Why I teach my children. Part 1 – Why not?

Did you know that aged 5 Finnish children are 6 months ‘ahead’ in maths compared with their English contemporaries?

It is a fascinating fact to me on a number of levels. I teach my three children maths at home (actually it is more my physics teacher husband doing the elder two now), I taught the younger two to read. I began to show my youngest letters and numbers when he was two. I don’t do much other literacy stuff though because it seems likely that long term they will benefit most from just reading lots and doing interesting things. My decision to formally teach my young children reading and maths (and openly admit it) makes me almost a social pariah. If you go on Mumsnet middle class parents must excuse any academic focus by explaining that their ‘dd’ or ‘ds’ was falling over themselves in desperation to learn. Otherwise you are (horror horror) a ‘pushy parent’. I will stress right at the start I don’t think other parents should do what I do at all, just that it has benefits and is fine if you want to.

In my next post I will give some of the positive reasons I have for teaching my children but this one will address the arguments against doing so.

1. Some content is appropriate for school, other content for home.

Finnish parents don’t believe in teaching their young children formally but the research paper said they didn’t learn that extra maths at nursery (of course, they don’t go to school till seven). It seems that what a culture views as formal academic knowledge can vary enormously. While in England many parents will take trouble to ensure their child can count to ten, place value (tens and units) is for school (unless they really beg…). I think many just assume that the cultural norm is ‘the right balance’ when differences between cultures suggest any lines drawn between what can healthily be learnt by a five year old, or cause harm, are arbitrary.

2. Children miss out on childhood because they are taught stuff.

Everyone has their own priorities for their family time and sitting down to do some maths with your kids might not be high up your list – cool. However, there is often an implication that time spent doing academic work at home is robbing young children of golden moments (presumably otherwise spent climbing trees and frolicking in streams). Well my kids do plenty of the frolicking stuff actually but I am more likely to be robbing them of half an hour playing Minecraft. I wouldn’t want a significant part of my childrens’ home time taken up with learning maths etc . I want them to play and that is mostly what they do…

3. Academic work is harmful to young kids

I find this argument faintly absurd. Yes, you may tell your tot what a tractor is but the number two is DANGEROUS. Actually it is more silly than that. Teaching numbers to tots tends to be acceptable but time on the alphabet is hothousing. You hear people saying ‘children don’t need to be bothered with that stuff’. Well that is correct, young children don’t ‘need to’ but it doesn’t follow that it is corrupting of childhood innocence if they are taught.

4. Academic content is fine if it is learnt naturalistically

When my little ones had baths I told them how to wash their face and under arms etc. I told them how to brush their teeth and how to carry scissors and hang up their coat (wish they had ever learnt the latter). However, when it comes to anything that could be viewed as academic there is a common fear that instruction is in some way harmful. In fact there is a sort of hierarchy of what I’ve found will sound socially acceptable in conversation with other mums:

  • Instructing your child: DO NOT ADMIT IT
  • Instructing your child in response to their expressed desire to learn something: MUST PROVE THEY WERE DESPERATE
  • Teaching your child in a playful way (unrequested by child): DOWNPLAY IT
  • Teaching your child in a playful way (requested): HOW LOVELY… (but only when they ask to)

I’m not sure a child sees much difference between being instructed how to wash (or learning to swim) as opposed to recognising letters.

5.  Children should learn when they are ready

Readiness is a funny idea. If you aren’t a paid up Piagetian then the assumption children must wait until they have reached the developmentally appropriate stage  before they can be taught doesn’t ring true. Sure babies don’t do quadratic equations but a child is always ready for their own next steps. When I began to show my two year old how sounds linked to letters he showed no curiosity. I would look at an alphabet book with him for a few minutes at bedtime before reading his stories.  My middle child had learnt her letters when she was three just listening to her big sister doing her school work. If teaching her to read at five was like ploughing a lush and fertile meadow, teaching my two year old son to recognise letters was like an American settler’s first attempt to break up the prairie sod. I would never have had the confidence to persist with my previous children. I am well aware how that analogy will make some readers recoil and I use it quite consciously. He was not a quick learner but we weren’t in a hurry. What was fascinating was seeing his curiosity bud and blossom as a consequence of me opening up the world of letters to him.  Responding to a child’s own interests is a good and lovely thing but it is also a beautiful experience to show your child a world they did not know existed and watch their interest gradually ignite.

6. They will be put off or get bored at school.

Well it didn’t happen. My children loved stories and so when they were able to read books for themselves they did so. If an experienced driver initially struggled to learn it has really no bearing on whether they will enjoy the destinations they now drive to. The mechanics of reading, like driving, is a means to an end. My kids frequently say maths is their favourite subject at school despite many extra hours of slog at home. Well they find it easy so no wonder they are confident and able to enjoy it. I was worried with my middle child that she would be bored at school and so hardly taught her to read before reception. I now realise that within a term of schooling  the progress of the children in a class is so variable that there is no one homogenous group to stick with.

There are campaigners who claim to be protecting childhood from things like exposure to adult media and marketing. But these campaigners slide into their rhetoric the idea that formal learning is also a new threat to childhood. In fact many of them believe children should learn through play until they are seven and even then consider traditional forms of teaching unacceptable. Everyone does what they think is best for their own children so I do resent being told by self appointed champions of childhood that they know best. This post is really explaining why I think those campaigners are wrong. but it doesn’t explain why I do teach. For that explanation please click on my next post!


Looking for progress? It is a mirage.

How do you know if your students are learning? There are two usual ways of tracking them:

1. Check how well they have learnt the specific stuff you have taught them.

2. Decide if they have moved up a generic hierarchy(such as levels) devised to describe ‘progress’ in a particular subject.

I am writing this quick blog because option two is so standard that Ofsted inspections depend on it but my school uses option one and I thought people might be interested in how differently things can be done. The demands of comparative accountability require state schools to use progress measures. The second option also arises because of a distaste within the education establishment for the idea that education is about learning a body of knowledge. The idea of actually comparing schools by checking how many students in a year group can recite, or explain Hooke’s Law or a myriad of other facts, seems almost absurd (although it is what GCSEs do). However, what is more absurd, to an outsider such as myself, is the alternative. How can I really check my year 9 history students have made ‘progress’ over time in some generic sense, that doesn’t actually hinge on whether they have learnt the latest stuff they have been taught? That apparent ‘progress’ will evaporate if students make less effort on the next topic (or my teaching is poor). Yet despite this, progress in history is expected to be linear and measurable. I do think there is such a thing as ‘being good at history’ but it is too contingent on grasping content to be independently measurable. The old national curriculum levels tried to suggest there was general progress that could be made in history, or science, or geography that was generic and not very content specific but if you are interested in reading about it, all these ideas are pretty problematic, see here, here  and here.  Using the idea that a child is making ‘progress’ rather than simply learning more stuff can work better in subjects where the content is more hierarchical such as reading at primary level, maths or languages although even then it can lead to short termism in approaches and can be problematic because models of progress are often inevitably flawed.
Levels are now pretty widely criticised but the point of my blog is to argue that there is no point choosing another model based on charting overall progress in a subject over time. That whole idea which started with the national curriculum is flawed.
In my school we are able to check if students are getting better at learning what they have been taught (Option 1).We do not track progress. Our tracking starts with benchmark tests on pupil entry to the school and then involves me giving my impressionistic grade of a student’s standard of work and effort about every half term. If they have learnt and understood the material really well, relative to the cohort, they get an A.
[Pause to allow people to recoil in horror…]
…I’ll continue. If I think they have learnt it fairly well they get a B. If their knowledge and understanding is fairly incomplete they get a C etc, etc . So if a student starts to get fewer As and more Bs on their half termly report cards this shows up on the data analysis. Actually it is rare for the report card to come as a surprise. I do wonder if, in practice, this approach is really what is happening anyway in many schools when they assign levels,  see a brilliant description here. “The students who have learnt the stuff really well must be a level 6…”. I don’t think my school’s system is especially wonderful, it is impressionistic. However, at least it is based on judging whether a student has learnt rather than a vague and problematic notion of ‘progress’ .
In my school most interest is placed in the effort grades (1-6) also provided. A string of 4s for effort can lead to a lot of hassle for a student, so they try to avoid that. What is fascinating to me is the way my school’s system is focused on whether the student is making the effort to learn rather than whether the teacher is successfully teaching. I think this is very healthy from a student’s perspective. It is not that department heads and management are unaware of weak teaching because of this approach. We might know from a myriad of indicators who is struggling to teach effectively in our schools. Statistical evidence in my school can come from comparing results in subject tests and end of year internal exams as well external exams. Anyway, I’d say the difficulty isn’t identifying a teacher who is really struggling, it is effectively helping them to improve.
I am in favour of accountability but the uncomfortable fact is that the only, even moderately, effective way to compare schools fairly is through the setting of external tests (such as SATs GCSEs and A levels) which can compare how much stuff students in different schools have learnt and understood. I don’t say this because I love SATs or think they were that great. However, the idea that you can chart a student’s progress, in the <em>majority</em> of secondary subjects, let alone assume the stats you produce provide a common currency, is a mirage.

In praise of short lessons

At my school our lessons are 35 minutes long and there are 41 timetabled lessons a week. Years back I used to shake my head at such an old fashioned structure, unfriendly to pupil centred approaches and staging exciting role plays or other set piece lessons. After moving from a school with longer lessons to my current school I would dismissively exclaim at the way 35 minute lessons encouraged didactic teaching… It is also true that longer lessons are chosen in schools that have more issues with behaviour as transitions are a problem.

As the years have passed I have done many fewer of those time consuming set piece activities in my lessons and have learnt a really useful golden rule in teaching. If you find that you continually reject certain approaches in your day on day planning, despite believing you should use them, it is probably not that you are lazy. Actually the sensible part of you knows they won’t work so well, whatever you think you believe.

The traditional 35 minute lesson has been preserved in my school perhaps because public schools tend to market themselves on delivering a traditional education. Such schools are sheltered from shifting winds of change in education, experiencing them as mere breezes that are felt but have little impact. There are strong arguments in favour of preserving tradition. It is the combined wisdom of past generations and often we don’t even know what we lose when we change things. Recently I had a blinding realisation. – that there were good reasons why short lessons used to be common.

1. Memory: When you see your classes more frequently in a week you have many more opportunities to recap and revisit concepts at spaced intervals.

Kirschner, Clark and Sweller point out: ‘if nothing has been changed in the long-term memory, nothing has been learned.’ So how can we help students remember what they’ve learned? Cognitive psychologists such as Bjork are in agreement about what is best:

a.Spacing (rather than massing) practice: information that is presented repeatedly over spaced intervals is learned much better than information that is repeated without intervals.

b. Interleaving: although people think that they learn better when content is blocked, rather than interleaved, people actually learn content better when it is interleaved with other content.

c. Testing: using our memory improves our memory: the act of retrieval helps us remember the things we recall.

So by having more frequent lessons we really help our students remember i.e. learn.

2. Time efficiency: Although we have 5 minute gaps between each lesson, with short lessons you waste much less time on extraneous activities added to give pupils a breather or buy their flagging attention. You can teach something in the most efficient way, in fact you are forced to be time efficient to ensure there has been adequate progress in the lesson. If ‘time is the currency of education’ (Daisy Christodoulou?) 35 minute lessons lead to a frugal approach. You simply can’t fit in redundant starter activities, there just to ‘warm everyone up’ but it is amazing what you can fit into 35 minutes if you have to. When you have chosen to do a ‘jazzy’ lesson, it has to fit into the time available, leaving plenty of teaching time left that week for other stuff.

3. Class management: it is much easier to keep track of missing homework, pin down recalcitrant pupils and feed back promptly when you see students more frequently.

4. Formative assessment: If a lesson goes badly not so much damage has been done and there will be another lesson along soon to put things right. There is much more unavoidable use of formative assessment as you adjust each lesson in the light of the last. I sometimes find that having only lost 35 minutes on a ‘write off lesson’ I am able to plan a belter for the next lesson, when I make good use of what I have learnt from the last failed attempt to build better understanding than if things had gone fine in one longer lesson. With short intervals between lessons misconceptions are quickly corrected.

5. Timetabling: Short lessons create a flexible timetable model. You can create more balanced timetables, including for part-timers. It is possible to have doubles for art and singles for languages and maths within the 35 minute structure. A mix of a double and two singles at GCSE or A level also works well.

6. Planning time: I know I will sound lazy here but I am not, I spend hours planning. I am totally committed to getting the best from my students and absolutely want them to appreciate my subject. However, I am a pragmatist. I think very long lessons require more planning time (teaching minute for minute) compared with short lessons. This is because it is more of a challenge to keep pupils’ attention and variety must come through changing activities, rather than moving to a new subject in a new classroom. Time is precious and there is an opportunity cost here. I am not arguing for boring, lazy teaching but I don’t think students really benefit educationally from the current obsession with all singing, all dancing jazz hands lessons and I think that students can learn and enjoy a lesson despite a predictable format to it.

There may be good reasons for choosing longer lessons but I don’t think the advantages of short lessons are widely appreciated. As I said, traditions evolve for good reasons and we often dismiss them as dated, unaware of their advantages. Unfortunately, I may just have realised the value of short lessons but it seems my school may soon be attempting to modernise, moving to a new format with much longer lessons…


You’re not happy? Blame your schooling.

Should schools be prioritising the goal of producing happy well rounded children? I suppose that depends what that means in practice. How do I ensure my children are happy? How do I make them well rounded so they can lead happy fulfilling lives?

Well for starters… I do believe that parents should be a bit selfish. I’ve got friends who think they should respond to their child’s every whim and a parent’s selflessness seems to be directly proportional to the child’s selfishness. It strikes me a child needs to learn to be selfless as it gives them freedom from being a slave to their impulses. There has been a lot of debate recently on twitter about creating well rounded, happy, individuals. So is that my rule no. 1? The problem is that lots of people would disagree with me, in fact, now I say it, I mostly disagree with it myself. For example, I often worry that I should prioritise my children *more*. I must stop getting engrossed in twitter. My kids have developed a special abrupt shout, like when you call a naughty dog, to jerk me back into family life from my on line abstraction. Maybe selfishness isn’t so good. Ah say the wise ones, it is all about balance. That is so true but exactly where on a sliding scale of entirely self centred (at 0) and servant to every childish whim, (at 10) should I plump?

To be honest my angst means my views are often contradictory. My children do maths with me at home and learn instruments but even in this I am conflicted. When does parental help become ‘pushing’ or, heaven forbid, ‘hothousing’. I have told my children that what is most important is that they strive to be kind and decent human beings. Oh, but now I’m worried! Could it be my children are just doormats? By giving them a conscience have I just made them endlessly critical of themselves? Maybe I really have lowered my eldest child’s self esteem and that explains the friendship problems she had at school. The girls that bullied her seem pretty happy, untrammelled by conscience. It is a dog eat dog life out there after all and I should be preparing them for that.

Arghhhh – I JUST WANT MY CHILDREN TO BE HAPPY. To grow up WELL ROUNDED. Um, well I think that is what I want for them…

Maybe my particular parental angsts are uncommon, I don’t know, but I’m sure virtually all parents worry. We want our children to be happy and well rounded but we are pulled every which way. We’d give everything if we could just be sure it was the right everything! I think that is why I found so much of the rhetoric I read up on for my last blog post last week rather worrying. As a parent I am conflicted everyday about how to help my kids to be happy and well rounded and yet school literature, especially for early years, frequently states with enormous confidence, not just that they want kids that are happy and well rounded (who would seriously disagree) but all things being equal, they claim emphatically that their approach WILL ensure this.

My question is HOW ON EARTH CAN THEY BE SO SURE? What is it that they know that I don’t?

After writing a first draft for this post I saw teachers on Twitter arguing that their primary goal was to make children well rounded *above* literacy and numeracy. I thought this was my job as a parent – and I sent my kids to school to deal largely with the academic aspects of that goal and to learn how to rub along socially etc as a useful byproduct. Through school kids do learn much more than academic subject matter but if as a teacher you are going to prioritise happiness, present and future, as an educational outcome ABOVE more measurable academic goals surely you need to know you are doing the right thing or you might just be wasting monumental amounts of time that could be devoted to more efficient ways of making kids cleverer? However, outside really broad societal norms that virtually all would agree on I suggest that we are all just guessing when it comes to forming well rounded happy individuals. If parenting or schooling are psychological engineering enterprises, we don’t really have a clue, do we? I can accept research helps us as teachers. The enormous weight of converging evidence on reading means I am happy to say what children need to learn to read confidently but learning to read is a very narrow goal. I am willing to apply principles suggested by Willingham and Dweck to my parenting and teaching although even here it gets dodgy. Have you noticed the different way these psychologists’ ideas have been applied by opposing groups in education? However, I’ve heard many teachers (mainly of younger children) claim they make happy children. Do they know the secrets of happiness?

It is easy to CLAIM your school produces happy children, well at least at primary level where it is simpler to produce ‘happy’ children to prove your point. At secondary level those sort of assertions are a bit more likely to bite you in the bum. Secondaries are more likely to stick to claims that can’t be disproved as easily like ‘we create life long learners’.

To me it does seem odd to even consider HOW you teach children as especially relevant to a child’s happiness or ability to cope with life. My eldest went to a very progressive primary, followed by a traditional prep school. They both claimed to be producing happy, well rounded children, though in markedly different ways! At both it was the state of her friendships that dictated my daughter’s happiness at the time. Next most influential was whether her teacher ‘got’ and appreciated her (obviously wonderful) personality. If the school had a low tolerance to playground nastiness that also helped. She was often lucky in those regards in both schools. Perhaps schools can offer activities that mean kids are ‘well rounded’ as in they have more life experiences. However, the implication of much I read is that the style of teaching (varying with ideological approach) makes a significant difference to happiness and psychological traits such as resilience. In France they do early years and later schooling very differently. Are French tots or young people intrinsically less happy or less well rounded? Are they happier long term? Goodness knows – but whatever people assert, we don’t know!

We might not know for sure what impact teaching style could have on a child’s long term prospects but there will always be clear disagreement among parents on the best way to achieve happiness for our kids. As I tell my A2 political ideologies students, it all boils down to different views of human nature, are humans naturally good or instinctively selfish? Your take on that will lead to clearly different priorities. Despite all my angst I do have some assumptions I believe and follow. Some of my friends think similarly for their children, some strongly disagree (harmonious toddler coffee mornings depend on knowing what you can say to whom!) Should state schools, a universal provision, be following theories about happiness (prioritised over acquiring numeracy an literacy) that are based on ideological assumptions possibly half the population will disagree with? If they do, should it be state mandated as with early years provision?

Finally, do we even know that the pursuit of creating ‘well rounded’ children is even desirable? Childhood difficulties shape us and often give us our strengths. I go to great lengths to avoid my own children being unhappy but humans do learn from suffering. The most unbalanced individuals have probably achieved most for humanity. That said, to suggest you want to nurture happy, well rounded children is uncontroversial but I do know that I could never claim to have the answer myself.

@oldandrewuk has written a much more lucid and detailed piece on happiness as an aim in education that I’m sure has shaped my thoughts over the last year or so – here.

Sir Michael: Champion of the disadvantaged or child catcher?

Imagine an early years system which set out in minute detail what goals young children should be working towards. This system analysed in hundreds of detailed statements what could be expected of children socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually -from birth. Imagine that teachers were expected to intervene in the ‘natural’ development of children to ensure they made progress against all these many stated goals. In fact, in this system the ordinary play of children is not viewed as adequate (p16), it must be thoroughly scrutinised by adults. Their main role is then to step in and improve that play to make it more educational. Imagine that even the ordinary and developmentally normal progress of these children must be assessed regularly. The tiniest progress must be thoroughly recorded by teachers who spend hours with cameras and post- it notes to produce a large assessment dossier on each child – Then imagine that this system is then viewed as one which protects children’s childhoods from the agenda of adults.

Of course I am describing our current Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) for 0-5 year olds. There are things I really don’t like about it but I do think much works well. However, in some ways it is an odd preferred approach for those that  champion an end to ‘the erosion of childhood’ within our culture. For them the current threat is from Sir Michael Wilshaw, whose Ofsted report on the quality of early years provision advocates an approach which, according to 235 authors, academics and nursery leaders, would be:
‘catastrophic for children’s mental health and risks ‘setting up many for failure at a young age’

Their concern is not really that children are in nursery provision, rather than at home with their mum or dad, or that adults are trying to help children reach goals or assess them (all part of EYFS). The anger appears to be because Wilshaw wants to put children into a school environment before their time. He says this is a way to close the achievement gap between the wealthy and the underprivileged, who are often not ‘school ready’. There are certainly lots of headlines about school for 2 year olds and stuff about how two year olds are already failing according to Mr Wilshaw.

So is this Sir Michael’s agenda? Well that really depends what meaning you attach to words like ‘school environment.’ In his speech Wilshaw bluntly suggests the reason there is a 20% gap in development between the poorest and those from advantaged backgrounds is because:
‘Some parents teach.’
Ah ha! I can see exactly why proponent s of the EYFS ‘play based learning’ approach are up in arms – it makes perfect sense. We don’t want two year olds being taught formally, like at desks and similar… Except Wilshaw goes onto explain what he means by ‘teaching’:
‘Setting up play and learning as opposites is a false dichotomy. The best play is challenging. The favourite game is the one that promises mastery of a new skill… Play in many families is inherently educational. When a child interacts with an adult it is an opportunity to learn. Children naturally absorb new skills, words and ideas. ..They teach when they count the stairs as they carry the child to bed… read toddler stories and sing nursery rhymes…by loving their children…also by setting clear boundaries.’
Oh, but surely we have agreement here? It is just a big misunderstanding as Wilshaw says he also wants young children to learn through play. Even the going to school aged two is a red herring it seems. Wilshaw clearly states that he just wants more nursery provision through schools because it tends to be higher quality and easier to access – in fact higher quality EYFS provision. There has been no special objection by anyone to schools running nursery EYFS provision to date and they tend to do a better job than some nurseries in deprived areas. If we look at Wilshaw’s idea of school readiness (to enter year 1 aged 5-6) it seems what he wants children to be able to do is reasonable enough:
• To sit and listen
• To be aware of other children
• To understand the word ‘no’ and the boundaries it sets for behaviour
• To understand the word stop and that such a phrase might be used to prevent danger
• To be toilet trained and able to go to the loo
• To recognise their own name
• To speak to an adult to ask for help
• To be able to take off their coat and put on their shoes (steady, pushing it now…)
• To talk in sentences
• To open and enjoy a book.
Hardly controversial stuff… So it was all a media storm caused by some incendiary headlines that did not reflect Wilshaw’s position!

Well no… There is very real fundamental disagreement here – it is just not that simple to tease it out from all the rhetoric. So passionate are those that oppose Wilshaw’s agenda that they have sent a petition to the Telegraph which threatens:
‘the first wave of principled non-compliance with government policy that our education system has known in living memory.’
Serious stuff. Actually I must confess that even I feel some discomfort with some of Wilshaw’s rhetoric which takes responsibility for what is clearly the job of parents and places it with schools. However, that is not the big objection. An inkling of the real issue is clear from a quote in The Telegraph by Nancy Stewart, an independent early years consultant. She told Sir Michael that his basic goals are low level (true enough) but she implies that they are the wrong goals not just too basic:
What counts in children’s later success is not putting on your shoes and going to the toilet it … is things like being confident, being curious and motivated.’
On twitter I read tweets such as :
Children under five need to play, share, explore and experience being with each other. Wrong to hustle them through that.’
Play leads to primary socialisation, attachment, security. They must come first; then time to study’.
The petition letter to the Telegraph was headed by Dr Richard House (an advocate of Steiner education which does not believe children should embark on any formal learning until they are 7) makes things clearer.
This utilitarian shift from experience to content betrays an abject (and even wilful) misunderstanding of the nature of early childhood experience. The determination to dragoon England’s young children into unconscionably early quasi-formal learning is catastrophic for their well being.’

So we know Wilshaw expects young children to learn through play but it seems the problem for those erecting the barricades is that they believe you must CHOOSE, play (with many real benefits as outlined by its proponenets) OR content. One is ideal and the other is apparently harmful. It is Wilshaw’s desire to include ‘content, especially the content of formal schooling, in the education of 0-5s (rather that experiential learning through child initiated play) that is the nub of the issue. Concern that he wants to ‘schoolify’ early years is raised because some of the outcomes Wilshaw desires are knowledge based – that is the root cause of the uproar. Add to this the fear that if more nursery provision is provided by schools it will make content transmission more likely (although all provisions follow EYFS). It is also true Wilshaw talks about ‘some adult led sessions’ and openly suggests there should be ‘some discrete direct teaching’ in the context of language development but we have already established from his own words that he doesn’t mean toddlers spending their days at a desk or anything close. However, it would mean an increase in adult directed activities, rather than those initiated by the child.

What is this content and what are these adult directed activities? The actual Ofsted materials refer to those 10 goals, language development activities, counting games, learning nursery rhymes and other standard nursery stuff. So, despite the off-putting rhetoric about children being made ‘school ready’, the content agenda is hardly controversial to the public at large. Neither are activities such as counting or language games.

It could be that Wilshaw’s stated goals are the thin end of the wedge, although I’m not sure why you would threaten non-compliance over that. However, the battle lines are not where some might like to suggest. Rhetoric about stealing childhood and school for two year olds will provoke condemnation from all sides but would the public at large really think that a play based approach with some adult directed activities, such as counting and language games, is catastrophic for a toddler’s well-being?

My own view must be pretty clear. I am uncomfortable with some of the implications about the role of schools in place of parents and I really didn’t like some of the bureaucratic target and assessment driven ‘best practice’ outlined in the Ofsted report (although anyway it is part of the current EYFS). I think what bothered me most were objections to Sir Michael’s goals that then suggested that a better solution to underachievement is to solve the root cause –poverty. Make of that what you will but I find that sentiment concerning. I am with the much derided Liz Truss on this one when she says:
One of the organisations [which objects] calls itself the ‘Save Childhood Movement’… for the most vulnerable children the result of this group’s misguided, regressive, inaccurate superstitious and dangerous idea wouldn’t save childhood. It would only crush their future.’