Formal education starts too soon, says review

For many parents, the beginning of formal education marks the return to some much sought-after peace and quiet.

But according to a review of primary education, English children could be a case of too much too soon when it comes to learning.

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The Cambridge Primary Review reports that there is no evidence to suggest that an early introduction to formal lessons is beneficial – in fact, it could be just the opposite.

The review suggests that formal schooling should be delayed until the age of six and the play-based learning common in nurseries continue until that time.

Known as "Early Years Foundation Stage", this play-based curriculum includes some literacy and numeracy goals and extending this kind of learning would bring England in line with much of Europe, where school begins at six or seven years old.

The review, based on six years of academic study, says: "This would give sufficient time for children to establish positive attitudes to learning and begin to develop the language and study skills which are essential to their later progress".

Dame Gillian Pugh, co-author of the review, claims that formal lessons for four and five-year-olds could lead to children being "turned off" and says a later start would particularly benefit children with speech and language delays and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The review also calls for the numeracy and literacy-focused national assessment tests (Sats) to be scrapped.

Schools minister Vernon Coaker disagreed. He told the BBC: "A school starting age of six would be completely counter-productive – we want to make sure children are playing and learning from an early age and to give parents the choice for their child to start in the September following their fourth birthday.

"Our expert group on assessment said it would be a backward step to scrap English and maths tests at 11 and we are piloting a School Report Card, which will give parents a far broader picture of how schools are doing."

Let us know what you think? Is it a case of too much too soon for young children?