Delay starting school until age seven, says Rowan Williams

Oct 30, 2013 by

Campaign to delay the start of formal education until the age of seven backed by former Archbishop of Canterbury

A former archbishop of Canterbury is backing a campaign effectively to delay the start of formal education until the age of seven.

Lord Williams of Oystermouth, master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, is among 350 leading figures supporting a drive to overhaul early education in England significantly amid fears that children are expected to do “too much, too soon”.

The group, which includes academics, authors and charity leaders, is on Wednesday due to present a petition containing 7,500 names to Downing Street. It calls for major changes to nurseries and schooling and plans to hold a parliamentary lobby to gain support from MPs.

The move follows the publication of a letter in The Daily Telegraph last month warning of the dangers of pushing children too hard in the early years.

It claimed that compulsory schooling should be delayed until the age of seven – up from five at the moment – because early education is too focused on the three-Rs, causing “profound damage” to children. The “Too Much, Too Soon” campaign – launched by the Save Childhood Movement – had previously been backed by 130 figures such as 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.

But its backers claim hundreds more experts, including Dr Williams, are actively supporting the drive, backed with the petition.

It is pushing for a series of reforms, including a new “developmentally appropriate”, play-based early years framework for nurseries and schools, covering children between the age of three and seven. The warnings have already been rejected by the Government.

Last month, a Department for Education source branded the group “misguided”, suggesting they 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,” the source said.

Wendy Ellyatt, founding director of the Save Childhood Movement, said: “We have been delighted by the level and quality of support that the campaign has received, but remain deeply concerned about the nature and tone of the responses from the DfE.

“This is an extremely urgent issue for the well-being of society that needs to be addressed by all parties when writing their early years manifestos for 2015.

“In fact we are currently considering writing our own document that could then be approved by the entire sector.

“Child well-being is simply too important to take risks with, and certainly too important to be compromised by any political agenda or ideology.”



via Delay starting school until age seven, says Rowan Williams – Telegraph.

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  1. Avatar

    I approach this topic with great humility as I am not an educator or scientist. But, oooohhh, do I shudder when I think of this delaying business. We were fortunate to have a truly exceptional child. I’m not talking the all A stuff. She was the highest high school math scorer in her state(AMC), had perfect scores on all the college entrance exams(one take) and some other national awards which I don’t bring up for privacy reasons. No one was a tiger mom or anything like that in our family. We are not Asian where that discipline and drive seem strong although we certainly cared. When we planned for the primary school I demanded at least Algebra be taught there by the 8th grade. Of course I had no idea that she would ever excel in math. This reality actually did not occur to us until around the 8th grade when she was winning city math contests.
    I apologize for doing the bragging above but it seems to add to my point. I am amused because someone mentioned Sesame street above. I used to watch her watching Sesame street and I noted the engrossed little mind following the pronunciation of words on the screen with her head. That attending to the matter did encourage me to believe she might be a good student. Well, we started her in school shortly after her 5th birthday. I cannot imagine having started her later. My take was she was ready for this kind of instructional environment and delaying it could have been damaging. She has 3 master’s degrees and will get the Phd shortly all in science and math.
    Now getting a bachelor’s, master’s or Phd is a long journey. I think that the longer you delay this process the more you lose people for financial and psychological reasons. Given the dynamics of my impoverished family(my mother) I did not graduate myself until age 26 with a bachelor’s. I was firm at that time I was NOT going on to get any master’s. I certainly would have done nothing differently in my experience and I fear this talk of delaying. I have no problem with age 6 but these other delays talked about here concern me.

  2. Avatar
    Teacher With a Brain

    During college I read about a school in England somewhere that delayed academic instruction until about 8. I mean formal reading/writing/math instruction. Instead the substituted a series of developmentally appropriate activities for grades 1 and 2 (K was not as academic, nor was it mandated, in those days). I suppose many students did acquire some academic skills as they grew their oral language skills, moved about, performed operations on objects and exercised their curiosity, were read to extensively, built things, etc. The point was they were not subjected to lessons that explicitly taught these skills until the third year. The results of the “experiment” suggested that no difference was seen. Students were able to learn more quickly and readily at age 8 vs. age 6. We do know that some high performing countries do not initiate formal schooling until age 7. It does not seem to disadvantage their 10 and 15 year olds on international tests. Americans, on the other hand, appear to have a love affair with attempting to do more while doing it both earlier and faster. They think they are in a race. So, a few years back we pushed our math curriculum down by 2 years in CA. This occurred about 16 years ago, I am not aware that it has led to higher math performance, and more STEM majors. Instead I suggest we focus on creating strong, developmentally appropriate programs for the 5,6,7 year old group (K-2) that de-emphasize reading/writing/math and place more attention on building hands-on knowledge of the world around them, allowing for curiosity to lead the child. Perhaps were we to stimulate a child’s natural curiosity about how and why things work, we might find more students eventually select STEM careers. Americans seem to have the idea that providing enrichment in childhood means to place children in front of Sesame Street where they will memorize letter names/sounds and numbers (discrete memorization tasks that we argue are related to school achievement, however I submit it is not the tasks themselves that promote achievement, rather what the tasks demonstrate). We also like to place children in front of computer screens to interact with educational software. For goodness sake, no wonder so few American kiddoes CHOOSE STEM careers. We kill the motivation to harvest higher test scores. Big stinking deal!
    Gosh, how I wish other folks read and responded to comments, we could have an interesting discussion here.

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