Four-year-olds 'should be taught more maths'

A controversial report from Ofsted, the UK’s education inspectorate has suggested that children in their first year of primary school should receive more formal teaching in literacy and maths.

Four-year-olds 'should be taught more maths'
The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) has come under fire following its ‘Bold Beginnings’ report, which appears to recommend that children starting school should spend less time on play with a stronger focus on formal teaching of literacy and maths.

Learning through play 

In the UK, children start school in the September following their fourth birthday. The first year of primary school is called ‘reception’. Children in reception follow the early years foundation stage (EYFS) which encompasses pre-school education as well as the first year of primary school.The EYFS focuses on learning through play with very little formal teaching. However, Ofsted’s report raises concerns over the progression of children from reception into Year 1 of primary school and appears to imply that a narrowing of the curriculum to focus on literacy and maths is the way to address it.

A review of the reception curriculum

In January 2017, Ofsted conducted a review of the reception curriculum, aiming to assess how it prepares children for the rest of their education. Inspectors visited 41 good and outstanding primary schools, observing lessons and speaking to staff. This formed the basis of the recommendations in its ‘Bold Beginnings' report.In the report, it states that schools should ‘devote sufficient time each day to the direct teaching of reading, writing and mathematics, including frequent opportunities for children to practise and consolidate their skills.’

Findings based on 'flawed evidence'

However, the report has come under fire as the 41 schools involved represent just 0.25 per cent of primary schools in the UK. Teachers and politicians have been swift to dismiss the recommendations. In a letter to the Guardian newspaper, 18 prominent politicians and educationalists called on Ofsted to withdraw the report stating that it is “based on flawed evidence.”“Thousands of reception children make excellent progress following a broad and balanced curriculum where play is the central feature,” says the letter. “Here, children engage in purposeful activities, both adult-guided and child-led, with teachers who are highly skilled in moving learning forward.“The basic architecture of a child’s brain is forming during reception year. Introducing overly formal, unsuitable teaching practices is a potential disaster for children’s learning.”

Baseline testing at age four

This comes at the same time as teachers reacted angrily to the government’s decision to introduce reception baseline tests – due to begin in 2020.
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Currently in the EYFS – which includes the reception year – a child’s development is monitored through a dedicated ‘key worker’ – a member of staff who is responsible for putting together information about how the child is developing. There is no formal assessment of children at this age, but this is set to change as the government plans to scrap the compulsory national tests for seven-year-olds to replace them with ‘school-readiness’ testing in reception plus further tests in Year 4.“No one is arguing against the value of early assessments,” said Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, “but narrow, reductive baseline testing is not the solution.“Such tests not only often produce unreliable results, they also risk placing undue pressure on young children at the very start of their educational journeys.”With recent research from Durham University’s centre for evaluation and monitoring (CEM), showing that children who do well in reception perform better all the way to GCSE level, the reception year is likely to remain in the spotlight for some time.
Look out for the 2018 edition of our popular Relocate Guide to Education & Schools in the UK – Coming soon!
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