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


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) [1]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.

April 2001

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