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Childcare experts have come together to launch a campaign calling for changes to the early education system, with school starting age being a priority.
Led by the Save Childhood Movement, the ‘Too Much, Too Soon’ initiative urges policy-makers to review the current system and recognise the social and developmental needs of children.
Making their plea in an open letter to the Telegraph, supporters of the campaign, which include the National Day Nurseries Association and the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, said: “Instead of pursuing an enlightened approach informed by global best practice, successive Ministers have prescribed an ever-earlier start to formal learning. This can only cause profound damage to the self-image and learning dispositions of a generation of children. We as a sector are now uniting to demand a stop to such inappropriate intervention and that Early Years policy-making be put in the hands of those who truly understand the developmental needs and potential of young children.”
Save Childhood Movement wants to tackle a number of issues, including a review of the English school starting age and the downgrading of play. It argues that by making children start school at four years old, when youngsters in the majority of countries wait until they are six or seven years old, is an unnecessary pressure which is having a detrimental effect on their long-term health and wellbeing. The organisation also believes that policy-makers undervalue the role of play, which they claim is vital to a child’s natural motivations and subsequent love of learning.
Save Childhood Movement also wants the Early Years to be recognised as a unique stage in its own right, rather than just a preparation for school.
Commenting on the issues raised in the campaign, Montessori chief executive Philip Bujak said: “This Government seems to think that working harder earlier always equates to greater success in life. The Montessori St Nicholas Charity believes this is political and uninformed. Why start from the womb? Children must be allowed to grow holistically, to develop into adults with personality, independence of thought, positive social skills and confidence. There is no doubt that formal teaching before the age of five is wrong.
“Dr Maria Montessori recognised this over 100 years ago. She understood that a learning environment – a children’s home whether at school or with parents – needed to combine carefully designed learning resources and love to nurture development.
“The Montessori approach trusts in the child. Children learn through choosing, trying and doing themselves.”
Adrian Voce, founder of Play England, added: "Playing is immensely important for children but is often taken for granted, overlooked or seen as less important than what adults might want to teach them. This is a huge mistake. Playing is how children learn about their world and about themselves; vital for their developing sense of themselves and for the growth of their brains.
"The 'Too Much, Too Soon' campaign is not anti-education. It merely suggests that children’s education would be better served if it acknowledged the instinctive learning that happens through play.
'Children are voracious learners but, especially when very young, they learn best when they can trust they own instincts and follow their own curriculum. Playing – led by children themselves in the right environments – is how they do this.
Save Childhood Movement has also launched an e-petition, which has already gained 893 signatures, calling on the Department of Education to take note of the sector's concerns and review its existing policies.
Commenting on the decision to campaign and to petition the Government, Wendy Ellyatt, chief executive officer of Save Childhood Movement, said: "Within the Early Years we are seeing an unprecedented level of concern about the lack of true consultation and the increase in developmentally inappropriate policies that are not focused on the true needs of the developing child. We are now calling for the establishment of a new multi-disciplinary body that can review and guide all civic policies through the lens of child rights and wellbeing, and that also underpins such policies through the physiology, neurology and psychology of children development. In other words a New National Council on the Science of Child Learning and Development.”
For more information about ‘Too Much, Too Soon’ or to sign the petition, visit www.toomuchtoosoon.org.