England: Manifesto about school readiness

By David Whitebread, Sue Bingham, May 2014

The Association for the Professional Development of Early Years Educators in England has published a manifesto about ‘school readiness’. In it, the Association vents concerns about the increasing tendency of standardizing in early childhood education.

Photo: © Charlotte Fischer

We only start school once in a lifetime; at this exciting point early in life, a child arrives brimming with a huge range of attributes, some biological, some cognitive, some dispositional, some motivational. Even at the age of four, when a child may begin in a primary school Reception class, they come through the gates of the institution with a bundle of diverse previous experiences, a bank of knowledge and skills already mastered, a brain wired up and eager to absorb masses of new information and, most importantly, a disposition towards learning. It is the privilege of both parents and teachers of these young learners to foster these attributes and develop them, to scaffold steps into new areas of learning and to support them in facing new challenges as they prepare not just for school‐life, but for the longer term, setting the foundations for lifelong learning.

What is not at all predictable and uniform, however, is the combination of those attributes and skills with which any individual child arrives at school. Economic and social factors such as unemployment, ill‐health, homelessness, illiteracy all affect the well‐being of families. Stressed parents dealing with economic and social disadvantage may be limited in their ability to provide the responsiveness and cognitively stimulating care which fosters the development of early language and cognitive skills that facilitate learning. Hence, the potency of the child’s start in school is often overlooked in the focus upon their ‘deficits’ upon arrival. Indeed, the language used in much recent government guidance reflects a sense of growing anxiety and negativity about the state in which children are emerging out of the Foundation Stage into Primary classes. In its attempt to assuage this escalating anxiety, over recent years the government has intervened increasingly through early years policy and guidance for practitioners, aiming to ‘control’ the diversity of states in which children appear through the school doors and to standardise what will be taught to the children once in Year 1. This increasing intervention has been placing pressure on early years practitioners to make the children ‘ready for school’.

Tension has been mounting amongst early years educationalists in England as they perceive that those children leaving the Foundation Stage and arriving in primary school are being measured against a ‘deficit model’, a set of inappropriate, one‐size‐fits‐all standards of ‘readiness’ for school. In this paper we argue that these concerns stem from a mismatch between increasingly evidence‐based pedagogical understandings within the early years sector and the curriculum required to be delivered within Primary schools in England, arising from and compounded by the continued intervention of recent governments.

Read the whole manifesto

Go to: Save the Childhood

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