Memorandum from Dr Sula Wolff (EYF 04)
1. I am very grateful for the opportunity
to comment on the Early Years Report and the Government's response.
I am also most appreciative of the care you have taken over the
months to inform me of the Committee's progress.
2. The Report made fascinating reading and
the Minutes of Evidence were presented in a most lively manner.
An index and a glossary of terms, perhaps less familiar to those
not in the education field, would have added to the Report's clarity.
3. Both the Minutes of Evidence and the
Appendices gave a clear picture of many excellent innovations
in early years education now in place in many parts of the country,
especially the Sure Start programmes in deprived areas; the "Early
Excellence Centres" combining day care and education; and
the Early Years Development and Child Care Partnerships. Yet these
ventures are not yet countrywide.
4. I fully endorse the recommendation for
a universal service of education and care under the leadership
of a single government department for children below statutory
school age. In my view the Committee could have gone further to
recommend joint education and child care training for Early Years
practitioners along the lines of the training for paedagogues
in some European countries.
5. While I agree with the recommendation
for more parental choice, I do not believe choice is a value in
its own right. It depends on what the options are and on people's
capacity to exercise choice. The Report does not emphasise sufficiently
that the parents of our most vulnerable children have the least
choices open to them. Single mothers (or fathers) weighed down
by the stresses of combining work with child care or of trying
to make ends meet have few options. Nor have mothers overcome
by depressive illness or addicted to alcohol or drugs. Their children
rely on public services to take responsibility for providing them
with the best possible educational opportunities and social support.
6. But my main point is to express my disappointment
at the Committee's failure to recommend delaying statutory schooling
until the age of six. An opportunity for a radical restructuring
of Early Years Education has been missed. I believe a change of
structure would achieve more than tinkering with the system, would
enable both children and teachers to function better, and would
help the public become more sensitive to the needs of young children
(which your Report so clearly spells out). I was dismayed to see
that this government, whose declared aim is "social inclusion",
now apparently plans to give "extra help to learn to read,
write and do simple arithmetic" (see cutting from The
Independent, 20 April 2001) to
children as young as five (identified as needing this by tests
given at four and five years) at considerable cost and using scarce
teacher manpower, when merely waiting a year would make this almost
entirely unnecessary, would make learning and teaching more enjoyable,
and remove much anxiety from parents, teachers and children. The
long term risks (and costs to education, welfare and judicial
services) of early school failure resulting from excessive expectations
of very young childrern have been described in your Report.
Thank you very much for allowing me to comment.
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