Monday, 7 April 2014

Leave Childhood Alone, Ofsted

Another week, another headache-inducing headline about our education system. This time it’s Ofsted’s Chief Inspector complaining that nurseries aren’t doing enough to prepare our children for school (article here).

Is it just me who is glad that three year olds aren’t being prepared for school? I mean, isn’t that what reception year is for anyway? I believe three year olds should be busy being three year olds. They should be free. To do whatever it is that three year olds do. And the beauty of three year olds is that this varies between three year olds.

I don’t think three years old are built to sit down, shut up and listen to a teacher. Three year olds are curious, inquisitive and adventurous, and they are perfectly capable of being their own teachers. Three year olds are scientists, explorers and expressive artists. They are scholars and academics who learn through play. They can’t spend hours chained to a library desk researching, but they would love nothing more than hours of freedom to have new experiences and find new things to figure out.

It seems that each time a problem is identified, our government is quick to leap in the wrong direction. If children are struggling in the early years of schools, perhaps the answer is to invest more in those years of school. Maybe a better child to teacher ratio is required to make sure all children reach their potential. Maybe we need to find new ways to unlock the potential in these children. Maybe, just maybe, these children aren’t actually ready for school yet. Maybe they haven’t finished exploring, climbing, and having fun. Maybe they’re not ready to start the daily grind of school just yet.

But no, of course, the problem must be that our children are learning too late. If only we could shove dictionaries up our fannies to have them practising for spelling tests in utero. Maybe then we could fight our way to the top of the global education tables.

As a parent currently looking at nurseries, I am instantly put off any nursery who claims to prepare a child for school. I am much more interested in a nursery who develops the whole child, and a nursery who prepares a child for life. Because that’s what we really want, isn’t it? A child equipped with the skills for life, not just for eleven years of conformity at the hands of teachers.

I want to send my daughter to a nursery who will embrace her as an individual, allow her to take the lead, and support her in discovering new experiences. I don’t want to send her to a nursery who will prepare her for years of sitting at a desk.

I have only looked round one nursery so far, but it was amazing. The whole day was filled with free play, with the teacher sitting at a desk doing a structured activity (baking bread on Tuesdays, making soup on Wednesdays, and knitting or another craft on other days). Children were free to join in, or not join in, as they wanted. It was totally up to them. They spent a couple of hours outside each afternoon, whatever the weather, growing vegetables, gardening, climbing trees and exploring. It was really lovely, and had it been closer to home, I would have sent my daughter there in a heartbeat.

I am going to visit another nursery at the end of the month, and I can’t wait. It sounds lovely, the website talks about teaching life skills, being child-led, treating children with respect, and there is no mention of preparing them for school. Childhood should be about play, confidence and independence. It shouldn’t be about exam results or league tables. Life should be about enjoyment.

In response to Ofsted, 235 child education experts came together to pen a letter to the Telegraph about the importance of protecting childhood, you can read it here.


  1. very well said. I think it's crazy to expect three year olds to be ready for school, to be honest I think it's crazy to expect five years olds to be either.... childhood should be for playing, for creating, for being free and having fun. NOT for sitting behind a desk, having to hit targets and work all day.

    That nursery you visited sounds fantastic!

  2. yep totally cray cray. The nursery you visited sounds so lovely, I have to admit we only saw one nursery too and it was much the same as the one you went to, they bake, have their own veg patch and the doors are open to run around in the garden come rain or shine. I actually think 5 is way to young for school let alone 3!! x

  3. Hear hear! It's rubbish! Eric is going to be 4 years 6 weeks old when he starts school. It is soooo young and I hate it. I would delay him starting school until he's 5 which you are legally allowed to do, but then they miss reception year and go straight into year 1, all formal teaching with no learning through play. So I can't do that! At least he really wants to go to school and is excited about it

  4. This is SO true, I glad that F has his birthday in October putting him back a year as four is way to early to start thinking about school. I'm glad you have found a nursery that nurtures the child's spirit rather than worrying about their test scores. x

  5. Yep I totally agree, one of the reasons why we are thinking about home educating, until the kids are seven at least. That's when most of Europe start school, something really needs to change in this country! x

  6. We are lucky because of the way school entrance works in Scotland that Bagl will be 5 years 5 months when he starts (unless we were to move away of course), I'm quite relieved about this. The nurseries you describe sound lovely, exactly what nurseries should be like.

  7. It's really terrifying to think of how our children can be moulded, and especially in this way. Looking for a nursery school is really important and it sounds like the one you've found is perfect. Its for lots of these reasons that we choose a Montessori nursery for T, and if it wasn't for the money I'd be tempted to keep him on a year longer and delay him starting school!

  8. I could not agree with this more!! I grew up in South Africa and I didn't do any formal learning until I started school at 6.5yrs old (the same as the most of europe) - but within a year my literacy and numeracy was the same level as here and it in know way kept me back academically. I really enjoyed my childhood, being allowed to be a child without any pressure in my early years to be able to do more than tie my shoe lace when I started school, because of this we had decided to go without to send our son to Steiner School - like Abigail there is a cost but the local schools near us are really failing there children and even though I know there are some great government school in the UK they are not near us. If at some point we cannot afford to send our son to Steiner I would home school - I just feel the education system is letting down children on all levels - academically, physically and emotionally.

    Laura x

  9. Totally agree. If children aren't ready for school at 5, maybe that's something to do with the fact that more successful education systems don't start formal learning til 6 or 7. I looked round a preschool last week and it was fab, when I asked about how much time is spent in free play, she said, "it's all child led. We're absolutely not sitting them down teaching them phonics. Children learn best when they're doing what interests them." Music to my ears!!

  10. Shoving dictionaries up our fannies?! Big no no... I agree that children should be nurtured to play, enjoy and explore for as long as possible.. 10 short years of being a child then 70 or so (if we're lucky) of being a boring grown up.. why does the government want to rush these tiny beings?! Other European countries have things so much more figured out! :-/

  11. PLAY PLAY PLAY, children led play is all they need. Bloody Ofsted, ARGH.

  12. I think we already have to start much too early - friends of mine actually left this country to go back to their native Denmark because they felt it was ridiculously early (they play over there until they turn 7).



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