Estelle Morris: Early years learning – the fights we do not need

Writing in the Guardian, Estelle Morris says that as the teaching unions join the polarised debate over the best way of educating the under-fives, there is middle ground…

If anything is predictable in the world of education it is the taking up of battle positions at the start of any discussion about early years learning. Last week saw the teaching unions weigh into the fray at their annual conferences, showing the passion that always accompanies any discussion of education for the under-fives. It comes on the back of Ofsted’s recent early years report and shows how polarised the debate has become. On the one hand, there is the feeling that children should be better prepared for school. On the other, there are fears that children are being denied their childhood and pushed into formal education too early.

Despite the frequency and passion of this debate, I’ve never quite been able to see what all the fuss is about. Most of us know where our instincts and views lie on the big education issues of the time – selection, curriculum, free schools, for example – but do I really need to decide between play and structured learning as far as the under-fives are concerned?

…Surely, in reality, there is a great deal of middle ground. The need for a child to develop motor skills and social skills, confidence and self-esteem, the development of their creativity and sense of wonder is beyond doubt. Equally, who would not would want a child to start school with a command of language, able to hold a pencil and having begun to recognise numbers?

…Let’s be clear; the decisions we make about early years matter for all children, but most of all for children who don’t learn at home: the toddlers who become the infants already lagging behind when they start school and find it difficult to ever catch up. More than ever, we should follow the evidence, which in early years is quite conclusive – the most disadvantaged children need the best qualified and most experienced teachers and checks on a child’s learning should sit alongside the widely accepted checks on their health. None of this means a child shouldn’t play, explore, imagine or be inventive. All children should have the chance to discover that learning needn’t be separate from fun. No child should know they are being checked or assessed unless an adult tells them – and why would anyone do that? Can we not just square this circle before the debate comes around again?…

More at: Early years learning – the fights we do not need

Sensible advice from Estelle Morris or do you believe the situation is more complicated than she portrays and the middle ground elusive? Please give us your thoughts in the comments or via Twitter…

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Categories: Pre-school and Primary.


  1. VictoriaJaquiss

    SchoolsImprove NUT etc mostly on this “middle ground” Gove picking fights. Not up to teachers to address poverty in this way. Up to gov.

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