is being promoted in schools and nurseries, the group of academics, teachers, authors and charity leaders warned in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
They also called for call for a fundamental reassessment of national policies on early education.
They claimed that the current system robs infants of the ability to play and puts too much emphasis on formal learning at a young age.
The letter – signed by 127 senior figures including Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the former Children’s Commissioner for England, Lord Layard, director of the Well-Being Programme at the London School of Economics, Dr David Whitebread, senior lecturer in psychology of education at Cambridge University, and Catherine Prisk, director of Play England – suggests that children should actually be allowed to start formal education later to give them more time to develop.
However, a spokesman for Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, dismissed the claims stating that the signatories were “misguided” and advocated dumbing down.
“These people represent the powerful and badly misguided lobby who are responsible for the devaluation of exams and the culture of low expectations in state schools,” Telegraph quoted the spokesman as saying.
“We need a system that aims to prepare pupils to solve hard problems in calculus or be a poet or engineer — a system freed from the grip of those who bleat bogus pop-psychology about ‘self image’, which is an excuse for not teaching poor children how to add up,” he added.
By the English law, children must be in school by the age of five, although the vast majority are enrolled in reception classes aged four.
The lobby group, however, said that children who “enter school at six or seven” – in line with Scandinavian education systems – “consistently achieve better educational results as well as higher levels of wellbeing”. It would mean putting off the start of formal schooling for up to two years for most children, with experts suggesting that they should instead undertake play-based activities with no formal literacy and numeracy requirements.