School at Seven?

Upstart is an organisation that is actively campaigning to introduce a kindergarten stage for children aged 3-6 and delay the school starting age to 7 years old in Scotland.

While this movement is motivated, passionate, and well-meaning, it is seriously flawed and dangerously misguided.

Upstart Aims

As this campaign gathers momentum and some political parties are including it in their manifestos, it is crucial that anyone promoting Upstart’s aims understands exactly what they are supporting.

  • All learning would be through ‘creative play’
  • The teaching of reading and phonics would be deliberately withheld as Upstart regard this as ‘formal’ learning
  • Only children ‘showing an interest’ would receive any reading instruction before the age of 7

When teachers don’t teach, the education children receive from their parents becomes of paramount importance, and the children of ill-educated parents are at an overwhelming disadvantage.

TOM BURKARD, THE SECRET GARDEN

Access for All?

Children who don’t ‘show an interest’ would be discriminated against in the worst possible way and penalised for their background or circumstances. There are many reasons why a child might not appear interested in learning to read. These include:

  • Children from poorer homes who may not have access to books or reading
  • Children with impoverished spoken language and poor social skills
  • Children whose parents cannot read or do not speak English
  • Children who may have dyslexia or dyslexic-type difficulties who tend to ‘avoid’ reading or writing activities
  • Children with attention or significant social, emotional and behavioural difficulties
  • Children who prefer to play all day when given the chance

Because reading is a human invention, unlike talking, it is not a skill that develops naturally or one that will ‘appear’ when the time is right. Therefore there is no magical, developmental milestone when it comes to reading.

It is entirely possible to teach children to read in a fun and enjoyable way in short daily lessons—leaving plenty of time for play-based learning the rest of the time. Being literate is not an optional extra; it should not be withheld or left to chance.

The inability to read properly is the single greatest handicap to progress both in school and adult life.

Ready to Read? Anastasia de Waal and Nicholas Cowen

Children’s Rights and the UNCRC

Learning to read is a social justice issue. All children should have equal access to education, learning and books. No child should be prevented from becoming literate and no child should have to ‘show an interest’ to ‘earn’ the right to be taught to read.

The UNCRC applies to all children from birth to 18, and is universal, unconditional, indivisible, inherent and inalienable; children do not have to ‘earn’ rights through behaving in a particular way – rights should not be linked to responsibilities.

GTCS

Upstart Claims

Upstart make many misleading claims. The following statements are treated as if they are ‘facts’ by Upstart.

  • Academic results achieved by countries such as Finland are due to their play-based teaching and later school-starting ages
  • There is no educational advantage to an early start
  • Starting school or ‘formal’ teaching too early damages children and leads to ‘social, emotional and mental health problems’
  • A later start would ‘close the attainment gap’ and ‘gender gap’

Research shows all of the above to be entirely false and unfounded.

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