Pressure mounting for 5 year olds

My son is 5 and a half and in Year One. In my opinion, his early experiences of education should be a good mix of social interaction, play and learning. As after all, the purpose of schooling is to develop children in readiness for all aspects of adult life, not just educationally. Emotionally it should help to build their confidence, expose them to social interaction with all age groups, races, gender, backgrounds etc. and help them develop emotional intelligence as well as educational ability. Many schools do this, and do it well, however, the Governments latest high-jump bar of targets is leaving little room for children’s emotional development, as academic test results are being steam-rolled to the forefront.

My 5 year old is already expected to read aloud to me 5 times a week. He’s expected to learn to read, write, and spell a range of 50 words by July and also have his letter and number formation scored to make sure it’s at the correct standard. He’s expected to practise additional reading, writing and maths at home 7 days a week while getting enough exercise.

Today he came home with the following letter:

Not only is he expected to continue the current scheme of further learning, but the bar has now been raised even higher to include a weekly spelling test. Fair enough, I thought, it can only be a good thing. But there’s a catch. These children need to get 8 out of 10 answers correct or they will be kept behind in play times and ‘Golden Time’ (a free play time) to correct their errors.

On top of this, they now need to push their tiny bodies further as well as their minds. Currently, our school asks all children to complete a mile walk every day before class to energise them for the days learning. I have always thought this was an excellent idea. But now asking them to squeeze another 30 minutes of exercise into their days seems to be a little bit much.

This all comes from the Government who wants both parents to be working and preferably full time. How are we meant to  devote ourselves to work when so much is required at home? Similarly, how are we meant to ask our children to achieve more and more when we have no time to invest in them? Aren’t we simply going to produce a generation of exhausted young people before they’ve even stepped foot into their first workplace?

Besides this, I see no room for considering our children’s emotional well being. In his first year and half in school, my son has gone from being a vibrant confident boy, to now feeling that he’s not good enough, he’s not smart enough, he’s too stupid. He’s anxious that he’s always getting it wrong. He’s terrified of being put back a year and descends into tears when he confuses writing a ‘b’ and a ‘d’. The targets that the government are setting are also making some teachers look out for learning difficulties and disabilities that may not even be there. We are beginning to lose sight of the fact that these children are only five. They are not stupid, lazy, naughty or with an undiagnosed difficulty. They are simply not emotionally or physically ready for this pressure.

Wonderful schools and teachers such as ours are feeling the strain and are first in line to hear complaints from angry parents when they are simply doing the best they can. They are forced to amend homework levels and make changes to try and meet these ever changing targets. I wonder how much it affects them to have these targets. I should imagine their emotional wellbeing is also taking a bit of a beating. 

Sally Goddard-Blythe, Director of The Institute for Neuro Pysiological Pyschology (INPP) in Chester says “Children are not mini-adults. The process of development – physical, emotional and mental – is a long one during which there are recognised milestones, which children are generally expected to reach at certain ages – but within and without of these milestones there is also considerable scope for individual differences, especially in developmental readiness for formal aspects of learning. In other countries the process of formal education does not begin until at least six years of age. Elsewhere the pre-school years focus on getting children ready for school in terms of physical, social and emotional development and it is well recognised that are differences in rates of readiness between boys and girls with the needs and skills of boys and girls being different at various stages.”

So here we have three different demographics of strained, stressed and possibly under-achievers:

  • The working parents: struggling to balance a career with being a parent. Trying to squeeze additional requirements in whilst trying to ensure that their children are also managing.
  • The child: under pressure, feeling that they are often not good enough, not clever enough. Exhausted.
  • The School/Teachers: trying to hit their targets and develop children in line with these. Trying to make sure that the children are emotionally as well as academically coping with these pressures so that they don’t become a bad statistic or Ofsted report. Many of these teachers are also balancing bullet point one and two.

So I ask the Government directly how they expect these hypocritical demands to be met? No one would argue that we want to develop the future generations to be achievers, but look to the generation that is growing, teaching and loving these little future stars, we are all struggling with your current demands in one way or another. Is that the lesson you want them to learn?

Academia is important, literacy, numeracy and vocabulary are all essential. But please don’t discount our children’s emotions. They may all go on to pass exams, but if they don’t have to confidence to go for an interview for fear that they are ‘not good enough’ then what was on earth was the point.

I have since been interviewed by the BBC further to this blog. Skip to 1:08 and listen to it here. Radio Interview


If you liked this blog and agree that schools, teachers and children are under too much pressure from the Government, please sign the petition to take this to Downing Street: Make a change 

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156 thoughts on “Pressure mounting for 5 year olds

  1. My Grandson was only JUST 4yrs old ( August Birthday) when he entered the school system He’s now 5 & I worry that he isn’t having enough time to play These early years are crucial to a child’s emotional & physical development & as a retired teacher I feel that ‘the hard stuff ‘ is started far too early

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I retired after 33 years teaching in July mainly because I was so sick of delivering a curriculum that was at best dull (whatever I did to sweeten the pill) and at worst bordering on abusive. Some of my May/June/July blog posts describe the experience from the teacher’s point of view. A well argued post, A*!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What matters? Are other people’s expectations important? IMO they’re rather irrelevant, in the main, in terms of my own decisions for my own life. I listen to other people (sometimes) because it’s useful and valuable feedback, but I have to make my own decisions and take responsibility and ownership for my own life. So other people’s expectations (and in this case, the Government’s) is only one factor for me to take into account.

    I suggest that we need to teach our children to take responsibility for their own learning, and let them know that the teacher’s, school’s, and Government’s viewpoint is a rather minor feedback mechanism. Further, children need to know that because they’re always supposed to be “challenged” to do better, they won’t achieve 100%. Indeed, if they do achieve 100%, the usual viewpoint is that the test was too easy and didn’t “stretch” them enough.

    Rather than telling our children that they should listen to teachers, I think we need to encourage our children to listen to themselves. Is the child satisfied with their learning? Does the child feel that they are making progress towards their own goals? Bearing in mind the importance of (eg, physical fitness, spelling, orderly classrooms), does the child feel that they are doing their best to learn the skills/gain mastery of the competencies?

    The Government is pushing an agenda onto the schools and teachers. We really don’t need to participate in it. We certainly don’t want to participate in it if it involves telling our children that they are inadequate/failing/not good enough. We need to let our kids know that we love them, just as they are, and that we’re delighted with them.

    Counsellors know that people really only make progress in addressing their deficits when they’re given unconditional positive regard. We need to give our children that unconditional love, and trust them to take actions commensurate with their fantastic character and affirm them in living out positive values. We can trust them to make good decisions, but we need to mentor and disciple them in doing so.

    It’s OK to reject the school’s judgements and let our children know that although we anticipate they excel in everything they do, they don’t need to worry about their teacher’s targets.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I like this . A lot.

      I am training to be a secondary school teacher. My son is 6 and in year 1. During my training I read ‘mindset’ by Carol dweck and ‘outliers’ by Malcolm gladwell. Since reading these books, I’ve stopped using the words ‘clever’, ‘intelligent’ and phrases such as ‘you are better than….’ Etc. I praise his effort, his desire to help his peers, his curiosity. Now he reads his fun books on whatever subject he likes in his bed. He is enjoying reading, rather than it being a homework. His school book may be read once a week so we can tick off his reading, but it has ceased to be a chore. With spellings we have little challenges to see if he can spell a word from a topic he is interested in, ie Jupiter, and often this comes about as part of a conversation.

      I’ve taken the pressure off of him by not forcing him to do everything that is set, but introducing the work in a different way. It’s not perfect, but he’s 6. And he’s still smiling about going to school.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great read really interesting,thank you.Im a student studying childcare practice .I’m in my final months and have decided to pick up my graded unit on developing emergent literacy skills ,one reason for my choice was due to the attitament gap in childrens literacy ( some children unable to write their name by the time the start school) . I’d be interested in getting some feed back. Do you think that they should be able to write their name before they start school? Or any other views would be grateful appreciate ..

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    1. I think if preschool or nursery or parents at home could help them to be able to form the letters of their name before school it would certainly give them a head start, but it’s not essential, they are little sponges and tend to pick it up quickly.

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    2. No I don’t think children should be able to write their own name by the time they start school! We are all individuals and therefore all very different. Thus applies to children too. If you looked into Kinesiology and Brain Gym which studies brain development you would discover that the coordination between hand and brain does not mature until most children are at least children. Children in many parts of Europe do not attend school until they are 6 or 7 and yet manage to catch up and overtake UK children. I totally agree with “mummyneedsgin”.

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      1. As a teacher I agree with many of the comments on here and add that some of the new expectations do not take into account what is developmentallly appropriate. However, I taught pre-school for 5 years and ‘encouraged’ children to learn to recognise and write their own name. By the end of the year children were usually able do this regardless of when their birthday was.

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    3. My son is in Reception and could write his own name in ‘print’ before starting school However at school they teach ‘cursive script’ so he comes home saying ‘what letter is that mummy ?’ when he know’s all his letters. He got very dishartened because what he knew was now not the same. What was the point in teaching him to write his name before starting school when it wasn’t in the prescribed way and therefore he had to relearn it all again? I won’t be bothering with my 2nd as I think it was unhelpful with my son and actually made it more difficult for him. I felt like a failure fore helping him to learn his letters but not in the ‘correct style’ therefore how did he feel? I at least am an adult.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you SW. I’m sorry you have had this worry and distress. The teacher must have been able to recognise the script your son used and should have conveyed to your son that what he had written was CORRECT, but that the school uses a different script and he’ll need to learn that one as well, but that won’t be difficult because he is three-quarters there already. And then he will know two scripts or ways of writing. AFFIRMATION. ENCOURAGEMENT. Not DEFLATION and NEEDLESS CORRECTION.
        The school did not only discourage your child, it discouraged YOU. But you did the right thing–teaching your own child his letters.
        But, SW, I think you should teach your next child his letters. Because it is a precious gift to give him. And the teaching, done with kindness and patience and making it fun is a precious bond between you.
        and now that you know the ‘correct style’ for the school, you can teach him that style.
        I am a grandmother, and my only daughter died just over a year ago. She was 50. She often told me how she had loved me teaching her her letters, and to read, and about flowers and plants and other things. Don’t miss out on that precious time.
        You were right to do what you did. Do not give up and do not let anyone take away from you your special role in teaching your own children.

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    4. Angela, thank you for your comment. Yes, I think it’s a real help if children can write their name before they begin school, but it’s not the end of the world if they can’t. The goal should be to help children to LOVE reading and LOVE learning. People who don’t love reading should not be teaching children to read. they make what is one of life’s greatest pleasures into an unpleasant and dreaded chore. Would you send your child to a tone-deaf music teacher to learn music or singing? or someone who hates physical exercise and has two left feet to coach him/her in sport?

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  5. Oh my goodness, yes. Yes, yes, yes! We need to reduce the strain on teachers patents and most of all children. I am now home educating one of mine because our current system failed him. The government need to take notice of parents and teachers who are telling them that the changes are too much for the children that suffer them, not to mention the parents and teachers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Susan Brown, I so strongly agree with you. Good on you for home-educating your child. Good on you for protecting your child when you could see the school or system was failing him. Have you read the research on how incredibly effective home education is?

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    1. A Morgan, Congratulations! Good on you for ceasing to work in an education sector that you found unhelpful (or plain wrong?). I think it takes amazing courage to home-educate children. Good on you for taking the step. Have you read the research on how incredibly effective home-education is? this post is inspiring.

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  6. This is why we home educate our daughter. Twenty years ago I remember testing new year two children to see if they knew the alphabet and phonics, mostly they were reading and getting into sound blends and they were all six
    Or seven! Now five year olds are being punished for getting two spellings wrong! We are
    Putting way too much pressure on these small children, the results of which will become apparent as they grow . So sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I started school at 8 and ‘skipped a grade’ for being so ‘bright’! We decided to give our own daughters an extra year of childhood…. which, year by year, took us to secondary education when they insisted on attending to see what the experience was like. They only want to school on days they chose to attend (you used to be able to do that). One of the girls now has a PhD in Chemistry, the other teaches Maths at tertiary level. Their favourite times at school? .. Exams!! “because the teachers stop talking and we can get on with our work”!

    Children need time to be, to think, to work things out for themselves, to learn how to teach themselves. One of my girls said, ‘do you know that a teacher only talks, Sometimes I listen and sometimes I don’t. I have to learn to learn’

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Wonderful article. I too gave up teaching for the same reasons and we now in fact home educate our own four children. I couldn’t bare to see it done to my own, they are all so much happier. Thanks for reassuring me through your article that we’ve made the correct decision!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Congratulations on having the courage and integrity to home educate your four children. Have you seen the research on how incredibly effective home education is? if not I could send an article. Inspirig post.

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      1. Hi Moiraeastman3,
        May I have the home education research article you are referring to please?
        Perhaps you could provide a link if you can not see my email.
        We are homeschooling 2 little ones and enjoyed the quality and encouragement of this blog.
        Nice comments from yourself particularly.
        Thank you.
        Tim.

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  9. Agree with you. I’ve started my education when I was 7 years old and I had enough time to educate fully before I’ve got old 😉. My son started school last year when he was 4 years and 3 months old. I’m really happy that he knows all the letters from alphabet already and can write them too. However it is really difficult to make him practice at home. I think it is a little bit too much for him. He’s just simply tired and doesn’t want to do nothing apart from playing. I’ve decided not to push to much but other hand I’m just wondering what will be his final ‘note’ on the end of the school year. 😕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Agatek! I agree. Do not push too hard. think of what helped you develop a love of learning and try those things. You are trying to help him develop a love of reading and learning–don’t make it something he comes to hate or fear. You are doing a great job.

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  10. As a retired sp Ed teacher of 40 years and grounded in developmentally appropriate experienced based curriculum I hate sending our foster children off to school! I also refuse to sub in it. We live in a very small community with 27 children grades K-5. There are 2 teachers and one teacher/principal, 2 assistants and a music and PE specialists once or twice a week. The kids are out of control. Suspensions, bullying, swearing, threatening and general lack of respect. The kids are treateated like robots, school is boring, no play, nothing fun just pressure to learn to read, write and doing math! So sad . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Judith Ritenburgh, How amazing that you are fostering children. what a good thing to do with your life! But, how sad the school situation you have. with only 27 children and that number of staff, one would think it would be fantastic. Is it worth thinking of home education? Best wishes for improvement all round

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  11. My son started school in September 2016. The Class teacher called me in for a chat just before the October half term to say she had “Concerns that he was not an engaged learner and she’d like to refer him to be observed by a school educational psychologist”.
    I remember feeling totally shocked by what she said since I had though he was doing okay, and the fact that he loved going into school (no dramas about settling in), and he’d improved he’s speech and social interaction was for me an indicator that him learning was on track.
    I immediately responded by working with him on phonic sounds, letter formation and flash cards for the 100 high frequency words he should know by the end of the school year.
    My son and I set aside 30 minutes everyday to do this – although when he gets something wrong, he immediately says to me “mummy are you happy” … which breaks my heart, since I want him to love learning – but instead he just sees it as something that makes his mum happy. I too have felt the pressure he is under and have decided to reduce my working hours (I currently work 4 days a week), so I can be more on hand to help him.
    The school educational psychologist will assess him on Thursday – but even now, months later I cannot see what is the “Concern”. My son, despite the pressure he is under is a happy five year boy that loves stories, imaginative play and going to school.
    I thought your summary is spot on.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. So many sad replies. Like I said earlier, it doesn’t have to be like that. Schools are choosing that way of teaching. There is NOTHING in the curriculum that suggests it need be like that.
    It is generally accepted now that EYFS is the way to go, and that learning through play/experience is the beneficial way of doing things. This continues into year 1 AND year 2. There are some outstanding settings that use this play based learning through to the end of Year 2.
    There is actually nothing much wrong with the curriculum, children don’t have to do that much to succeed, it is the way some schools are choosing to interpret it.

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  13. Hi I just left a comment and my phone auto filled an email address in the middle of the comment. I don’t know if you’re able to delete it from my comment. If not the please delete the whole comment. Sorry!

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  14. Genuine question coming up so please don’t jump down my throat: what has changed? I could read and write before I went to primary school. We had p.e. every day in ps. I had to know my times tables by the second year primary (not sure what that is in today’s money), we had spelling tests every week, reading assignments etc. and pretty sure I did much more than an extra half hour exercise after school each day. I’m now 44. Both my parents worked ful time so it wasn’t as if I got any more special attention. I wasn’t considered anything other than average within my peers…maybe a bit better at some things, a little worse at others. So back to my question….it doesn’t look like requirements of the actual kids have increased dramatically in the last 30-40 years so what has changed? Again, not a challenge or attack, just genuinely curious as to folks thoughts. Thanks.

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    1. I think 3 things have changed fundamentally.

      1) As you said, you learnt to read and write before primary school. This isn’t the case now in a majority of cases because a) parents dont have as much time/willingness (its always someone elses job, I have had parents tell me their kids dont need to read at home because reading is for school) and b) children go to school a lot earlier.
      Society is ‘dumbed down’ and half my parents dont even understand the work the children are doing. And I teach year 1.
      The government has (rightly) identified that children need quality early years education, but (wrongly) stopped early years at 5 years old. Early years is the first 7 years, because that is what is needed for children to be developed enough cognitively. Schools aren’t being brave enough in learning through play until year 2.

      2) Teachers used to be respected. Now, everyone challenges teachers all the time. The government, the parents. Hell, every morning I have 3 or 4 parents challenging me about something or other. And if you dare tell a parent their child has done something wrong, you will always be met with an excuse from the parent. Luckily I am strong enough to tell the parents they are wrong, but many aren’t. Basically, teachers have a massive lack of respect. Spend 5 minutes on any social media/parents forum and it will be rant after rant about teachers.

      3) Because of the first two things, teachers are under incredible pressure, from above, to prove everything they do. I DO follow continuous provision, but with that I have to work with a group of children, assess learning of others, take photographs etc etc, all at the same time. And that is before we even discuss all the social side of things, getting children dressed because they cant, basic manners because their children haven’t been taught at home.

      I am one of the lucky few, I do run my classroom for the children rather than the results (the results will follow), but even then I am under a lot of pressure. And tired teachers don’t perform at their best.

      Make no mistake, the country is in the grip of a teacher recruitment crisis and it will continue to get worse until teachers get paid for what they are doing and society changes its outlook on teachers.

      I don’t see that happening…

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Great post. Deserves the feedback it has achieved. We already spend lots of time between getting home and bedtime reading with Fidget, who is in reception. We write with her as well. I’m not sure there is too much time left just to be a family.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Brilliant article. Education should be about supporting children to be who they truly are first, and academics and skills should simply secondary and be an expression of that, not to be at the expense of that. When we make the academics more important than people, we are in real trouble as a humanity and it shows how far we have come from true education. Essentially what the current education system is missing is ‘love’ (http://www.unimedliving.com/education/education-the-new-conversation/twelve-years-in-the-education-freezer-do-we-ever-get-out.html) and the way we can turn our education system around is by making it about love and the kids first, not the needs of the institution and the system first.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Fantastic post Angela Perin! Yes, it’s about love and it’s about teaching a LOVE of reading and a LOVE of learning. Yes, it’s about the kids’ needs first and the needs of the institution and the system last–or down the track somewhere.

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    1. Absolutely – and a LOVE and care of themselves first and foremost as the foundation for all the learning and activity that follows. When we look at the current (western) institutionalized education system, we can’t really say there is any love there within the system for the teachers or children or anyone else who works in this system, because it becomes all about the results, tests, achievements etc. – and the way people are in their lives is testament to the fact that this approach is not really working (i.e. stress, overwhelm, anxiety, pressure, unhappy relationships etc. etc.). How can we teach children to love learning if we are forgetting that we are in human bodies that need care and looking after, and how can teachers be expected to convey this when they themselves are often put in deep disregard for their own bodies in order to meet the expectations of the education system…

      Liked by 1 person

  18. What a great post! This sums up my life at the moment. My daughter is also in Year 1 and 5 and a half. My husband and I work full time, we have an 19month old in daycare and another one on the way. I have had a letter from the teacher in the first week of school to say she has some concerns and would like to see me. My 5 year old only learned English when we moved over 3 years ago, so complete comprehension is still not there. Where we are from children only start school at 7, so I am not haply about the pressure on these poor children.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. As a school librarian I see the malign effects of this first hand. I work in several different schools. In the more privileged ones parents easily slip into making unreasonable demands on both teachers and staff. In others, they withdraw from school, avoid coming in except for the occasional assembly or fundraising event, and their children soon internalise the belief that they are stupid.

    In one case I have actually had to cut library contact hours because the place is filled with children having to do these ridiculous spelling tests. So much for literacy.

    I find that letter horrifying, but understandable given the pressures facing schools at the moment.

    Like

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