Monday, October 19, 2009

Cambridge Primary Review

Now in my early 40s, I started primary school in September at the age of 4, shortly before my 5th birthday. Those with birthdays after Christmas started four months later in January. I can only remember vague details; a large train set, playing with building blocks, lining up outside the classroom and sitting quietly whilst listening to our teacher.

I don't remember anybody being traumatised by this, or 'not being ready for formal teaching'. I do remember that we all learnt to read, write and do simple sums. I can remember landmarks such as learning my five times table a couple of years later and doing hundreds of addition and subtraction sums from a large textbook. I think that we learnt most processes like this; hardwiring methods into our brains by repetition, which is probably why I can pick up a pen and do a long division sum without thinking today, despite not having done so for decades.

My parents probably gave me a head start as did many others. I don't recall ever seeing any of the examples frequently quoted by experts of children who cannot line up, sit still, or learn to hold a pencil without throwing it on the floor. We all learnt to do these things simply because the teacher told us to, and any mucking about was discouraged by a slap on the legs.

There is much debate at the moment about the Cambridge Primary Review, whose 600 page report calls for a raising of the age that children start school and a delaying of what they call 'formal learning' (and I would just call 'teaching') along with the abolition of SATS (to avoid 'teaching just to pass the test') and a broadening of the curriculum. (There is a constant battle between those who want to concentrate on the '3 Rs' and those who want to teach more broadly) The report claims that in other countries, children start later but apparently overtake us by age 11. Maybe other countries still slap them on the legs if they don't sit still.

You can read more learned opinions about it here or here.


jerym said...

Exactly! These so called experts are too stupid to differentiate between a slap on the legs and a merciless beating.

Anonymous said...

As an ex-Governor I once heard a parent tell the head that she thought it was important her child could be free to express her individuality. The head said she could do what she wanted in her own home and he would do what he wanted in his school as he thought it was important her child came to school to learn and the teachers were free to teach. The schools last Ofsted report was 'Good with some outstanding features'

Maturecheese said...

I went to school overseas (W Africa) from the ages of 5 til 13 and the Scandinavian children in our classes were around two years older than us. I don't think it did them any harm and in fact I think it helped them to comprehend some of the more complex learning in the later grades.

When I came back to the UK in 1977, I went to a comprehensive and within a year I had lost interest and went off the rails. The international system of schooling that I had left was more informal than here but also had more discipline and was more effective, though smaller class sizes no doubt helped. There was also more communication between the teachers and the parents due to the nature of the community. I left school in this country with no qualifications and to this day I am far from impressed with the comprehensive education system.

Anonymous said...

In Germany, children undergo a "school maturity test" at age 5. It is not merely an academic test but alo checks on social skills (sharing, following instructions) and whether the child is mature enough to sit through a 45-min lesson. Those who pass enter school the September after their sixth birthday. Those who don't enter the September after their 7th birthday. I think it takes a lot of pressure of the children who are yet unable to attend schol succesfully, it gives them teh extr time to mature and calm down, so the following year they are better equipped to deal with demans at school. Furthermore, no school would even contemplate admitting children who have not been potty-trained. (I don't mean medical conditions).It is understood that children who attend school must have certai skills and it's the parents; responsibility to give their children such skills.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand Mr Chalk. If you are in your early 40's then that means you were born about the mid 1960's - ish and started school around 1969-70 ish. Corporal punishment was banned in starting primary school children by 1970 - or least it was in my school district in Yorkshire.
Also my first school year was in 1980-81. That was just 10 years later and there was no slapping of legs and also no problems with children not knowing how to hold a pen or simply behave when they started school. Therefore all the problems with starting schoolkid's behaviour you talk about have nothing to do with the banning of mild corporal punishment.
Admittedly the *academic* standards in my school were very low but that was because of big classes and silly child centered, new fangled teaching where you were given a maths puzzle to solve on your own and only 5 minutes with a teacher to correct your mistakes instead of proper teaching like "face the blackboard" instruction, learning by rote or chanting times tables.

But your making out that all academic problems and problems of behaviour are solved by slapping 5 year old on the legs is silly and not born out by my experience... and not your experience I suspect.

Also I think the German's have got it right with having a simple test to see if kids are ready. It puts a bit of pressure on the parents to sort out their kids behaviour and development instead of having they rely on the state for everything.

Lilyofthefield said...

I could have started my eldest the day after he was four, as most of my friends who worked did, thus sparing them the cost of a year's additonal childcare. But since I wasn't working, and he was happy and settled and had already learned to read, write and count at home, I kept him back until he was five. He matured a lot during that year and had the unanticipated advantage of being the biggest boy in the class when he did start.

Anonymous said...

There you are, lilyofthfield, proves that your little boy benefitted from another yer of peace and quiet and indivu=idual development with you at home. Wha'ts sooooo bad about being a caring mother ? What's soo wrong about not sticking your children into a day orphanage, subjecting them to be educated by some one that is barely out of their teens, brandishing an NVQ 3 (and we all know that means they can't read nor write properly).

Joe said...

Anon 21:23, it's news to me that the smacking of primary school children was banned in 1970, maybe I should sue... I started school in Nottinghamshire, September 1973 and the teachers would always give us a smack or use the slipper if we were sufficiently naughty.

I can't say it caused any harm and certainly helped keep us in line as it was held back as a 'last resort' punishment. Mainly I think we behaved because our parents had taught us to do what an adult says.

Anonymous said...

Exactly, this is the problem; w are so concerned with letting children express themselves and have their indiviuality that we dare not moderate it by telling them that until they reach a certain age, whether they like it or not, they have no choice but to do as their elders and betters tell them.

We have given children far too many adult privleges and freedoms and it has come back to bite us.

I'm 29 nearly 30 and when I was a child in the early 80s you didn't dare question what an adult told you, you simply did as you were told. Certainly we were no angels, nd would be cheeky behind the teachers back, but when they told you to do something you did it without argument. We would never have dared be as openly hostile or challenge teachers directly.

The reason being was that our parents were the last generation of parents who put kids in their place, it was instilled into us that until you reached 18 you did as you were told (unless of course it was something really serious like a sexual offence)

We need to go back to the days when we didn't have this cult of the angelic child, whereby the child can do no wrong and we are not allowed to punish them.
We also need to stop giving them so many adult freedoms. They are the child, we are the adults and whether they like it or not, until they reach 18 they do as they are told.


TonyF said...

Thinking back to my time at school. Most of my primary education was in a Village school. We had 2 classrooms, and basically we all worked together. There were only 4 of us in my year, but there were 20+ children in the room. Corporal punishment was still a sanction, but was very rarely used. I think it was only ever administrated once that I actually remember. I then went onto Grammar, Corporal punishment was again a sanction. Usually from the PE department...Again though rarely used. But it was effective. When it was banned (and the school went comprehensive)things rapidly went down hill. Many 'average' students, Me amongst them, who needed discipline, or at least the threat of it, started to do less well than we should.

I was quite lucky, as a farmer's son, 'expressing my individuality' on the farm may well have resulted in a fatal accident. Anyone who thinks that children are small adults need to be neutered/spayed before they have any.

Rick said...

Corporal punishment wasn't outlawed in state schools until 1987, as I know well having been mildly corporally punished (at primary school) in 1986. (And well I deserved it, as it happens.)

Anonymous said...

I started school aged four and a half in the late 1950s and was deeply traumatised by the experience. Every day I would go up and ask the teacher if I could learn to read today, and she would tell me to go and play in the sandpit or with the bricks or do some painting. Once they finally let me have a book, there was no stopping me. I was reading the Just So stories by Kipling at the age of six, learned the entire school nativity play script by memory and could read music too by the time I moved up to Junior School. The only thing I was ever smacked for was having too many books in my desk, because I couldn't bear to put any of them back in the library cupboard!

I think the idea of assessing a child's intellectual, emotional and social maturity is inspired.

kynon said...

I'm in my early thirties, and I recall doing much the same at Primary school as you did - actually learning to read (although I could do that when I started anyway), write, and do arithmetic - much of it via rote learning, and it seems to have stood me in good stead.

And I started school when I was 4.