Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 21

Memorandum from the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (EY 50)

We favour a pluralistic framework for early years education and strongly believe that early childhood is not the time for formal schooling.

1.  THE APPROPRIATE CONTENT OF EARLY YEARS EDUCATION, TAKING INTO ACCOUNT THE RECENTLY PUBLISHED QCA EARLY LEARNING GOALS

  1.  Whilst recognising the need to improve standards in early years education we resist the notion that one model suits all. Particularly for disadvantaged children in a strongly academic environment may impede the development of language and social skills, creativity and independent learning, and may fail to promote assurance and self-esteem—essential prerequisites for successful learning. The Early Learning Goals contain much that is good including a welcome section on play. However, the heavy demands placed upon particular areas of learning are such that in practice the time needed for deep concentrated play and for family-type activities, which develop all the above skills, will almost certainly be curtailed.

2.  FUNDING

  Funding for early learning provision is conditional upon meeting the requirements of the Government's Early Learning Goals—the favoured model. Settings providing parents and children with high quality early years education based on different philosophical perspectives are denied funding and must generate income, however unwillingly, through fees. In practice, this policy means that low-income families—who might prefer a different approach—have no real options. In a democracy, all forms of quality education should be accessible to all sectors of society and choice should not be limited to those who can afford to pay. A different curriculum may well address the needs of children, which are not being met by the standard model.

3.  PLURALISM IN EDUCATION

  Pluralism in education enhances quality by providing new and innovative ideas. Diversity in approach and in provision stems from a value base that respects and tolerates philosophical difference. The early learning goals themselves require children to:

    —  understand that people have different needs, views, cultures and beliefs, which need to be treated with respect—(Early Learning Goals QCA publications, October 1999, page 23).

"THE WAY IT SHOULD BE TAUGHT"

  4.  We were invited to be part of the QCA working group convened to produce the guidance document to accompany the early learning goals. Many examples from the Steiner Waldorf approach were selected for inclusion in the document as exemplars of quality teaching. Our approach is integrated rather than subject based and is a combination of pupil-led and teacher-directed activities. In our experience we find a rich, environment and a well-trained teacher provide the child with all that she/he needs for an excellent start without recourse to formal teaching.

"THE KINDS OF STAFF THAT ARE NEEDED TO TEACH IT AND THE QUALIFICATIONS THEY SHOULD HAVE"

  5.  We require our Waldorf early years groups to be led by a group leader with a diploma in Waldorf Early Years Education issued by a training course which is recognised by the regulatory arm of the Waldorf Early Years Steering Group and the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship. This training includes a full year's monitored assistantship in a recognised Waldorf Kindergarten. The practicum year is subject to specific criteria issued by the training course. Students in their practicum year experience both observation and teaching practice and are required to produce child studies, teaching diaries, notes of teaching practice, folders of teaching material and individual research.

"THE WAY QUALITY OF TEACHING AND LEARNING IN THE EARLY YEARS IS ASSESSED"

  6.  Teaching assessment: The practicum year is monitored and guided by the group leader, who must be both trained and experienced, and be approved by the training course for this role. The group leader in turn liases with the training course leader.

  Ongoing assessment: all group leaders would be expected as part of normal professional practice to have in place a system for ongoing in-service training of assistants and be expected themselves to attend the termly and annual national and international conferences organised by the Steiner Schools movement.

  Additionally, all kindergartens would be expected to meet the Guidelines and Criteria for recognition of Steiner Waldorf Early Years Centres as set by the Steering Group. This would be assessed by appointed representatives of the Steering Group.

  The required Waldorf Early Years Diploma is assessed as being at Level Four on the proposed national framework of early years qualifications.

"AT WHAT AGE FORMAL SCHOOLING SHOULD START"

  7.  We reject the pressure to start formal schooling at an increasingly earlier age. In Europe formal schooling is delayed until children are mature enough to cope with its demands—typically when they are six. (Mills and Mills 1998) Putting pressure on unready, ill-equipped children creates unnecessary difficulties for both teachers and pupils. Many of these problems are biological; for example, the hand of a three, four or five year old child is still too immature to become a suitable instrument for writing. The grip requiring the opposition between forefinger and thumb is not developed sufficiently to manipulate a pencil efficiently. Hand/eye co-ordination is also only partially developed. Younger children lack the physical maturity to follow print without recourse to the use of their fingers, as their eyes jump about the page. Six year olds manage this task unaided. Unready children easily acquire entrenched, negative learning dispositions, resulting in later disaffection. Physical damage is another consequence. Research indicates that early formal training, requiring closely focused eye activity, can lead to myopia (Singer and Singer 1975).

  8.  Children need freedom of movement to develop fine and gross motor skills and to establish good networks of neural pathways in the brain. Many already spend long hours immobilised in front of the television or computer.

  9.  Research also indicates that summer-born children are likely to be disadvantaged by an early formal start to education, with boys typically lagging behind girls in their early development. (Drummond 1997 and Sharp 1998).

  10.  Whereas stress- inducing formal early learning programmes do seem to be indicators of later social, emotional, mental and physical problems (Schweinhart and Weikart 1997, Mills and Mills 1997, Mental Health Foundation 1999), research shows no adverse effects from delaying the start of formal education. Caroline Sharp, NFER (1998), concludes that, "there would appear to be no compelling educational rationale for a statutory school age of five or the practice of admitting four year olds to school reception classes...young children at age five and under seem to do best when they have opportunities to socialise, make their own choices and take responsibility for their own learning."

  11.  The "never too early" school of thought needs to balance a set of questionable short-term gains against the considerable body of evidence citing the negative implications of early schooling for the future health, happiness and intelligence of this most vulnerable group.

Jenkinson, Oldfield, Sklan
Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship

January 2000

REFERENCES:

  Bright Futures: The Big Picture (1999) The Mental Health Foundation, Overview of the issues surrounding children's emotional development and mental health.

  Drummond, MJ (1997)-Two Intake Pilot Scheme, Hertfordshire 1996-97 Evaluation Report, University of Cambridge, Institute of Education, "Bringing them in earlier doesn't make them older."

  Mills, C and Mills, D (1997) Britain's Early Years Disaster.

  Moore, RS and Moore, DN (1975) Better Late than Early, New York.

  Sharp, C (1998) Age of Starting School and The Early Years Curriculum: National Foundation for Educational Research.

  Schweinhart, LJ and Weikart, DP (1997) Lasting Differences: The High Scope Pre-school Curriculum comparison Study through to age 23. High/Scope Press.


 
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