Witness this article from The Times on this last issue. Apparently, kids can start in the English school system at a particularly young age compared to their European counterparts:
The latest government figures indicate that around 80 per cent of children enter school before their fifth birthday and last year there were almost 800,000 four-year-olds in our primary schools. By comparison, children in France, Portugal, Belgium, and Norway start school at 6, while the school starting age in many Scandinavian countries is 7.The article quotes some personal experience:
Solvie Jorgensen moved to the UK from Norway when her daughter had just turned 4. She initially opted to defer school entry for a year: “It seemed much too early: in Norway Freya would have had two more years of nursery.” But Freya pleaded to be allowed to start, so they enrolled her in November. “I was pleasantly surprised, but still think there’s a far greater emphasis on numbers and letters from a young age in British schools than in those back home. There, formal teaching doesn’t start until 6, and even then teachers are more concerned about children being happy at school and making friends than whether they can write their name and count to ten.”In Australia, meanwhile, it seems to be taken for granted now that "prep year" is important and should be put in place everywhere, even though it seems it is all play based and just a glorified kindy.
Oh, I'm sure there will be the studies that show how much better this is for children down the track, etc, etc; but the problem is it seems you only ever have to wait a few years before contradictory studies will be out on virtually any area of education. (Well, this is the impression one gets, anyway.) For example, from The Times article:
...a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development indicated that by the time they reach their teens, the gap between the achievements of students from professional and working-class backgrounds is wider in the UK than in most other countries. Caroline Sharp, of the National Foundation for Educational Research, sums it up thus: “There appears to be no compelling educational rationale for a school starting age of 5 or for the practice of admitting four-year-olds to reception classes.”My particular grudge against educationalists at the moment is the way that maths is being taught to my 7 year old son.
I can't be the only parent out there who is irritated by the heavily verbal way in which basic maths concepts are taught now, surely? It's hard to explain here, but there are new terms which are used to try to get kids to understand the concepts. (I forget the sorts of phrases, but it includes "sharing numbers", or "friendly numbers" and ...oh god I can't remember them now, but the parents need a glossary to understand the new terms being used with 6 and 7 year olds to help them understand the concepts of addition and multiplication, etc.)
The problem is that, if your child, like mine, is behind the 8-ball on language, this really stuffs him up in understanding the highly verbal (there's probably a better word, but I can't think of it now) way they are trying to teach maths too. Simple rote learning of tables did not have this same problem. "Oh but it was so mechanical and they didn't have a deep understanding." Bah!
I have mentioned this (very politely) to my son's teachers, and they seem to quite agree with me that the way they have to teach it is problematic for someone like my son, but there is not much they can do about that, apart from giving him extra help in maths, although even that will be highly verbal too.
I find it very irritating that, even in maths at the level of grades one and two, phrases with a specific contextual meaning unknown to parents are being used. Sure, everyone is ready for high school maths to be difficult for the parents, but for them to not even understand the terms being used in homework at Grade 2? It probably looked good to some educational psychologist in some study or other, but in a few years they will probably pull back from it for the exact reason I am complaining about here.
I also trust that this is not something peculiar to the school my boy is attending. I hope I have also made it clear that this is not a complaint about the teachers in the classroom, about whom (at my son's school at any rate) I have no complaint at all. It's about the educational theoreticians, and the apparent sense in which either changes are made with no strong evidence as to effectiveness, or the evidence changes over time anyway.
Any reader who is a parent of primary school kids are welcome to share their views. (Although I suppose if your kid is writing mini novels and top of the class at maths, you probably wouldn't have even noticed the problem.)